A handful of laws went into effect on Dec. 1 that will change how North Carolina’s criminal justice system handles some offenses and some offenders.
We discussed perhaps the most far-reaching change in our Nov. 6 post, NC Voters approve defendant felon’s right to waive jury trial. Only time will tell if bench trials are really faster and less expensive than jury trials, but the amendment does bring the state into line with the other 49 states and the District of Columbia.
In August, the University of North Carolina School of Government released a report that looked at the effects of the change in other states as well as what passage could mean to North Carolina. The researchers concluded that few defendants would choose a bench trial — resulting in little change to the state’s bottom line — but that defendants that did choose a bench trial were more likely to be acquitted. The latter statistic came from the federal court system, where 84 percent of jury trials ended with a conviction while only 55 bench trials did (between 1989 and 2002).
According to the North Carolina Court System’s 2012-2013 annual report, almost 97 percent of defendants enter into plea agreements before trial; fewer than 3,000felony criminal cases (traffic and non-traffic) were heard by a jury that year. Critics of the amendment pointed out that the true cost savings comes with avoiding trial altogether: Plea agreements are much cheaper for the court system than either a bench trial or a jury trial.
We’ll continue the review of new laws in our next post.
News & Record, “New North Carolina laws take effect Monday,” Nov. 30, 2014
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Government, “Understanding North Carolina’s Proposed Constitutional Amendment Allowing Non-Jury Felony Trials,” Jeffrey B. Welty and Komal K. Patel, August 2014