Governor Roy Cooper has signed four bills into law after receiving recommendations from his Task Force for Racial Equality in Criminal Justice (TREC).
“We have seen that the criminal justice system doesn’t always treat everyone the same – and too often the differences are disproportionately felt by people of color,” he told reporters. “This legislation will take us one step further toward a more equitable and just North Carolina for all.”
The four bills include House Bill 300 on criminal justice reform, Senate Bill 301 on expungements, House Bill 436 on supporting law enforcement mental health, and House Bill 536, which gives law enforcement a duty to intervene when they see other officers use excessive force.
What will the new laws do?
House Bill 436 requires pre-employment psychological screenings for all law enforcement officers. It also requires ongoing education on maintaining good mental health and makes officers aware of mental health resources available to them.
House Bill 536, as we said, creates a duty for police officers to intervene and report the use of excessive force by fellow officers. It also requires law enforcement agencies to search the National Decertification Index before an officer can be certified.
House Bill 300 took several recommendations from TREC and made changes that are meant to improve criminal justice in North Carolina:
- It promotes the recruitment of officers with diverse backgrounds and improves training to better equip officers to be successful.
- It requires early intervention to identify and correct officers who commit misconduct or use excessive force.
- It furthers the use of independent investigations after police-involved shootings.
- Requires the justice system to provide defendants with their first appearance in court within 72 hours of arrest.
- It limits local laws that criminalize poverty.
Senate Bill 301 allows people to seek removal of a second or third nonviolent crime from their record after 20 years from sentence completion. Previously, people could only seek expungement from a single nonviolent felony. Vehicle burglary was reclassified as a nonviolent felony that is eligible for expungement.
Ideally, these bills will encourage the safer use of law enforcement resources and protect the public from rogue officers and those who have been fired by other departments. Greater diversity among officers could go a long way toward reducing violence against Black people and other minorities.
All defendants should always have had the right to be heard by a court within three days of being arrested. House Bill 300 reiterates that requirement.
We look forward to seeing how these reform bills operate and whether they reduce the unjustified use of force by officers and bring greater closure for those whose loved ones’ lives are lost to police violence.