RALEIGH, N.C. — Age-old criminal misconduct and challenges from new technology are addressed in that 20 North Carolina laws that take effect partially or in full Friday.
The General Assembly passed legislation this year agreeing to expand rules or crimes addressing drones, “revenge porn” and self-driving cars, in addition to pushing through new or tougher penalties for human trafficking or deadly domestic violence. Other new legal offenses or procedures were initiated.
Police and prosecutors said a 2008 law addressing gang activity and violence was difficult to use in prosecuting gang members. So lawmakers replaced separate felony counts for criminal gang leaders or members with increased penalties for underlying crimes if jurors decide the offense was committed as part of gang activity. New language also is designed to make it easier to declare a business a public nuisance because gang activity occurs there and shut it down.
The shooting death of a Wake County woman by her boyfriend — the father of her child — prompted lawmakers to increase the likelihood that similar domestic violence attackers could face the most severe category of murder for their crimes. “Britny’s Law,” named after the slain woman, creates the legal presumption that a homicide constitutes first-degree murder if the slaying was committed with malice and the defendant had previously been convicted of domestic violence against or stalking of the victim. The defendant can attempt to override that presumption in court. First-degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison. Britny Puryear’s killer pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received prison time.
In an attempt to thwart human trafficking at businesses sometimes used as fronts for prostitution, the General Assembly created new standards and licensure requirements for establishments that provide massage and bodywork therapy services. Portions of the law taking effect Friday establish a misdemeanor crime for a business that hires someone unlicensed to perform such work and make the previous crime of human trafficking a more severe felony than before.
The state already had a law making it a crime for someone to post nude images of an ex-lover online without that person’s consent and with intent to cause harm. Now the “revenge porn” prohibition also applies to cases in which the nude images are disclosed by someone who is a stranger to the subject.
North Carolina allows people convicted of certain crimes to petition a court to have those counts removed from their public criminal record, removing obstacles to employment or government benefits. A new law seeking to streamline the process reduces the waiting period for someone convicted of a first-time nonviolent felony to seek removal from 15 years to 10 and a misdemeanor from 15 to five.
North Carolina passed regulations on “unmanned aerial systems” in 2014, but lawmakers decided more were needed to reflect their growing prevalence and potential criminal use. One new law prohibits drones from flying close to prisons, jails and other correctional facilities. Doing so is a misdemeanor unless the drone operator is trying to get weapons or contraband inside — that’s a felony. Another law rewrites the 2014 standards to remove an exemption for model airplanes, although their owners still don’t need to get permits.
LOOK, NO HANDS
Sooner rather than later, self-driving cars could be rolling down roads nationwide, so a new North Carolina law sets regulations for “fully autonomous vehicles” in the state. The rules, for example, say you don’t need a driver’s license to operate such a vehicle if it’s driving on its own, and a child younger than 12 years old can’t ride inside without a supervising adult. And what if the vehicle is cited for speeding? The owner pays the ticket.
State law designed to combat organized theft at retail stores has been tweaked to create a new felony crime for those who conspire to steal substantial amounts. A criminal element required for a first-degree rape conviction has been broadened. There are also new laws protecting hospital security guards from attack and prosecuting vandals of firetrucks and ambulances.