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Criminal justice: tough love

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While new criminal justice bills will likely be introduced this session, these measures, left over from 2013, could be revived.

Senate Bill 594, Require drug testing for Work First benefits:
This bill would require drug screening for applicants and recipients of the Work First program, which gives low-income people employment training and other help so they can be self-sufficient.

Those who test positive for controlled substances would be ineligible to receive Work First assistance for one year. They may reapply if they complete a substance abuse treatment program. The applicants would have to pay for the drug tests.

The bill concerns some who work with people suffering from substance abuse and addiction issues. At UNC Horizons, a Chapel Hill program treating pregnant women and mothers with addictions, for example, patients rely on Work First assistance to get housing.

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis, a Republican from the Blue Ridge Mountains, could throw the residential program into turmoil.

House Bill 217, Juveniles tried as adults:
More juvenile defendants could be charged as adults under this omnibus criminal justice bill. Currently, a judge decides whether a juvenile is transferred to adult court. But if this bill passes, juveniles charged with B-level felonies, such as first-degree rape and second-degree murder, could be tried as adults at the behest of the district attorney, who wouldn't have to justify the decision.

"This bill is bad for public safety and it's bad for anyone who cares about the fair and humane treatment of young people," said UNC-Chapel Hill law professor Barbara Fedders, who co-directs its Youth Justice Clinic. The sponsors of the bill, Republicans Paul Stam and John Faircloth, have previously stated the bill would make the criminal justice system more effective and less expensive. Fedders rebuts this, arguing that juveniles in adult court wait much longer than they would have in juvenile court for their cases to be heard.

House Bill 585, Prison Rape Elimination Act compliance:
This act would force all correctional and juvenile facilities to comply with the provisions of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. That act, passed by Congress in 2003, requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics to conduct an annual comprehensive statistical review and analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape. The North Carolina Sheriff's Association opposes this bill because it makes federal incentive–based standards state law. The bill is sponsored by David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican.

House Bill 41, DWI laws:
Under current law, after former DWI offenders renew their licenses, they are prohibited from driving with a blood-alcohol level of above 0.4 during a three-year probationary period. (The legal limit for non-offenders is 0.8.)

This bill would lower that limit to zero while the former offender is on probation. It would require DWI offenders to use ignition interlock systems to ensure no alcohol is in their system when they get behind the wheel.

The way the law is currently written, "You're basically telling people that it's OK to have that first drink or two, and I think that's questionable," said the bill's sponsor, Wake County Democrat Darren Jackson.

House Bill 477, Allison's Law:
Named in memory of a Winston-Salem woman killed by her estranged husband, this act would allow a court to consider the use of a GPS tracking device on a person convicted of domestic violence. Under the bill, a judge could order defendants to be subject to electronic monitoring that sends a signal with their location to both the victim and local law enforcement. The Pitt County Sheriff's Office already has used GPS tracking devices on domestic violence offenders.

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