Low-level traffic misdemeanors pulled out of Pretrial Integrity Act as it passes Senate

By: - June 23, 2023 6:00 am
Hands holding bars from inside

Photo: Getty Images

Last week, Sen. Mujtaba A. Mohammed told his peers on the Senate Judiciary Committee he was worried about a bill that could keep people in jail for up to 48 hours, even for low-level crimes. The requirement would apply to people who had been released from jail before going trial — and while out, are arrested again.

The Mecklenburg County Democrat presented his colleagues with data from the UNC School of Government showing that 80% of criminal charges in North Carolina are for nonviolent misdemeanors; seven of the top 10 were for motor vehicle offenses, like speeding and driving with a revoked license because of a failure to pay fines or fees.

“If it’s for violent offenses, I completely understand,” Mohammed had said of keeping someone jailed pretrial for up to two days. “My bigger concern is the low-level offenses.”

On Thursday, Mohammed successfully amended the “Pretrial Integrity Act” so that people arrested for motor vehicle offenses would not be subjected to the 48-hour-maximum hold.

“I believe, like some, that this amendment will help reduce some of the strains that this bill may in reality cause to our justice system, like straining our already-congested courts [and] our jails, and help direct more judicial attention to those individuals with more significant and higher needs,” he said.

Under current law, police take people they’ve arrested to a magistrate, who determines bail or other conditions of confinement before a judge weighs in. House Bill 813  would let judges, rather than magistrates, determine whether people charged with certain crimes — serious felonies like human trafficking, first-degree arson or statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult — should be granted pretrial release, and if so, what the conditions of that release should be.

It also requires judges to set conditions on a person’s release from jail if they are re-arrested while on pretrial release for another crime. If a judge hasn’t acted within 48 hours, magistrates can set conditions.

That provision was the subject of Mohammed’s concern. He worried people would be jailed for days for low-level crimes, which could keep them from going to work. And if they lose their job, it could increase their likelihood of committing more crimes.

“It’s important to understand and acknowledge that incarcerating these individuals, especially for low-level offenses, can cause severe repercussions — like job loss, loss of housing — which increases recidivism and reduces reduces public safety for all of us,” Mohammed said on the Senate floor.

The bill passed the House shortly before the crossover deadline. Republicans there unanimously supported it, but Democrats split over concerns for public safety and protecting people’s constitutional right to bail so they aren’t held in hail without having been convicted of a crime.

The Senate sent the bill back to the House so they could approve the bill now that Mohammed’s amendment has been added.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.