The Pulse

Report shows fewer criminal charges statewide in 2020

By: - March 5, 2021 1:24 pm

Felony charges in North Carolina declined by 10.4% in 2020 from a year ago, while misdemeanor charges dropped by 18.3%, according to a report released by the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab at the UNC School of Government earlier this week.

Misdemeanor charges totaled 1.3 million and made up 87.3% of the criminal charges overall in 2020. The rest of nearly 190,000 charges, or 12.7% of the total, were felonies.

The data come from the state Administrative Office of the Courts. Researchers with the UNC lab further broke down the offenses into two categories — violent crimes and non-violent crimes. Burglary was categorized as violent due to the seriousness of the offense, the report stated.

Nonviolent charges constituted 91.8% of all charges for misdemeanors and felonies combined. Violent charges accounted for about 8% of the total last year.

The three most commonly charged violent felonies were assault by strangulation, armed robbery and indecent liberties, or illegal sexual contact with a child under 16. State prosecutors pressed over 2,000 felony charges for each of these crimes.

Slightly over a third of nonviolent felony charges were drug offenses, including possession of methamphetamine, which totaled 8,377.

Monetary offenses including embezzlement, larceny by removing anti-shoplifting devices, and identity theft topped the felony charges with the sharpest decrease from 2019. The charges with the largest percentage increase were exploitation of a minor and possession of controlled substances.

The state averaged 282 felony charges per 100,000 population.

The most common violent misdemeanor charges in 2020 was assault on a female, as many as 24,919 charges.

The overall decline in criminal charges is in line with a national trend, according to a press release from the FBI. National data from the the Uniform Crime Reports program exhibit a downward trend for the overall number of violent crimes and property crimes for the first six months of 2020, the timeframe for the most recent report available.

The program collects data directly from law enforcement agencies nationwide. The data capture reported crimes instead of charges brought by prosecutors as in the charging data.

The FBI’s data also show certain crimes went up despite the overall downward trend from January to June of 2020. The number of murders and incidents of non-negligent manslaughter had a year-on-year increase of 14.8%.

Larceny thefts and burglaries decreased but motor vehicle thefts went up by 6.2% nationally for the first six months of 2020 compared with 2019.

However, the first six months of 2020 saw a rise in violent crimes by 2.5% in the South, while the Midwest, the Northeast and the West reported fewer crimes, according to the FBI. Property crimes were down in the South by 9.3%.

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Yanqi Xu

Yanqi Xu, Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter, came to Policy Watch in December of 2020 from the Investigative Reporting Workshop in D.C., where she combined data and reporting to cover public accountability issues. Yanqi graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 2019. Her multimedia work appeared in PolitiFact and the Columbia Missourian, and was featured on the local NPR and NBC affiliates. Originally from China, Yanqi started her career producing newscasts to tell people what’s going on around the world.