Cooper praises Assembly for fighting crime, improving justice
Release date: 7/19/2004
Raleigh: During the last few hours of the legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly finally agreed to a $4.5 million expansion of the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab to improve DNA analysis, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today. In addition, several bills voted into law as the Assembly wrapped up its latest session will help to fight crime and make communities safer, Cooper said.
“An expanded crime lab means we’ll be able to use DNA technology to solve more crimes and get more criminals off our streets,” said Cooper. “Criminals will face real penalties and our criminal justice system will improve thanks to some of these new initiatives. We’ll be able to shut down more dangerous secret drug labs and put meth manufacturers behind bars. Open-file discovery will help ensure fair trials and give people more confidence in our system of justice. And victims of domestic violence will now have more help and protection under the law, including when they are on they’re on the job, and their abusers will face stiffer penalties.”
Several items championed by Cooper won approval during the recent legislative session:
• More DNA analysis to solve crimes:
Cooper fought for and won an expansion of the SBI Crime Lab to improve the efficiency of DNA testing that can help convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Legislators also approved $250,000 to pay private labs to analyze untested rape kits held by local law enforcement agencies across the state.
Despite the SBI lab addition and money for outsourcing, legislators did not include more experts for the DNA lab. Cooper had asked legislators for and Governor Mike Easley had recommended six more agents and an evidence technician for the SBI lab that analyzes DNA evidence. Over the past few years, North Carolina has more than tripled the number of DNA analysts at the SBI lab and begun attacking a backlog of cases. But the North Carolina lab still has fewer experts than neighboring Virginia, which has one million fewer residents but more than 40 DNA analysts. Cooper believes that the legislature must address the problem during its next session by providing more DNA agents.
• Tougher penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine (Senate Bill 1054):
Cooper led the push to make sure that criminals who manufacture dangerous methamphetamine in secret drug labs serve active prison time. Under the new law, penalties for the manufacture of meth will increase from a Class H felony to a Class C felony. Penalties for possessing precursor ingredients needed to “cook” the drug have also increased from a Class H felony to a Class F felony to discourage the spread of meth labs. In addition, meth has been added to the list of drugs that can trigger a charge of second-degree murder when the drug causes an overdose death.
In 2003, children were found living in one-fourth of homes where meth labs were discovered. The new law enhances the criminal penalty when a child is present in a meth lab or endangered by meth, and also adds 24 months to a convicted meth maker’s sentence if a law enforcement officer or other first responder is injured in a meth lab bust.
• More help for law enforcement to fight the meth epidemic:
Cooper fought for and won 14 new State Bureau of Investigation agents to bust more meth labs across the state. In 1999, the first year that meth labs were reported in North Carolina, SBI agents discovered 9 labs. That number has skyrocketed, with agents shutting down 177 labs in 2003 and 178 labs so far in just the first half of 2004. The new agents will focus on the western part of the state, where the meth problem is most severe, and other agents will continue to train firefighters, emergency workers, social services experts and others on how to defuse the deadly labs and treat people exposed to the labs’ toxic byproducts.
• Open file discovery (Senate Bill 52):
State law will require both the prosecution and defense to share more information with each other in criminal trials. Prosecutors will now be required to make all pertinent information in their files and in law enforcement files available to the defense. Both sides will be required to provide a list of witnesses they plan to call during trial
• Prevent violence in the workplace (Senate Bill 916): Cooper advocated for a new law that will help victims of domestic violence stay safe from their attackers while at work. Under the measure, employers can seek civil no-contact orders on behalf of their employees who are threatened by domestic violence. The no-contact order will bar a victim’s attacker from contacting him or her at work, and will give law enforcement details about previous threats. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicide is a leading cause of death for women at work. A summit hosted by Cooper’s office, the NC Council for Women/ Domestic Violence Commission and the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence last year brought together employers from across the state to confront this problem.
• Stronger laws against domestic violence (House Bill 1354):
Legislators passed a comprehensive new law backed by Cooper that will help prevent domestic violence, protect victims and prosecute abusers. Key components of the law include stiffer penalties for abusers, new training requirements for law enforcement officers, more legal assistance for victims, and protection for victims who must take time off from work to a seek court orders against their attacker. The measure also makes strangulation a Class H felony punishable by at least a five to six month active sentence.
• Financial assistance for crime victims /No profit from crime (House Bill 1519):
Legislators enacted a measure supported by Cooper to keep criminals from profiting from their illegal acts. The new law makes North Carolina the 43rd state to have a law preventing such profits. North Carolina’s law has been scrutinized by constitutional experts to make sure it can survive legal challenges that have threatened other states’ laws. The law will also help victims of crime get restitution from those who have harmed them.