North Carolina N.C. state seal politics

North Carolina laws taking effect today will add protections for Venus flytraps, let children in eight counties shoot BB guns unsupervised, and allow criminal defendants statewide to have their case decided by a judge instead of a jury.

Some laws make technical and other minor changes to existing laws, while other legislation stiffens penalties for criminal offenses.

A constitutional amendment that allows criminal defendants to waive jury trials was approved by voters earlier this month.

Here are five things to know about the new laws.

Waiving jury trials

The constitutional amendment gives criminal defendants the right to decline a jury trial and have a judge decide their case instead.

Defendants have this option in 49 other states and the federal criminal justice system, but North Carolina defendants previously couldn’t waive the jury trial. The judge would have to agree to allow a bench trial, and the option wouldn’t be available in a death penalty case.

A report over the summer by the UNC School of Government said bench trials tend to be shorter and less expensive than jury trials, but changing the system could concentrate power with judges and reduce citizen participation in the justice system.

BB guns

Children under 12 in eight counties — Anson, Caswell, Chowan, Cleveland, Cumberland, Harnett, Stanly and Surry — will be allowed to possess and use BB guns, air rifles and air pistols without adult supervision. Most counties already allowed such unsupervised use, but a few remained on a list where BB and air guns were defined as dangerous firearms. Counties where supervision still is required include Caldwell, Durham, Forsyth, Gaston, Haywood, Mecklenburg, Stokes, Union and Vance.

Venus flytraps

A provision of the Regulatory Reform Act boosts the penalty for taking a Venus flytrap from a misdemeanor to a felony. Legislators said earlier this year that conservation groups asked for the stiffer charge after recent thefts of the plants in eastern North Carolina, which is among the few areas where the plant grows native.

Concealed guns

Under legislation to change criminal laws, people caught multiple times carrying a concealed firearm without a permit will face felony charges for the second and subsequent offenses. The first such offense remains a misdemeanor.

Inmate’s cellphones

Another provision increases the penalty for giving or selling a cellphone to an inmate from a misdemeanor to a felony. It also makes it a felony for an inmate to possess a cellphone. Gov. Pat McCrory and other leaders pushed for stiffer penalties after the father of a Wake County prosecutor was kidnapped in a plot that authorities said was directed by an inmate using a contraband cell phone. The kidnapped man was rescued by the FBI.

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