Thursday, July 20, 2006

What Convinces Is Conviction

A state judge has ruled that North Carolina's 201-year-old law barring unmarried couples from living together is unconstitutional. Hooray! This results in a net increase of freedom because: [you already know]. I found the story on the front page of CNN, so it’s big news and by tomorrow there should be plenty of interesting commentary about it. As for those who talk about how wonderful this is, I completely agree.

But the AP account has this one paragraph I keep stumbling over:

[An ACLU spokeswoman] said that since 1997, the law has spawned about 36 criminal cases in North Carolina. State officials have said the number of people actually convicted under the law -- formally known as the fornication and adultery statute -- is not clear.

If you walk up to a state official and ask him some out-of-the-blue question like “How many drunk-driving convictions have there been in your state since 1997,” I won’t hold it against him if he can’t tell you.

But a controversial law before the state Supreme Court, with big media outlets like CNN coming down to see what happens, and furthermore the law’s only spawned about four criminal cases per year anyway — how the hell do you not know how many convictions there have been?

The law was a class 2 misdemeanor before it was overturned. A conviction could result in a jail sentence, although if you asked state officials how many people did time for breaking this law they’d probably be unclear on that, too.

Actually, I think the state officials know damn well how many convictions this law’s racked up, but in light of its being overturned they’re probably embarrassed. So do you think it's because the conviction rate has been so high, or so low?


Anonymous A Moose said...

Sodomy laws were just as bad until Lawrence V Texas. I recall when I lived in Charlottesville, VA, every fall there would be a couple young ladies tagged for oral sex (hetero version) in the parking lot, though I think they just satisfied themselves with arrest and declined to prosecute. Ridiculous. Better still, they're keeping it on the books, just in case (see this which also speaks to cohabitation being illegal there). They also currently prosecute for adultery (see this ) and that isn't protected, yet, by Lawrence v Texas. Merry-freakin-land also lists adultry as illegal, but at least there it's typically used to plead the fifth if one is asked about it during a divorce case, as it is a crime so one cannot be compelled during a civil case.

We really need to sunset every law every 7 years unless specifically and singly readopted. That would clear out a bunch of this crap.

Hopefully the links actually work....

3:13 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I just moved to North Carolina, and I could throw in all sorts of nasty jibes at my adopted state on this matter. However, it's not as if ANY of the original colonies are exempt from having archaic and ridiculous laws that attempted to make illegal things that some found immoral. Here's where that lovely Enlightenment ideal of separation of church and state is so appropriate - when the state becomes the enforcer of church doctrine, all you ever get is tyranny.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Robert, every state has archaic laws on the books, but not every state is enforcing them. North Carolina was actually criminally prosecuting people for this (though of course, officals are unclear on just how many).

I remember when Clinton ran for president the first time and people were saying "you shouldn't vote for him because he sleeps around so much." And I said "that's why I'm voting for him; I figure a politician with a sex life of his own is less likely to obsess over mine."

8:41 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

I guess that finally opens the door for Deputy Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle to move in together, not to mention Floyd the Barber and Howard Sprague.

For more Mayberry NC fun click on my name.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Kitty said...

For a bit of perspective, the prosecution in Lawrence was the only use of the Texas sodomy statute since 1960, and even then there were fewer than, I think, 100 convictions for entire previous century. The NC statute was a horrible law, but I suppose there's something to be said for having a horrible law and actually using it. Texas just had a horrible law which we kept on the shelf in the garage, in much the same way I keep a couple of horrible bridesmaid's dresses from the middle '80's. It exists as a background threat, but by never actually enforcing the damn thing, the fundies can claim that no gets hurt.

6:41 PM  
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