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North Carolina Capital Punishment Laws

Capital punishment, more commonly referred to as the "death penalty," is reserved for the most serious murder charges. This controversial practice has been around in North Carolina since the state was a British colony and back then people were hanged. North Carolina had the distinct reputation for being "the bloodiest code of laws of any state in the Union." More than twenty crimes were punishable by hanging including arson, bigamy, burglary, counterfeiting, dueling, forgery, horse-stealing, housebreaking, inducing a slave to run away, murder, rape, and stealing a slave.

The Supreme Court and The Death Penalty

In 2009 the Supreme Court decided that the death penalty would be disproportionate for any offense against an individual that did not involve death of the victim-basically only murder offenses are reserved for capital punishment.

Other Changes In The Law

The law also changed significantly in 1998 when the state of North Carolina made lethal injection the sole method of execution. Another significant piece of legislation happened in 2009 when the General Assembly enacted the Racial Justice Act, designed to remove racial discrimination from the death penalty system. However, the law has since been repealed.

When Can North Carolina Impose The Death Penalty?

North Carolina can only impose the death penalty in cases where another person dies. For example, murder of a law enforcement or court official is considered a capital offense. North Carolina capital punishment laws exempt those who are ruled insane or suffer from "a severe mental disorder or disability that significantly impaired his or her capacity to appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of his or her conduct." The law also establishes a minimum age of 17 for executions.

Death Penalty And Clemency

Once an execution date has been set, the defendant may seek clemency from the governor. If clemency is denied -- and if any last-minute motions by the defendant, such as successor motions for appropriate relief, are unsuccessful -- the defendant will be executed by lethal injection.

Learn more about North Carolina capital punishment laws in the following table. See FindLaw's Death Penalty section for additional articles.

Code Section 14-17; 15A-1001, et seq.; 15A-2000; 122C-313; 15-187
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? Yes
Effect of Defendant's Incapacity Exempt from execution if insane
Minimum Age 17; no minimum age for first degree murder while serving prison sentence for prior murder or which work on escape from such sentence.
Available for Crimes Other than Homicide? None
Definition of Capital Homicide Capital felony committed by person lawfully incarcerated; previous capital felony convictions; previous felony conviction involving use/threat of violence; avoid lawful arrest or escape from custody; in connection with homicide, rape or sex offense, robbery, arson, burglary, kidnapping or aircraft piracy or bombing; for pecuniary gain; hinder lawful exercise of governmental function or enforcement of laws; victim was law enforcement officer, employee of Corrections Department jailer, fireman, judge or justice, prosecutor, juror or witness while engaged in duties or former; especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; great risk of death to more than one person; in connection with other crimes of violence against other person(s)
Method of Execution Lethal injection

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a North Carolina criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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