NC Senate panel votes to increase penalties for inmates who get cellphones

Posted by Katy Canada on June 19, 2014 

The Senate judiciary committee passed two bills Wednesday in response to the kidnapping of a Wake County prosecutor’s father.

Senate Bill 78 would allow non-elected public officials to have their addresses removed from any government website.

Wake County prosecutor Colleen Janssen, whose father was kidnapped in April after an inmate found his address online, called the measure a step in the right direction.

“What this means is that some thug who’s been hired by someone in prison can’t get online and find my father’s house in Wake County,” Janssen said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Malone, a Republican from Wake Forest, said the bill would protect the privacy of law enforcement officials, including criminal magistrates, prosecutors, U.S. attorneys or assistant attorneys, federal judges and any local, state or federal law enforcement officers.

The bill was met with some opposition from Rep. George Cleveland, who said the potential dangers that law enforcement officers are subjected to are an expected element of the job. Cleveland, who represents Onslow County, argued the bill wasn’t necessary, and if officials can’t handle the risk, they should, “go find another job.”

The committee voted in favor of the bill, which will appear before the House in the coming weeks.

A second bill heard by the committee, Senate bill 594, would increase the penalty for supplying inmates with cell phones, as well as increase the penalty for possession of a cell phone by an inmate.

This part of the bill is also linked to the kidnapping of Janssen’s father, which occurred when an inmate used a contraband phone to instruct someone outside the prison.

In the original language of SB 594, both offenses were changed from class 1 misdemeanors, which result in 1-45 days incarceration for first time offenders, to class F felonies, which has a sentence of 10-41 months in prison.

Rep. Craig Horn raised an amendment, which was voted through, lowering the penalty to a Class H felony, which has a sentence of 4-25 months, to match the penalty for giving an inmate a weapon.

It was noted that this part of the bill would cost an additional $3 million to account for additional beds that would be needed to support an influx of prisoners.

SB 594 included 12 total sections, all of which were addressed in the two-hour committee meeting.

The bill would also exempt certain people designated by the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety from concealed carry laws, increase the penalty for assaulting or threatening a legislative, executive or court officer, change the post conviction proceedings for defendants so they may receive prosecutorial files after the trial and create a felony offense for uprooting a Venus Flytrap.

The House Appropriations Committee will likely vote on SB 594 next week.

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