Wake County

After abduction, NC legislators aim to stiffen cellphone-smuggling penalties

State legislators want to crack down on cellphone smuggling and use in North Carolina’s prison system.

A bill approved by the General Assembly and sitting on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk would increase the penalties for people who give phones to inmates and for inmates caught with phones.

House Bill 369, which awaits McCrory’s signature, comes in response to the kidnapping in April of a Wake County prosecutor’s father, according to Rep. Paul Stam’s office. Authorities allege that Kelvin Melton, then an inmate at Polk Correctional Institution, used a phone to conduct the elaborate plot.

The House sent the bill to McCrory on Friday. It would allow Class H felony charges against people who provide phones to inmates, and to the inmates themselves, when unauthorized phones are found in the state’s prison system or a “local confinement facility.”

The bill also applies to any “other wireless communication device or a component of one of those devices.”

Additionally, the bill would allow felony charges in cases where someone has threatened or assaulted “another person” in retaliation against legislative, executive or court officers. Currently, the law applies only to retaliation against the officers themselves.

The bill also would allow forensic and chemical analysts to give testimony in trials by a video link, effective Sept. 1. Other sections of the bill would bar courts from expunging records related to breaking and entering charges and for certain types of attempted crime.

The bill passed the state’s House and Senate with near unanimity.

McCrory’s representatives weren’t immediately available to say whether he would sign the bill.

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