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North Carolina law allows citizens to arrest each other

Ever have a dispute with your neighbor? Perhaps you've considered calling the police and having him arrested. Or, if you live in North Carolina, you can do the legwork yourself. Not everyone is aware of the state law that allows citizens to take out misdemeanor warrants without police involvement. This type of law only exists in a small handful of states. But the courts are well aware of it, and many prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges are pushing lawmakers to make a change.

It takes law enforcement to levy felony charges, but it costs nothing and takes very little time to file a misdemeanor warrant against a fellow citizen. Many of the warrants have no merit, and charges are frequently thrown out if the accuser fails to appear in court. But lawmakers are hesitant to throw out the law altogether.

A state senator who also works as a defense attorney says he's looking for input from law enforcement on how to temper the law to retain its value. "I'm trying to figure out how to go about it because we need the ability for citizens to act, take action for a crime they want prosecuted," he said. "I think that does empower citizens, but it also empowers people who do the wrong thing. So I feel like we need another check and balance there."

One solution may be to place limits on the law. In New Hanover County, accusers must sign a document promising to appear in court and cooperate with prosecutors who try the cases. And magistrates there won't issue warrants against teachers, police officers or public officials, all of whom face unfounded allegations frequently.

But even with these restrictions, the law takes up considerable court resources. On any given day there are about 200 cases on the docket in New Hanover County. And there's still plenty of room for abuse. One North Carolina mayor says he's heard of women using the threat of arrest against their boyfriends to keep them in line. "They shake in their boots about that," he said.

For the accused, being arrested by another citizen leads to a record with black marks that aren't easily erased even if the charges are dropped. Innocent people accused by someone with a grudge may be set back by charges that show up when applying for a job, apartment or admission to college. Although giving power to the people is mostly positive, this law could be too much of a good thing.

Source: Officer.com, "N.C. Allows Citizens To Take Out Warrants," Brian Freskos, March 24.

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