Bill would increase penalty for second-degree murder

Posted March 24, 2011 9:19 p.m. EDT
Updated March 25, 2011 7:22 a.m. EDT

— The penalty for second-degree murder could get tougher in North Carolina.

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Nash, said the current sentence where a criminal convicted of the crime could be out of prison in a minimum of 10 years didn’t seem like "enough punishment."

Newton proposed Senate Bill 105, which increases the minimum punishment to around 16 years in prison.

Newton said the change would help prosecutors

"They pointed out there was such a difference in the penalties between first-degree and second-degree murder," he said.

First-degree murder carries a sentence of at least life in prison. Newton said that difference made it difficult for prosecutors to feel comfortable offering plea deals involving a lower charge.

Advocates for crime victims also like the bill.

Tom Bennett, executive director of the North Carolina Victim Assistance Network, said the shorter sentence hurts the loved ones of murder victims.

"It makes the victims feel their loved one’s life was not valued," Bennett said.

Others agree there are problems with the sentencing structure but do not approve of the solution offered by this bill.

"There is a fairly large gap that from my view would be best served by creating an alternative punishment,” said Thomas Maher, executive director of the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services.

He proposed that instead of increasing the penalty for second-degree murder, legislators should create another category of crime between it and first-degree murder.

In the long run, Maher said, holding convicts in prison longer will get expensive.

"Some thought needs to be given to what we are going to be paying 10, 12, 15 years from now for a significant number of people serving significantly longer sentences," Maher said.

The bill has passed the Senate. Two senators voted against it. 

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said she voted against it, because she worries that minority defendants would get the longest sentences. She said she's also concerned that battered women who kill their attackers in self-defense will get long sentences.