Top 5 Unusual and Oddly Specific Laws in North Carolina

Have you ever read a warning label or walked past a sign that seemed really oddly specific and quite stupid? Perhaps you have come across blogs with plenty of funny examples, such as a hotel sign warning patrons that there are fines for putting cigarettes out on tables or walls. You may think “that’s stupid”, but sometimes these oddly specific warnings exist because people have done something unusual and wrong but got away with it because nothing said they couldn’t do it.

The equivalent of such odd warning signs exists in criminal law across the world too, and the state of North Carolina just so happens to have plenty of such laws. Here we share our top 5 unusual laws, what the consequences for them are, and why they might exist in the first place.

handcuffs for people who commited a crime

1. Defrauding and Inkeeper or Campground Owner

Fraud refers to wrongful or criminal deception with the intent of personal or financial gain, often at the expense of others. There are many forms of fraud, some of which have specific laws to address them but others tend to fall under more general anti-fraud laws, such are wire fraud and bank fraud. North Carolina law, however, has a specific law to address defrauding of an innkeeper or campground over, under N.C.G.S § 14-110. This law states:

No person shall, with intent to defraud, obtain food, lodging, or other accommodations at a hotel, inn, boardinghouse, eating house, or campground. Whoever violates this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Obtaining such lodging, food, or other accommodation by false pretense, or by false or fictitious show of pretense of baggage or other property, or absconding without paying or offering to pay therefor, or surreptitiously removing or attempting to remove such baggage, shall be prima facie evidence of such fraudulent intent, but this section shall not apply where there has been an agreement in writing for delay in such payment.

In essence, this law punishes trying to steal from any place for temporary lodging, such as a hotel, inn, or camp. It’s not entirely clear why this law exists specifically as it can probably be punished under offenses related to how the fraud was committed. However, you can perhaps see this is something enough people would commit, which may warrant a law to address it specifically.

2. Taking a Venus Fly Trap

You have probably heard of the famous Venus Flytrap, but if you haven’t, it’s the most famous type of “carnivorous plant”, as it traps and consumes insects that land inside it. Did you know that these plants, along with most carnivorous plants, are native to the state of North Carolina? They are even one of our state symbols! Given how unique and rare they are, they have been targeted by poachers interested in taking them or their seeds to sell, which has made them more vulnerable as a species. For this reason, the state has made it a class H felony to dig them or their seeds up with intent to steal them, unless you have a specific permit to do so or they are on your private property.

3. Wearing Masks in Public or Meetings

These laws are perhaps the most amusing to look at, as at the time of writing this we have only recently ended the statewide Coronavirus mask-mandate.These laws, under N.C.G.S § 14-12.7 to § 14-12.10, technically make it illegal to wear masks in public, such that the identity of the wearer is concealed.

So does this law mean the mask-mandate was a contradiction? Some people have taken it to mean so, likely to serve their anti-masks views, but wearing masks during a pandemic is perfectly lawful. This is because the law is written in a confusing manner where context and exceptions are scattered across the books. In this case, the broader context for these laws is that they are about criminalizing armed and militant political secret societies that undermine public safety and our political process. Additionally, the law includes many exceptions for when masks are fine, including:

  • wearing them for holidays, costumes, and other festivals or parades.
  • Wearing masks for occupational safety purposes (e.g. healthcare, construction, etc)
  • Wearing masks for the purposes of physical health or safety of the wearer or others.
  • Wearing masks for a non-secret society that has county approval, for any celebratory or ritual purpose.

So, in summary, while this law looks odd and unconstitutional at face value, it’s instead just extremely specific.

4. Regulations of Certain Reptiles

Ok, this one might not be too unusual if you know anything about wildlife regulations, but there are enough specific statutes under this law, Article 55: Regulation of Certain Reptiles, to warrant being on this list.

Generally, these laws go against people owning, transporting or using certain reptiles without keeping them in a sturdy and secure enclosure. This probably makes sense, as loose reptiles can pose a great danger to people around you. There are three main categories of regulated reptiles:

  • Venomous reptiles
  • Large constricting snakes
  • Crocodilians

The law doesn’t really specific the list of animals under these statutes, but it is not difficult to figure it out. Most venomous reptiles are snakes, and of the 38 snake species in North Carolina, 6 are venomous. There are actually some venomous lizards, including gila monsters and some komodo dragons, which would presumably fall under this law. The statute for constricting snakes does list out what they refer to, including mostly specifies of pythons and the green anaconda.

Crocodilians is where it gets interesting, as the law applies to all crocodilians, except the American alligator. This may seem odd because American alligators are the only type of crocodilian native to North Carolina. However, one key aspect of wildlife regulation is preventing non-native species from destroying the native environment as they may not have natural predators to regulate their population, which can make them go out of control. For this reason, it makes sense to punish people who let lose non-native animals more harshly than animals that would otherwise be in the wild anyways.

The punishment for any of these crimes is a class 2 misdemeanor, unless the crime was intentionally releasing one of these animals into the wild, which is a class A1 misdemeanor

5. Hazing

You have perhaps heard of hazing: ridiculous rituals performed in college fraternities or sororities to initiate new students into the group. Some of these rituals may be rather harmless, perhaps requiring some level of mild embarrassment or physical work. However, there have been enough cases of hazing rituals going off the rails and being deadly, the first of such known cases having happened in Raleigh.

Many students pushing others to engage in such dangerous acts would plead that they never intended harm and did not coerce the victims, but the dangerous culture persisted long enough to warrant putting it down as a crime in the books under Article 9: Hazing, which states:

It is unlawful for any student in attendance at any university, college, or school in this State to engage in hazing, or to aid or abet any other student in the commission of this offense. For the purposes of this section hazing is defined as follows: "to subject another student to physical injury as part of an initiation, or as a prerequisite to membership, into any organized school group, including any society, athletic team, fraternity or sorority, or other similar group." Any violation of this section shall constitute a Class 2 misdemeanor.

The important highlight in this is that the student must have been subjected to actual physical injury, though it does not specific how dangerous such injury should be. While this crime is only a class 2 misdemeanor, there can be much more serious consequences if the victim is gravely injured or killed in the act.

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