Administration of Justice Bulletin #2022/01

Units of Prosecution

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

      It has long been held that the allowable unit of prosecution for an offense is within the discretion of the legislature. “[W]hen the legislature does not clearly express legislative intent, the court must determine the allowable unit of prosecution. In doing so, any ambiguity should be resolved in favor of lenity,” meaning “doubt will be resolved against turning a single transaction into multiple offenses.” 

     North Carolina courts have resolved issues related to units of prosecution in some contexts— including kidnapping, possession of firearms, and theft crimes—while there are questions that remain unanswered in other contexts. Some answers are clearer and more direct than others. This bulletin reviews case law on permissible units of prosecution for certain offenses against the person, possession offenses, and theft offenses. This bulletin also provides some insight as to how courts have resolved issues related to permissible units of prosecution, including statutory construction and the rule of lenity.

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Public Officials - Local and State Government Roles