Nearly 700 people have been arrested while protesting at the General Assembly over the past 10 weeks of the legislative session, nearly all charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing and violating building rules.
But what behavior constitutes a violation under those broad statutes is largely at the discretion of the legislature's in-house police force.
Observers say some of those handcuffed and charged with the misdemeanors in recent weeks were exercising their First Amendment rights, behaving no differently than protesters from past years who were not arrested. That has raised concerns about whether Republican leaders who took control of North Carolina's General Assembly in 2010 are directing more aggressive enforcement against citizens who disagree with their conservative agenda.
House Democratic Leader Larry Hall said last week that many were handcuffed for "petty citations" and shouldn't have been sent to jail.