Sentencing Health Control Measures

Whenever I teach about Structured Sentencing, I usually start by saying that the law covers most North Carolina crimes, with a few exceptions. Capital felonies and violent habitual felons have their own sentencing rules. And of course so does impaired driving. But a final exception carved out of Structured Sentencing in G.S. 15A-1340.10 is G.S. 130A-25, failure to comply with health control measures. I don’t typically spend much time on those rules, though, as there are only a handful of convictions under them in the state each year (seven in 2019). Now seemed like a good time to take a look.

Violations of certain health control measures are punished as provided in G.S. 130A-25(b). The rule applies to violations of G.S. 130A-144(f), which covers compliance with control measures, and violations of G.S. 130A-145, which governs quarantine and isolation orders. Jeff Welty talked a bit about the substance of those regulations here in the context of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, by reference to the work of my incredible (and now incredibly busy) public health colleague Jill Moore. To be clear, these are public health restrictions, not to be confused with the emergency restrictions promulgated by the Governor under G.S. 166A-19.30. Violations of those emergency restrictions—like the stay-at-home order Shea discussed yesterday—are enforceable as regular Class 2 misdemeanors under G.S. 14-288.20A.

As Jill discussed here, the health control measures discussed in G.S. 130A-144(f) are established by the North Carolina Commission for Public Health through administrative rulemaking (for example, 10A NCAC 41A.0201, which covered novel coronavirus after the enactment of an emergency rule in early February as discussed here). Our state health control measures flow in part from CDC guidelines, as administered by local health directors. As Jill taught me earlier today, CDC guidelines could result in control measures that theoretically apply to entire communities, but they are generally enforced only against individuals who are specifically instructed to comply with them. Isolation and quarantine orders under G.S. 130A-145 are more restrictive individualized instructions (Jill distinguishes the two orders here—isolation orders are for those who are already infected or suspected of being infected with a disease, while quarantine orders are for those who have merely been exposed to it).

Violations of control measures and quarantine and isolation orders are misdemeanors, but, as provided in G.S. 130A-25(b), they are not sentenced under Structured Sentencing. Instead, they must be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of no more than two years. There is no accounting for prior conviction level in the determination of the sentence, and the law makes no mention of any possibility of probation. Imprisonment is served not in the local jail or the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program, but rather in a confinement facility designated by the Secretary of Public Safety—which would now generally be Central Prison or the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women.

Notwithstanding any possible award of sentence reduction credit, the sentence is not eligible for release before completion of the sentence unless and until a determination is made by a district court judge, in consultation with the medical consultant of the confinement facility, the State Health Director, and the local health director of the defendant’s county of residence, that the defendant would not create a danger to the public health.

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