A Refresher on North Carolina’s Needle Exchange Law and Other Harm Reduction Immunities

In response to the opioid crisis, North Carolina passed several protections designed to alleviate some of the legal liability surrounding drug use in the interest of harm reduction and public health. One of those protections authorized needle exchange programs (alternatively known as safe syringes programs). G.S. 90-113.27. A recent study examined how the needle exchange program is working in seven North Carolina counties and found that the law was not consistently applied. Brandon Morrison et al., “They Don’t Go by the Law Around Here”: Law Enforcement Interactions After the Legalization of Syringe Services Programs in North Carolina, vol. 19, Harm Reduction Journal, 106 (Sept. 27, 2022). Considering the study’s findings, I thought a refresher on the immunity provisions for syringe exchanges and similar protections would be timely. Read on for the details.

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General Assembly Creates New Crime of Death by Distribution

Back in 2017, I wrote about murder charges premised on the unlawful distribution of drugs and what the State must prove to establish a defendant’s guilt. One element the State must prove is malice.

This legislative session the General Assembly created two new crimes penalizing the distribution of certain drugs resulting in a person’s death: death by distribution and aggravated death by distribution. S.L. 2019-83 (H 474). A distinguishing feature of the new crimes is that they require no proof of malice.

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North Carolina Supreme Court Upholds a Magistrate’s Finding of Probable Cause to Issue Search Warrant to Search Home for Drugs

On December 21, 2016, the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Allman upheld a magistrate’s finding of probable cause to search a home for drugs, and it reversed a contrary ruling in this case by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The Allman ruling is the subject of this post.

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Changes in Federal Drug Prosecutions — Spillover in State Court?

Earlier this week, United States Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking to American Bar Association, announced a policy change in how drug cases will be charged in federal court. This post summarizes Mr. Holder’s speech, the policy change it announced, and its likely impact in federal court. It then considers whether the new policy will have … Read more


Maintaining a Dwelling — Part II

The crime of maintaining a dwelling has four elements. To be guilty, a person must: (1)  knowingly (2)  keep or maintain (3)  a store, shop, warehouse, dwelling house, building, vehicle, boat, aircraft, or other place (4)   (a) being resorted to by persons unlawfully using controlled substances or (b) being used for unlawfully keeping or selling … Read more


Maintaining a Dwelling

The crime of Maintaining a Store, Dwelling, Vehicle, Boat, or Other Place for Use, Storage, or Sale of Controlled Substances is a common one. In fact, AOC statistics show that this offense was charged over 14,000 times statewide in 2010. At trial, this crime presents a couple of complicated issues. One is: how does the … Read more


Constructive Possession of Drugs

One of the most frequently litigated issues in North Carolina drug cases is constructive possession. Jeff wrote about one case (here) over a year ago. My research shows no less than eleven published cases in the last two years (click here for a full case listing in my online Criminal Case compendium), including one earlier … Read more

You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Seized

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is classic relationship advice. But is “I didn’t know what I had until it was seized” a classic defense to drug charges? Consider the facts of State v. Hall. An officer stopped the defendant’s car for a traffic violation. The traffic stop led to a search … Read more

Mello and “Loitering for Drugs” Ordinances

Can a municipality adopt an ordinance that criminalizes loitering for the purpose of drug activity? I’ve been asked that question several times, and in fact, a number of North Carolina municipalities have such ordinances. See, e.g., Charlotte Code of Ordinances § 15-23; Hickory Code of Ordinances § 29-22(d). The answer is generally yes, though such … Read more

I See Cocaine

Can a lay witness testify that she could tell just by looking at a substance that it was, in fact, a controlled substance? (Let’s assume the witness has extensive dealings with drugs and therefore a basis of personal knowledge, and leave aside the credibility issues that may arise if she has been an enthusiastic consumer … Read more