New Trafficking Fines Coming for Heroin, Fentanyl, and Carfentanil

My colleague Jeff Welty recently wrote about S.L. 2023-123 and changes to our death by drug distribution laws. He mentioned changes to the mandatory drug trafficking fines for certain drugs there, but I wanted to follow up on that point with the details. The new law, with new fines for certain controlled substances, takes effect on December 1, 2023. This post examines the coming changes to drug trafficking fines. Consistent with my defender-focused role, it also explores potential constitutional issues defenders might consider raising in cases where the new fines apply.

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The Two First Step Acts

Judges, inmates, and others have asked me about the First Step Act, wondering whether it entitles certain defendants to a reduced sentence or an early release from prison. The confusing thing is that there are two First Step Acts—one federal, and one state. The federal First Step Act was signed into law in late 2018. North Carolina’s First Step Act did not become law.

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Options to Mitigate Sentences for Drug Trafficking

North Carolina’s special sentencing rules for drug trafficking are tough. A recently revised summary of those rules is available here. They include mandatory imprisonment and fines that go well beyond the sentence for a crime of comparable offense class on the regular Structured Sentencing grid. A first-time offender convicted of Class G sale of a … Read more


Why Trafficking Really Bites

Drug trafficking offenses can lead to really long sentences, and not just because of the special minimums and maximums that apply to those crimes. Consider this example: My husband and I agree to grow marijuana. We grow and harvest 50 pounds of it. We then arrange to sell it to a street-level distributor. Finally, we … Read more

Revised Drug Trafficking Chart

I mentioned in this prior post that the 2012 Justice Reinvestment clarifications act, S.L. 2012-188, made changes related to drug trafficking. Specifically, the law amended G.S. 15A-1368.1 to make clear that the post-release supervision law applies to drug trafficking sentences and added time onto the maximum sentences for those offenses accordingly. In response to the changes … Read more

Drug Trafficking Chart

Jeff mentioned in this prior post that S.L. 2011-12 created three new drug trafficking crimes—trafficking in MDPV, mephedrone, and synthetic cannabinoids. I have incorporated those new crimes (effective for offenses committed on or after June 1, 2011) into my tabular summary of the drug trafficking law, available here. The front page of the chart includes … Read more

Habitual Drug Trafficking

As most of you probably know, G.S. 90-95(h) sets out special sentencing rules for drug trafficking offenses, including mandatory fines and minimum and maximum sentences that apply regardless of the defendant’s prior record. This chart summarizes the law. During the Felony Sentencing installment of my colleague Alyson Grine’s “Lunchinar” series (available on demand for free … Read more