It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written about cannabis issues in the state. Many of the issues I’ve discussed here before remain unresolved, but there has been recent legislation and a new case impacting this area. This post examines the current state of the law on hemp and marijuana. Continue reading
Tag Archives: drugs
In an earlier post, I wrote that simple possession of fentanyl was a misdemeanor Schedule II offense under then-current law. No more. Effective Dec. 1, 2021, fentanyl possession in any amount is treated as a felony. I have been receiving calls about the change and thought a brief post would be useful. Read on for the details. Continue reading →
In keeping with my recent work in the Chapter 90 realm, here is another issue, presented in pop quiz form. Without peeking at the statutes:
I recently taught on the basics of drug law in North Carolina and was reminded just what a tricky area it can be. Chapter 90 of the N.C. General Statutes is a dense, complex, and ever-evolving set of laws proscribing controlled substances. There are many substances, offenses, enhancements, and sentencing rules to know, as well as evidence issues and offense-specific case law. One thorny area involves the law of drug mixtures. While practitioners handling felony drug cases may be aware of the rules here, they may come as a surprise to others. Some applications of the law in this area can produce unexpected results for the unwary defendant. Today’s post examines the rules of drug mixtures and their implications in North Carolina. Continue reading →
Shea blogged about the new crimes of death by distribution and aggravated death by distribution in G.S. 14-18.4, here. These crimes hit the books this past December, and 2020 will likely see the first prosecutions under the law. The Health In Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University School of Law has put together a toolkit to assist defense attorneys with these types of cases, available here. In full disclosure, the toolkit is part of a larger advocacy effort against these types of laws. Whatever your feelings about the policy reflected in the law, it seems likely to present new challenges for court actors applying it. This post highlights issues identified in the toolkit that may arise in NC prosecutions. Continue reading →
A new study by UNC professors raises questions about how we think about drug prosecutions. In Sharks and Minnows in the War on Drugs: A Study of Quantity, Race, and Drug Type in Drug Arrests, the authors reviewed more than 700,000 drug arrests and examined the race of the arrestee, the type of drugs involved, and the quantity of drugs involved. According to the authors, several important points emerge from the data: 1) The vast majority of all drug arrests are for marijuana; 2) The vast majority of all drug arrests are for very small amounts of drugs; 3) People of color are disproportionately arrested for drugs; 4) Such disparities are likely due to the types of drugs targeted by law enforcement and not due to any racial group’s greater involvement in the drug trade. Their study challenges the common rationale for prosecuting low level drug offenders: that in order to catch the big fish (the “sharks”), we must first catch the small fish (the “minnows”). “A drug war premised on hunting great white sharks instead scoops up mostly minnows, and disproportionately ones of color.” Joseph Kennedy, Issac Unah, & Kasi Wahlers, Sharks and Minnows in the War on Drugs: A Study of Quantity, Race, and Drug Type in Drug Arrests, 52 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 729, 730 (2018) (citations hereafter are to the page numbers of the pdf file linked above). The authors argue that their data supports changing the way we approach drug prosecutions by eliminating felony liability in cases involving a gram or less of any drug. This post examines some of those findings. Continue reading →
An ancient maxim of the law is ignorantia juris non excusat, or ignorance of the law does not excuse. Put another way, it is presumed that the public knows the laws, and a defense of ignorance is typically not allowed. This principle is at the heart of the recent decision by the state supreme court in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. ___, (June 9, 2017). Continue reading →
Today, the court of appeals reversed a defendant’s drug convictions because the indictments identified the controlled substances in question using terms that are widely used to describe the drugs, but that are neither the chemical names listed in the controlled substance schedules nor – according to the court – “trade names” for the drugs. Because more and more drug cases involve pharmaceuticals that have many names, it is worth reviewing the case. Continue reading →
I’ve recently been asked several variants of this question: If a suspect sells drugs to an undercover officer on multiple occasions over a few days or weeks, can the drug quantities involved in each sale be aggregated to reach the trafficking threshold? That led me to spend some time looking at the more general issue of when multiple caches of drugs can be combined. This post lays out the law. Continue reading →
The court of appeals decided a case today concerning a fact pattern that arises frequently in drug cases.
State v. McKinney began when an officer received a “citizen complaint” about “heavy traffic in and out of” a particular apartment, with the visitors staying only a short time. The citizen stated that he or she had “witnessed individuals exchanging narcotics in the parking lot with the person who lived in the apartment.” The officer set up surveillance on the apartment, and promptly saw an individual arrive, enter the apartment, and leave six minutes later. Another officer followed the visitor and stopped him for a traffic violation. The visitor had a history of narcotics arrests, and his car contained $4,258 and a gallon-sized bag with just 7 grams of marijuana inside. His cell phone showed recent text messages that appeared to concern a drug transaction. For example, about half an hour before the visitor’s arrival at the apartment, he received a text message stating, “when you come out to get the money can you bring me a fat 25. I got the bread.”
The officer obtained a search warrant for the apartment based on the above information. He executed the warrant, finding drugs and guns. The defendant, the occupant of the apartment, was arrested and charged with several offenses. He moved to suppress, arguing that the warrant was not supported by probable cause, but his motion was denied. He pled guilty and appealed.
The court of appeals reversed, ruling that probable cause was absent. It focused on the lack of evidence concerning the inside of the apartment, noting that neither the officer nor the citizen “witnessed any narcotics in or about the apartment,” and stating that although the officer saw the visitor enter the apartment, there was “nothing in his affidavit which suggests that he saw [the visitor] carry marijuana or anything else inside.” The court cited State v. Crisp, 19 N.C. App. 456 (1973) (finding no probable cause where there was heavy traffic into and out of a residence at all hours and a traffic stop of a resident revealed drugs on his person and in his vehicle), and State v. Hunt, 150 N.C. App. 101 (2002) (finding no probable cause where an officer received complaints of suspicious traffic at a residence and verified that a large number of vehicles visited the residence briefly).
This strikes me as a fairly close case that another court might view differently. For example, a Texas appellate court found sufficient probable cause to search a residence based mostly on a stream of short visits to the residence plus nearby outdoor hand-to-hand transactions. Polanco v. State, 475 S.W.2d 763 (Tex. Ct. Cr. App. 1972). But in light of McKinney and its forbears, North Carolina officers should look for factors like an odor associated with controlled substances, a customer’s admission that he or she purchased drugs at the residence, or a controlled buy or other evidence from an informant.