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.
Last month, the Court of Appeals decided State v. Austin, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-494 (Sept. 21, 2021), and a summary of the opinion is available here. Austin addressed several noteworthy self-defense issues, including the sufficiency of the state’s evidence to rebut the presumption of reasonable fear under the “castle doctrine” statutes added in 2011 and whether the trial court’s jury instructions on that issue were proper.
But first, the court had to decide whether the statutory language conferring “immunity from liability” meant that the defendant was entitled to have this issue resolved by the judge at a pretrial hearing. That’s a question I’ve been asked fairly often over the past few years, and my sense is that prior to Austin there were divergent practices on this point around the state.
This post takes a closer look at that portion of the court’s opinion, and explores what we now know and what we still don’t.
So say two statutes enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 as part of its revision of North Carolina’s self-defense law. G.S. 14-51.2(e) and G.S. 14-51.3(b) both state that a person who uses force as permitted by those statutes—in defense of home, workplace, and vehicle under the first statute and in defense of self or others under the second statute—“is justified in using such force and is immune from civil or criminal liability for the use of such force . . . .” What does this protection mean in criminal cases? No North Carolina appellate cases have addressed the self-defense immunity provision. This blog post addresses possible implications.
The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution are commonly known as the Bill of Rights and were ratified on December 15, 1791. It is remarkable how many of these amendments are still resilient today throughout the United States. Their individual freedoms against government interference include: the freedom of speech and religion and the right … Read more