What to Know About Drug Laws in North Carolina

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Drug crimes in North Carolina are taken very seriously — and these types of offenses can come with serious ramifications for your life and livelihood. Significantly, the charges can vary based on a number of factors, including the schedule under which the substance is classified and the amount of the drug in question. If you’ve been arrested or are facing investigation for a drug crime, it’s crucial to have an attorney by your side to protect your rights, assert a strong defense, and fight for the best possible outcome in your case.

What are the Different Types of Drug Crimes?

Drug crimes in North Carolina fall into two general categories: drug possession and trafficking. Possession can be either actual or constructive. For example, to be charged with drug possession, the prosecution must prove that you knowingly had a controlled substance on your person — or you were constructively aware of the presence of the drug and had the intent to use it.

In contrast, North Carolina’s drug trafficking laws prohibit large-scale distribution of controlled substances. Specifically, drug trafficking crimes involve the sale, delivery, or transport of a controlled substance in an amount defined by statute. The amounts outlined under the law for a trafficking charge differ, depending on the type of drug. These offenses are some of the most serious and can result in a mandatory minimum jail sentence ranging from 25 to 225 months, based on the substance and the amount.

What Drugs are Involved in Drug Charges?

Under the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act, drugs are categorized into different schedules, based on the type of substance involved. It’s essential to have an understanding of this classification system, as it plays a vital role in determining the penalties that are associated with drug-related charges. The schedules are as follows:

  • Schedule I drugs — Schedule I drugs are those that have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. These are considered the most dangerous drugs and can include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
  • Schedule II drugs — Schedule II drugs also come with a high potential for abuse. However, the drugs that fall into this category may have limited accepted medical uses with severe restrictions. These drugs can include opium, cocaine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and methamphetamine.
  • Schedule III drugs — Schedule III substances have accepted medical uses and a lower potential for abuse. These can include drugs like anabolic steroids, testosterone, ketamine, and certain barbiturates.
  • Schedule IV drugs — Schedule IV drugs are also accepted for medical use and have a lower potential for abuse than the previous categories. They include drugs such as Xanax, Valium, Ambien, and Tramadol.
  • Schedule V drugs — Schedule V controlled substances have a much lower potential for abuse and accepted medical application. This category of drugs includes certain cough syrups that contain codeine.
  • Schedule VI drugs — These types of drugs have a low potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Substances in this category can include marijuana, hashish, and hashish oil.

Substances that are not included in the North Carolina drug schedules are still illegal if they are banned under federal law.

What are the Levels of Penalty for Drug Crimes?

In North Carolina, drug crimes are typically classified as either felonies or misdemeanors. The level of penalty will depend upon the schedule of the drug involved and the type of drug. For Schedule I drug crimes, the first offense of possession is considered a felony and can result in a prison sentence of several months. For crimes involving every other schedule, a first offense is classified as a misdemeanor. In most cases, except for Schedule V and VI drugs, a second offense will be charged as a felony.

Misdemeanors come with lesser punishment than felonies. Depending upon the offense, they may involve a short amount of jail time or a small monetary fine. You might also be placed on probation or parole as part of your sentence. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that these charges should not be taken lightly — a misdemeanor conviction will remain on your record and show up on background checks.

A felony can come with harsher punishment. A conviction can come with substantial fines and prison time ranging from a few months up to several years. There are also many long-term ramifications of a felony conviction, including difficulty obtaining a mortgage or loan, loss of gun ownership rights, and disqualification from holding public office. It can also impact immigration status or result in the loss of a professional license.

What Defenses Are Available for Drug Crimes?

In any criminal matter, including those involving drug crimes, the prosecution has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There are a number of defense strategies a skillful criminal defense attorney may be able to use to weaken the case against you. Based on the specific facts and circumstances of your case, you may be able to assert the following defenses:

  • Law enforcement violated your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure
  • The police violated your Miranda rights upon custodial interrogation
  • Law enforcement failed to follow proper procedures to obtain a search warrant
  • The drug in question is not classified as a controlled substance
  • You did not knowingly possess the controlled substance
  • There is insufficient evidence to prove the case against you

A knowledgeable attorney will have a deep understanding when it comes to challenging the chain of custody, raising the defense of entrapment, and using other defense strategies that may be applicable in your case. They will also know how to negotiate an effective plea bargain and can assist you with entering a criminal diversion program as an alternative to serving a traditional jail sentence, if you are eligible.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’ve been accused of a drug crime in North Carolina, it’s critical to have a skillful defense attorney by your side who can safeguard your rights, discuss your options, and fight for the best results on your behalf. The Johnston County criminal defense attorneys at Reece & Reece, Attorneys at Law provide reliable representation and adept advocacy for a broad scope of criminal offenses in North Carolina, including drug crimes. Call (919) 300-1249 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.