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Drug crimes case prompts discussion about free will

What do drugs, urine and the Constitution have in common? They are all under consideration in connection with a case that is currently being heard by the North Carolina Supreme Court. This bizarre drug crimes case seeks to answer a fundamental legal quandary: Should people be punished for involuntary crimes?

Official reports show that the defendant in this case was arrested for driving under the influence and then transported to a local detention facility in Goldsboro, North Carolina. The defendant asked to use the bathroom upon arriving at the facility, but he accidentally urinated upon himself and grew combative with officers. Corrections employees sought to subdue the man; at that point, a bag of marijuana fell out of his pants.

If the man had been found with the drug before entering the facility, he would have been charged with a misdemeanor. However, since he possessed the drug within a confinement facility, he is now facing felony drug charges. Attorneys in the case say that those charges go against the spirit of the regulation, which is designed to prevent the sale of drugs between inmates in confinement.

A previous ruling resulted in a split decision at the Court of Appeals; two justices said that the man was responsible for reporting the drug before he was taken into confinement. Another judge argued, however, that the man was taken into confinement involuntarily, so he did not deserve to face the felony count. Ultimately, attorneys say that the case comes down to a matter of free will and intent. The state Supreme Court must determine whether the man intentionally brought the drugs into the facility, making him complicit in the crime.

This is a question of fundamental rights for those facing drug charges in North Carolina. Defendants who are accused of certain types of drug possession may be affected by the outcome of this case. A criminal defense attorney may be able to explain the implications of this pending decision for specific clients.

Source: Indy Week, "The N.C. Supreme Court hears a case about drugs, urine and free will" John H. Tucker, Mar. 26, 2014

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