We are continuing our discussion of House Bill 29, currently under consideration by the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill would change methamphetamine crimes and sentencing in two ways. First, it would put a new crime on the books, a Class H felony for manufacturing meth if the offender has a prior conviction for a meth crime. Second, it would add what amount to aggravating factors to existing meth manufacturing laws, upping the sentences if either a child or an elderly or disabled person is present at the time of the crime or if an emergency responder is injured when attending to the lab.
The State Bureau of Investigation reports that authorities found more meth labs in 2012 than ever before. The number of labs increased 30 percent in 2010 to 2011; last year, SBI agents found 460 labs, about 25 percent more than the year before. Either the problem is increasing, or law enforcement is getting better at locating and busting the labs.
While there are few critics of any measure that purports to save children and vulnerable adults from the negligent or criminal acts of others, this proposal does come at a cost. For one, according to the fiscal impact report, when sentences increase, defense costs increase, too. The report notes that more jail time means “a more vigorous defense,” and that means fewer plea bargains and more trials. That impact could be felt as soon as the law goes into effect.
The second impact would be on the prisons. Adding years to sentences could strain prison budgets and resources down the road. The report points out, though, that the system will not feel the impact for, potentially, another five years.
For one small community in the western part of the state, the meth epidemic hit close to home recently. The SBI and local law enforcement filed charges against a man who allegedly ran the town’s first known meth lab. The lab was reportedly located in an apartment just below a unit where children live.
General Assembly of North Carolina, Session 2013, “Legislative Incarceration Fiscal Note (G.S. 120-36.7) – House Bill 29 (First Edition) 1,” Feb. 18, 2013
Elkin Tribune, “Stevens reacts to Elkin meth lab,” Anthony Gonzalez, March 10, 2013
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