DOBSON — A Siloam man facing several felony drug violations including trafficking was convicted of lesser charges Tuesday in Superior Court.
Michael Bradley Wall, 42, had been arrested in September 2015 after officers, working off a tip from an informant, executed a search warrant at his Quaker Church Road home.
They discovered smoking pipes, ten pills of morphine and “residual amounts of marijuana,” Assistant District Attorney Tim Watson stated in court.
Wall, who had no previous felony record, was charged with trafficking opium or heroin, possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver marijuana, maintaining a drug dwelling and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
UNC School of Government Professor Jeff Welty explained that the heroin/opiates trafficking offense is based on weight, with the lowest level of trafficking starting at 4 grams.
“I think the argument is that four grams of heroin is a large quantity — hundreds of doses,” Welty said in an email. “But prescription opiates often have lots of inactive ingredients, so a relatively small number of pills can weigh more than four grams and so can trigger trafficking-level penalties. The weight of the whole pill counts, not just the weight of the active ingredient. Some folks think that’s not fair or isn’t what the legislature intended.”
Even at the lowest level, trafficking convictions carry a mandatory active sentence and a $50,000 fine.
Welty referenced a N.C. Supreme Court decision that addressed — and rejected a common argument brought by defendants that the trafficking statute was intended to apply “only to large-scale drug distribution operations, not cases involving ‘amounts typical of individual users.’”
Defense attorney Ben Royster made no such argument on Tuesday, and the state didn’t push the issue.
Wall pleaded guilty to lesser charges of simple possession of a schedule II controlled substance, possession of marijuana up to one half ounce, maintaining a drug dwelling and possession of marijuana paraphernalia, all misdemeanors.
Royster did ask Presiding Judge Nathaniel J. Poovey to consider a probation sentence for his client.
He explained that Wall, an electrician, had been badly injured when a high voltage panel exploded on the job.
“He’s quite frankly lucky to be alive,” Royster said.
The defendant had accepted the pain pills during an especially low period and “regrets that decision substantially,” said Royster, also noting that there was no indication he was selling any drugs.
Wall was given two consecutive 100-day sentences, which were suspended pending the successful completion of 18 months of supervised probation.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.