Prosecuting overdose: An exploratory study of prosecutorial motivations for drug-induced homicide prosecutions in North Carolina


Prosecutorial use of drug-induced homicide (DIH) laws varies, and their public health impacts are poorly understood. This mixed-methods study explores associations between the number of DIH charges filed in North Carolina’s 42 prosecutorial districts and district-level characteristics. Survey data suggests that perceived justice for the deceased and perceived imperatives to “do something” about overdose influence prosecutorial use of DIH charges. Prosecutors generally appeared to agree that DIH cases had the potential to reduce substance use and/or drug dealing and/or fentanyl dealing and/or drug overdose in their districts, though how DIH cases would produce those effects was not clarified. DIH prosecutions do not appear to be predicted by district characteristics commonly believed to shape prosecutorial action. Many prosecutors endorsed claims about the community-level impacts of DIH prosecutions that are unproven and generally contradict the available evidence. More research on the implementation and community-level outcomes of DIH prosecutions is needed.

Publication Year: 2024

Lead Author: Brandon Morrissey

Publication Type(s): Courts