The North Carolina General Assembly meets in the State Legislative Building in Raleigh, seen here in Feb. 2018. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

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A bill that would change sexual assault laws in North Carolina would be eligible for its first full hearing on the House floor as early as Monday after passing two key committees on unanimous votes Friday.

Currently, it’s illegal to have sex with an incapacitated person in North Carolina, unless the victim caused his or her own incapacitation through drinking or drug use.

If passed, House Bill 393 seeks to close that exception for self-incapacitation, a legal precedent that’s more than a decade old. The measure would also modify other statutes related to sexual assault laws. The bill unanimously passed out of the House Committee on the Judiciary on Friday morning and unanimously from the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House in the afternoon.

The incapacitation loophole was highlighted in a Carolina Public Press media collaboration last month.

The bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship in the House, would also tackle other loopholes in state law. Currently, it’s illegal to drug another person’s food in the state, but not to tamper with their drinks. This bill would change that. 

State Rep. Jay Adams, R-Catawba, presented the bill alongside Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg, during Friday morning’s Judiciary Committee session. The bill’s two co-sponsors advocated for strengthening sexual assault laws in North Carolina.

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Adams said a friend of his family had her drink drugged about 45 years ago.

“She had a psychotic reaction and she never recovered,” Adams said. “I hope you will give it your full support.”

The bill has bipartisan support from its 64 co-sponsors, more than a majority of the 120-member state House.

Leah McGuirk of Charlotte spoke to legislators Friday morning of being drugged last year at a Charlotte bar. She hadn’t even finished her first drink before she collapsed to the floor and had a seizure soon after. Her friends sprang into action and made sure she got a ride home and that she was cared for.

“Had it not been for the fast actions of my friends, I could have been easily sexually assaulted,” McGuirk told legislators.

However, when she tried to file a police report, police eventually told her there was nothing they could charge anyone with.

“I wasn’t technically a victim because I had not been sexually or physically assaulted afterward,” McGuirk said. “It could have very easily killed me had the predator given me an incorrect dosage.”

It would be a different story had she been assaulted or raped. House Bill 393 would change that and make it a crime if someone poisons another person’s drink, even if no other criminal act happens to the person who drinks it.

McGuirk posted about her experience on Facebook, and that’s when she discovered the magnitude of the problem. Dozens of women said it happened to them, too, and police also couldn’t file charges in their cases either.

The bill also changes the definition of the caretaker of a child to include people caring for a child who is not a relative. Beasley said this gives law enforcement and the Department of Social Services more tools to investigate crimes against children.


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Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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