News Roundup

Nationally, the top story once again centers on Ferguson, Missouri. The United States Department of Justice made two announcements there this week. First, it announced that it would not charge former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson with any federal crime in connection with the shooting of Michael Brown. The memorandum explaining the decision is here. It exhaustively examines the available evidence and concludes in part:

Under the law, it was not unreasonable for Wilson to perceive that Brown posed a threat of serious physical harm, either to him or to others. When Brown turned around and moved toward Wilson, the applicable law and evidence do not support finding that Wilson was unreasonable in his fear that Brown would once again attempt to harm him and gain control of his gun. There are no credible witness accounts that state that Brown was clearly attempting to surrender when Wilson shot him. As detailed throughout this report, those witnesses who say so have given accounts that could not be relied upon in a prosecution because they are irreconcilable with the physical evidence, inconsistent with the credible accounts of other eyewitnesses, inconsistent with the witness’s own prior statements, or in some instances, because the witnesses have acknowledged that their initial accounts were untrue.

Second, the Department announced the results of its inquiry into the operation of the Ferguson Police Department more broadly. That report is here. It hits hard, including this statement from the summary:

Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities. Over time, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices have sown deep mistrust between parts of the community and the police department, undermining law enforcement legitimacy among African Americans in particular.

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Offense Date for Habitual Felon Indictments

A recent conversation reminded me about a question I’ve received several times over the years: On a habitual felon indictment, what should be listed as the offense date? The two main choices are (1) the date of the substantive felony with which the defendant is charged, and (2) the date of the last of the defendant’s previous convictions, i.e., the date that the defendant became a habitual felon. Continue reading

Pattern Jury Instructions Now Available for Free Online

Yesterday, I received the following announcement from a colleague here at the School. I thought that it was worth sharing in its entirety:

The North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions (PJI) are now available, for free, in PDF Format in an Online Library from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government. The Pattern Jury Instructions also remain available in hard copy and software formats. Continue reading

State v. McDonald Provides Useful Primer on Checkpoints

2Was the Checkpoint Reasonable

The facts. A detective with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department writes a plan for a checkpoint to be conducted later in the evening. The plan states that the checkpoint will be established at the intersection of Ashley Road and Joy Street in Charlotte, NC. The plan states that the2Was the Checkpoint Reasonable checkpoint’s purpose is to increase police presence in the targeted area while checking for driver’s license and vehicle registration violations. The plan further states that all vehicles traveling through the checkpoint must be stopped unless the officer in charge determines that a hazard has developed or an unreasonable delay is occurring. If that situation arises, all vehicles must be allowed to pass through until the hazard or delay is cleared.

The checkpoint is conducted from 12:34 a.m. to 1:52 a.m. on the designated evening. Every vehicle that travels through the checkpoint is stopped, and the officers ask every driver for his or her driver’s license.

The question. A passenger in a car stopped at the checkpoint moves to suppress evidence obtained during the stop and subsequent search of the car, alleging that the checkpoint was unconstitutional.

If you were the court, how would you rule?  Continue reading

Restitution for Rewards

Suppose a crime victim offers a reward related to a crime—money for information leading to the return of stolen property, or perhaps information leading to the apprehension of an assailant. If the reward works and leads to a person’s conviction, may the court order the defendant to pay the victim restitution for the reward? Today’s post considers that question, and the related question of whether it is proper to order restitution to third parties that offer rewards, like crime stoppers. Continue reading

News Roundup

I’m back in the office after a day playing in the snow with my family working from home. I am sure that Chief Justice Mark Martin has been at least equally hard at work, preparing for his upcoming State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the General Assembly. According to this News and Observer story, the address will be the first of its kind since 2001, is likely to take place on March 4, and is expected to focus on funding for the courts.

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2015 Sentencing Commission Statistical Report Available

It’s a snow day across much of North Carolina. If your power is on (and your internet connection is working), today’s post will give you something to read by the fire. Allow me to make my annual plug for the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission’s Structured Sentencing Statistical Report for Felonies and Misdemeanors. Continue reading

I’ve Been Arrested . . . But Committed No Crime

[Author’s Note:  This post has been substantively edited to make corrections in response to helpful comments from readers.]

A person generally may not lawfully be arrested unless there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime. But there are several exceptions to this rule. Most involve arrests made pursuant to an order for arrest issued by a judicial official. A judicial official may, for example, issue an order for the arrest of a defendant who fails to appear in court or who violates conditions of probation. See G.S. 15A-305(b). And there is one circumstance in which a law enforcement officer may, without a judicial order or warrant for the defendant’s arrest and without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, arrest a defendant. That’s when the officer has probable cause to believe the defendant has violated a condition of pretrial release. G.S. 15A-401(b)(1),(b)(2)(f.). Continue reading

Sentencing Whiteboard: How Consecutive Felonies Are Served

Today’s post explains the “single sentence rule” of G.S. 15A-1354(b), the law that tells the prison system how to administer consecutive felony sentences. Knowing the rule is essential to figuring out the release date and post-release supervision term for a defendant who receives consecutive sentences.

The video is longer than I would generally like for these things to be, but it takes a little time to spell out the full rule. One thing it does not address is the related question of whether a judge should take the single sentence rule into account when advising a defendant of the maximum possible sentence for his or her convictions. Jessie discussed that issue here.

Knives and the Right to Bear Arms

There’s been a great deal of litigation recently about firearms and the Second Amendment. But guns aren’t the only “arms” sometimes carried for self-defense, and there have been several recent cases about the status of knives under the federal Constitution and state constitutions. Continue reading