Supreme Court Preview: 2015 Term

It’s the first Monday in October, which means it’s the first day of the Supreme Court’s 2015 Term. Read on to learn about the criminal law cases that the Court will consider. Continue reading

News Roundup

While the General Assembly has closed up shop, Congress is going strong, and a bipartisan group of Senators has introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would reform federal mandatory minimums in drug cases, expand the “safety valve,” and require a complete inventory of all federal criminal offenses. The last item especially intrigues me, because several efforts at listing all federal crimes have failed in the recent past. Doug Berman summarizes the legislation here, and a critical reaction to it is here. Continue reading

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Revoked, but Still on Probation?

I was surprised by one of the provisions included in the omnibus criminal law bill, S.L. 2015-247, that Jeff summarized yesterday. The act amended G.S. 15A-1347 to say that when a defendant whose probation is revoked in district or superior court appeals that revocation, “probation supervision will continue under the same conditions until the termination date of the supervision period or disposition of the appeal, whichever comes first.” The change was effective immediately when the governor signed it on September 23, and people are already asking what it means. Here are my thoughts. Continue reading

Omnibus Criminal Law Bill

The General Assembly has just adjourned for the year. Last week, it passed, and the Governor signed, an omnibus criminal law bill, S.L. 2015-247. This post briefly summarizes its main provisions. Continue reading

What Absconding Isn’t

A recent case from the court of appeals helps inform our understanding of what it means to abscond from probation under the statutory absconding condition in G.S. 15A-1343(b)(3a). Continue reading

DWI Not a Basis for First Degree Murder in NC

The Marshall Project published an article last week describing the “paradox of ‘felony murder’ laws,” which allow defendants to be convicted of murder “if a death occurs because of a felony they commit, even if they were not the direct killer.”  While much of the article focused on this aspect of felony-murder, it also mentioned that, in some states, driving while impaired by a repeat offender that results in the death of someone other than the driver can support charges of felony murder. That’s not so in North Carolina.

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News Roundup

There was a steady stream of news about capital punishment this week. The Pope addressed a special joint session of Congress this week, and among many other things, asked the legislature to abolish the death penalty. The full text of the speech is here. Justice Scalia, one of the Supreme Court’s six Catholics, reportedly stated this week that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Court bans the penalty in the future, though he personally believes it to be constitutional. Meanwhile, State Rep. Jon Hardister, a Republican from Greensboro, indicated that he believes the death penalty should be eliminated because he doesn’t “trust the government to do it right” and stated that he is starting “conversation[s]” with other Republican legislators on the issue. Finally, Reuters published this long report, the key finding of which is that “[a] review of 2,102 state supreme court rulings on death penalty appeals . . . over the past 15 years found a strong correlation between the results in those cases and the way each state chooses its justices. In the 15 states where high court judges are directly elected, justices rejected the death sentence in 11 percent of appeals, less than half the 26 percent reversal rate in the seven states where justices are appointed.”

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What can a jail do when an inmate becomes unmanageably dangerous, or unmanageably vulnerable, or unmanageably sick? Or what about when so many people are arrested at once that the jail cannot house them all? In those situations, the jail may seek to have the inmate transferred to the state prison system through a safekeeping order. Continue reading

What’s NOT a Public Vehicular Area?

After the legislature broadened the definition of “public vehicular area” in 2006 to include areas “used by the public for vehicular traffic at any time,” many wondered whether there was any place where one could drive a vehicle (other than a private driveway) that wasn’t considered a public vehicular area. There was even some doubt about those private driveways, since members of the public can drive into them and sometimes do so even without an invitation from the resident. Moreover, North Carolina’s appellate courts had broadly interpreted the term for years—even when it was more narrowly defined.  But the court of appeals put the brakes on an overly expansive reading of public vehicular area last year, rejecting, in State v. Ricks, ___ N.C. App. ___, 764 S.E.2d 692 (2014), the State’s argument that all property used by the public for vehicular traffic is, in fact, a public vehicular area. Continue reading

SCOTUS to Hear Argument in October about Miller Retroactivity

On October 13, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Montgomery v. Louisiana, a case that presents the question whether Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), applies retroactively to convictions that became final before Miller was decided. In Miller the Court held that under the Eighth Amendment a sentencing scheme that mandates life without parole for defendants less than 18 years old at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional. Miller did not categorically ban a life without parole sentence for juvenile offenders; rather it mandated that the sentencer must consider an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics before imposing such a penalty. Miller applies to all cases that were pending when it was decided as well as to all future cases. Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314 (1987). The question of retroactivity is whether the Miller rule applies to cases that became final before the decision was issued. As I noted in a blog post here, the lower courts are divided on the issue. The Court’s decision in Montgomery might finally resolve it. Continue reading