Ferguson and the Prosecutor’s Approach to the Grand Jury

Yesterday, the grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri , declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in connection with the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Some commentators have criticized the decision of the local prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, to present all the evidence to the grand jury, rather than only evidence that would support an indictment. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism, for reasons I explain below. Continue reading

A New Addition to the School of Government’s Indigent Defense Manual Series

Emily Coward and I are glad to share a new resource with you: a reference manual entitled Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases. If you are a person who likes to have a hard copy on the shelf, you can buy it here. Like our other manuals, it is available for free online at http://defendermanuals.sog.unc.edu. (The electronic platform has been retooled, and I think you will find that it has a nice look and is user-friendly.) Continue reading

News Roundup

I love highlighting my colleagues’ great work on the blog. Shea already announced her new book this week, but also check out Jessie Smith’s interview on WUNC, talking about the backlog at the State Crime Lab and the practical solutions a working group identified. And take a look at the new electronic platform for all the manuals produced by the School’s Indigent Defense Education group. As a teaser, next week, the blog will feature a newly-released manual that is available on the platform. Continue reading

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Reflections on the Justice Reinvestment National Summit

I’m a little jet-lagged today. I got back home to Durham early this morning after a long flight. I was attending the Justice Reinvestment National Summit . . . in San Diego. Poor baby! Suffice it to say, the winter weather that gripped the East Coast this week did not extend to Southern California. I won’t lie, it was beautiful. But I promise the lovely setting did not stand in the way of a productive gathering. I want to use today’s post to offer a few reflections on the conference. Continue reading

Keeping a Good Thing Going:  New Book Available on Impaired Driving Laws

lawimpaireddriving2014The School of Government has been publishing reference books on motor vehicle law since 1947.  The twelfth iteration of a book on motor vehicle law and the law of impaired driving, written by Ben Loeb and Jim Drennan was published in 2000.  The book went out of print a few years ago, though you’ll find dog-eared copies of it in many offices, including mine.  I’m happy to report that a new book in this series now is available:  The Law of Impaired Driving and Related Implied Consent Offenses in North Carolina.

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Warrantless Stops 101 — Was the Stop Supported by Reasonable Suspicion?

In my first Warrantless Stops 101 post, I offered these basic questions to frame the analysis:

  1. Did a seizure occur?
  2. If so and it was a stop, was it supported by reasonable suspicion or other valid basis?
  3. If reasonable suspicion supported the stop, was the officer’s subsequent conduct sufficiently limited in scope?
  4. If the seizure was an arrest, was it supported by probable cause?
  5. If the arrest was supported by probable cause, was the search permissible?

My first post focused on whether a seizure occurred. This one looks at whether the stop was supported by reasonable suspicion. If so, the stop itself is constitutional and the only remaining issue is whether the officer’s conduct exceeded the scope of the stop, a topic I’ll take up in a later post. Continue reading

Felon in Possession and Felony Murder

Thirteen-year-old Nathan Clark and his teammates traveled from Winston-Salem to Raleigh last Friday night to play in a weekend soccer tournament.  The team never took the field.  As Clark slept in his hotel room Friday evening, a gun discharged in an adjacent room, sending a bullet through the wall and into the back of Clark’s head.  Clark died before he could be transported to the hospital.

The man in the room next door, Randall Louis Vater, was a convicted felon who was prohibited by law from possessing a gun. Vater had been out of jail only two weeks, having been released on October 25 after serving a sentence for violating a domestic violence protective order.  Vater was charged with involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm by a felon based on Clark’s death.  He is being held in the Wake County Jail under a $1 million bond.

Authorities have said nothing about how the gun went off.  Assuming that the discharge was accidental, could Vater be charged with first-degree murder under the theory of felony murder?    Continue reading

News Roundup

It might not seem like a sexy story, but in terms of practical impact, the rollout of a new system for handling certain traffic cases in Forsyth County is a big deal. The Winston-Salem Journal has the story here. The super condensed version is that the new system is for people who have been charged with infractions that the State would normally dismiss upon proof of compliance, like expired tags or no operator’s license. These defendants can scan their citations and the paperwork proving that they’ve addressed the problem, the DA’s office can review the submissions, and if appropriate, the DA’s office will dismiss the charges. If you have experience with the system, please post a comment. Continue reading

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Parental Discipline: When Is It Abuse and/or a Crime?

[Editor’s note: Today’s post is by Sara DePasquale, a relatively recent addition to the SOG faculty. Sara works in the areas of juvenile law and child welfare, and we are delighted to welcome her to the blog.]

Last Tuesday, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson pled no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault after being charged in September with felony child abuse for disciplining his 4 year old son with a switch.  Since the charges, he has been on the NFL “Commissioners Exempt List” and unable to play. Nike terminated his contract on Tuesday, and his future with the NFL remains uncertain. Continue reading

Veterans Treatment Court

The blog was dormant yesterday in honor of Veterans Day. Belated thanks to those who have served. [Editor’s note: Including Jamie, who was a captain in the Air Force before law school.]

This time last year saw the opening of North Carolina’s first veterans treatment court in Harnett County. The governor and other leaders attended the opening ceremony. A year later, the court is graduating its first class today. Other veterans courts are coming online across the state. Cumberland’s court gets underway this week, and others are planned in Durham, Buncombe, and other counties—primarily those that are home to the state’s larger VA medical centers. Continue reading