News Roundup

There was tragic news from Bertie Correctional Institution this week where Sergeant Megan Lee Callahan died Wednesday evening after being attacked by an inmate.  Craig Wissink, who is serving a life sentence for murder, is suspected of killing Callahan, according to this report from the Charlotte Observer.  State facilities have been directed to fly North Carolina flags at half-staff until sunset today in tribute to Callahan.

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“Time Served” on Another State’s Sex Offender Registry

North Carolina requires certain people to register as sex offenders in North Carolina for crimes committed in other states. But what if a person has completed his or her term of registration in another state before moving here? Can North Carolina require the person to register again? Continue reading

The Basics of Felony-Murder

I can’t be the only person who was surprised to learn in my first year of law school that a person who never intended to kill someone else could be convicted of first degree murder. Even an accidental killing can result in first-degree murder charges if it occurs during the commission of a dangerous felony. The classic example of this theory of murder, known as felony-murder, is the defendant who agrees to serve as get-away driver while his friends rob a business. Once inside the business, one of the robbers brandishes a gun. The owner of the business, who is confronted by one of the robbers, suffers a heart attack and dies. The defendant and his co-conspirators all are prosecuted for and convicted of first-degree murder based on the felony-murder rule. See People v. Stamp, 82 Cal. Rptr. 598 (Cal. Ct. App. 1969).

Today’s post will review the basics of North Carolina’s felony-murder rule. Next week’s post will explore recent developments regarding when the so-called merger rule may apply to bar charges of felony murder that arise from a single assault that injures and kills a single victim.

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May an Officer Run a Motorist’s Criminal Record During a Traffic Stop?

An officer who stops a motorist for a traffic infraction may run a computer check on the driver’s license and may check for outstanding warrants. The results of these checks may determine how the officer proceeds. For example, if a check reveals that the driver’s license is revoked, the officer may charge the driver with DWLR and may direct the driver that he or she cannot drive the vehicle away from the location of the stop.

May an officer also check a motorist’s criminal record? Such historical information is less likely to dictate the officer’s course of action. But knowing whether a motorist has a record of violent crimes may help an officer determine how cautious he or she must be while completing the stop. This post discusses whether an officer may take time to run a motorist’s criminal record, and summarizes two recent cases on point. Continue reading

Hot Pursuit of a Suspect Within and Outside North Carolina

This post reviews what is commonly known as “hot pursuit” of a suspect to make an arrest outside an officer’s territorial jurisdiction. Note, however, that the actual term in G.S. 15A-402(d) is the “immediate and continuous flight” by a suspect from an officer’s territory. Also, although the statute is specifically confined to an officer’s arrest authority, court cases include other law enforcement actions such as investigative stops and searches. Continue reading

News Roundup

A shocking murder transfixed the nation this week and led to a multi-state manhunt that ended Tuesday with the perpetrator’s suicide.  In Cleveland on Sunday, Steve W. Stephens posted a video to Facebook where he shoots and kills Robert Godwin Sr., a stranger to Stephens seemingly targeted at random.  The News Hour has an overview of the story here.  After a two-day manhunt, a McDonalds employee in Pennsylvania recognized Stephens and called police.  Following a brief chase ended by a PIT maneuver, Stephens killed himself.  Keep reading for more news.

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New Deferral Program for Unauthorized Immigrants Charged with NOL

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Stanford University study suggesting that granting driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants improves overall traffic safety. That approach is not an option in North Carolina, where unauthorized immigrants have been ineligible to obtain a driver’s license, learner’s permit or identification card since 2006. Recognizing that many unauthorized immigrants drive regardless of whether they are licensed, the district attorney in Orange and Chatham Counties announced this week a new policy for disposing of no operator’s license charges against such drivers, provided they meet certain conditions.

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Jail Credit Applied to Split Sentences

When imposing a split sentence, the court has a choice to make about what to do with whatever pretrial jail credit the defendant might have in the case. Apply it to the split? Or apply it to the defendant’s suspended sentence? Today’s post discusses a few issues associated with that choice. Continue reading


Walker, Jacobs, and the Importance of Preserving the Record

Two weeks ago, the SOG hosted over 50 public defenders, contract attorneys, and private assigned counsel at its annual Felony Defender training. The training provides guidance to lawyers transitioning to superior court about handling a felony case from start to finish. Topics include discovery and investigation, pretrial motions, voir dire, and jury instructions, among others. On a personal note, it was my first training in my role as Defender Educator and my first behind-the-scenes look at the effort required to plan and execute a successful course. Without the hard work of the faculty and support staff from the SOG, as well as volunteers from IDS and the private bar, the program would not have been possible. Thanks to everyone that participated. I truly enjoyed the training, especially speaking with the lawyers that attended, and I hope they found it worthwhile as well.

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Insanity, Clinical Standards, and Expert Testimony

In Moore v. Texas, which I discussed here, the Supreme Court of the United States held that courts must rely on current clinical standards when determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled and so exempt from the death penalty. Must courts also defer to clinical standards when determining whether a defendant is insane and so exempt from criminal culpability? I don’t think so, for the reasons below. Continue reading