News Roundup

A deadly terrorist attack outside the British Parliament in London is dominating international headlines this week.  As the New York Times reports, a British-born man, Khalid Masood, has been identified as the perpetrator and the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.  Three people were killed, including a Utah man, when Masood drove a vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then fatally stabbed a police constable.  Masood was shot and killed by police.  Keep reading for more news.

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Category: Uncategorized

If You Gave Me a Magic Wand (Some Unsolicited Thoughts on Reforming the Sentencing Laws)

The School of Government is a nonpartisan, non-advocacy institution. That’s a tradition I take seriously. If you can find something in the nearly 400 blog posts I’ve written here since 2009 that makes you think otherwise, I hope you’ll let me know.

That said, I am occasionally asked what I would do if someone gave me a magic wand and told me to make our sentencing law better. “Better” can be a tough concept to navigate while staying true to the School’s policy-neutral underpinnings. But I don’t mind sharing a few ideas focused on the mechanics of the sentencing law—largely as a thought experiment designed to call attention to some of the more confusing aspects of existing law. Continue reading

How DWIs Are Actually Sentenced

This blog is full of posts about the laws governing sentencing for misdemeanor DWI. Until now, however, I haven’t written much about how DWIs are actually sentenced. That’s because I didn’t know. While the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission (“Sentencing Commission”) annually publishes a statistical report on the sentencing of felonies and misdemeanors, that report doesn’t include information about DWI sentences, which are governed by G.S. 20-179 rather than the Structured Sentencing Act. Thanks to the Sentencing Commission’s recent focus on DWI sentencing, however, I now have statistics about how DWIs are sentenced in courtrooms across North Carolina. And I think you’ll be interested in what they show.

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Mistrial Leads to Double Jeopardy Violation in State v. Schalow

In State v. Schalow (Dec. 20, 2016), the trial court’s error in declaring a mistrial led to a successful claim of double jeopardy by the defendant and allowed him to avoid further prosecution for attempted murder. Schalow sheds light on the relatively obscure (at least to me) law of mistrials and double jeopardy. Continue reading

Gorsuch Confirmation Hearing to Start Today

The confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will begin today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This post tells you what you need to know about the hearing. Continue reading

News Roundup

A Wilmington traffic stop involving an Uber driver has received national attention over the past two weeks because officers involved in the stop falsely told the driver, who happened to be a lawyer, that it was illegal to film police.  Jesse Bright, a criminal defense attorney and part-time Uber driver, was using his cellphone to record his traffic stop when an officer told him to stop recording because it violated a recently enacted law.  In fact, there is no such law and Wilmington and New Hanover County law enforcement officials later released statements confirming that it is legal to record encounters with police and encouraging citizens to do so.

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Category: Uncategorized

Sex Offender Registration for Out-of-State Juvenile Adjudications

When, if ever, must a person register as a sex offender in North Carolina because of a juvenile adjudication from another state? Continue reading

Harmless Error and Jury Unanimity in DWI Cases

Shortly after I published last week’s post on State v. Babich, an astute reader asked about the court’s harmless error analysis. How, he inquired, could the improper admission of expert testimony that the defendant had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 be harmless error? Did the jury’s verdict indicate that it found the defendant guilty only under the “under the influence” prong of impairment rather than under the “alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more” prong? To answer these questions, I had to dig into the record on appeal and provide a bit of background on the requirement for jury unanimity in DWI cases. I thought others might be interested in my response.

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Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules That an Officer Was Not Entitled to Summary Judgment in a Civil Lawsuit for an Arrest Allegedly Made Without Probable Cause

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled (2-1) in Smith v. Munday, 848 F.3d 248 (4th Cir. Feb. 3, 2017), that a North Carolina officer was not entitled to summary judgment in a civil lawsuit for arresting the plaintiff allegedly without probable cause. This case is the subject of this post. Continue reading

Prying Open the Jury Room: Supreme Court Creates an Exception to the No-Impeachment Rule for Racial Bias

[Editor’s note: Today’s post was written by Alyson Grine and Emily Coward. Until last year, Alyson was the Defender Educator at the School of Government. She is now an Assistant Professor of Law at NCCU, but she continues to work with the School of Government’s Indigent Defense Education team on the NC Racial Equity Network. Emily is a Research Attorney with the Indigent Defense Education team at the School of Government.]

Summary: In its March 6 opinion in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out an exception to the “no impeachment” rule for cases in which a juror makes a clear statement that he or she relied on racial bias in voting to convict a criminal defendant. In such cases, the evidentiary rule preventing the court from hearing juror testimony about statements made during deliberations must give way so that the court may consider whether the alleged racial bias violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. We may be opening ourselves up to accusations that we are seeking to extend our moment in the spotlight by blogging about this case: as mentioned in last week’s News Roundup, the manual we co-authored, Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases, was cited by Justice Alito in his dissenting opinion. However, as this opinion marks the beginning of a new chapter in the centuries old “no impeachment” rule, it’s important for North Carolina practitioners to understand its implications. Continue reading