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News Roundup

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice that wounded five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise who remained in critical condition for months before returning to Congress.  This year’s game was held last night at National’s Park, with Scalise starting at second base.  As noted in this report from Washington news outlet NBC 4, there have been many high-profile mass shootings in the year that has passed since the attack and national opinion on gun legislation remains divided.  Keep reading for more news.  Continue reading

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New NC Case on Testimonial Nature of Victim’s Statements to Officers

Under the Crawford Confrontation Clause rule, testimonial statements by witnesses who aren’t subject to cross-examination at trial can’t be admitted unless the witness is unavailable and there has been a prior opportunity for cross-examination. Smith, A Guide to Crawford and the Confrontation Clause, in NC Superior Court Judges Benchbook (UNC School of Government Aug. 2015). In the Davis case, the US Supreme Court set out a two-part rule for determining whether or not statements are testimonial for purposes of the Confrontation Clause: Continue reading

Got Probable Cause for Impaired Driving?

Two recent North Carolina Court of Appeals opinions help delineate when an officer has probable cause to believe a driver is driving while impaired. In each case, the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s determination that the officer lacked probable cause.

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Who Goes First?

The defense files a motion to suppress evidence in superior court, and the judge sets the matter for a hearing. The parties and their witnesses show up, ready to give testimony and make their arguments. The judge opens court and asks a simple question: “who’s going first, the state or the defense?”

A view I’ve often heard expressed is that the state has to go first, because even though it was the defendant’s motion which prompted the hearing, “the state always has the burden” and the party with the burden goes first.

That’s generally a correct statement about the burden of proof, but the corresponding rule about order of presentation is a little more… flexible.

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What Everyone Needs to Know about Knock and Talks

Knock and talks are a common, useful, and sometimes controversial law enforcement tool. I thought that I would put together a post that summarizes the principal legal issues that they present. Continue reading

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News Roundup

As the News Roundup previously has noted, former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene is facing federal fraud and embezzlement charges related to allegations that she misused county funds for personal purposes.  The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Greene’s criminal exposure increased significantly this week with the filing of a new 23-count indictment charging her with various additional frauds and money laundering.  Keep reading for more information about the case and other news.

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“Revoking” Deferral Probation

Do the Justice Reinvestment Act’s limitations on a judge’s authority to revoke probation apply in deferred prosecution and conditional discharge cases?

Defendants can be placed on probation as part of a deferred prosecution or conditional discharge. The statutes governing that probation don’t spell out every detail of what it looks like. Instead, they typically incorporate by reference the ordinary rules of Article 82 of Chapter 15A—the probation article. See, e.g., G.S. 15A-1341(a1) (“A person who has been charged with a Class H or I felony or a misdemeanor may be placed on probation as provided in this Article . . . .”). We know that “[i]n the absence of a provision to the contrary, and except where specifically excluded, the general probation provisions found in Article 82 of Chapter 15A apply to probation imposed under G.S. 90-96.” State v. Burns, 171 N.C. App. 759 (2005).

One of the most important rules in Article 82 is that the court may revoke probation only for new crimes and absconding. G.S. 15A-1344(a). The court may also revoke probation for felony and DWI probationers who have served two prior periods of confinement in response to violation (CRV), and for misdemeanor probationers who have received two prior quick dips in the jail. G.S. 15A-1344(d2).

Of course, “revocation” means something different in the context of a deferral case than it does in regular post-conviction probation. It is not the activation of a suspended sentence. Rather, in a deferred prosecution case, it is an “order that charges as to which prosecution has been deferred be brought to trial.” G.S. 15A-1344(d). In a conditional discharge case, it is entry of judgment and sentencing. Notwithstanding those conceptual differences, the question remains: are the rules limiting the court’s authority to revoke among the “general probation provisions found in Article 82” that, under Burns, apply in deferral cases, too? Or does some “provision to the contrary” control, allowing probation to be revoked for any violation in deferral cases?

I don’t think there’s a clear answer.

The best argument that probation may be revoked for any violation is probably the language found in various conditional discharge statutes saying that, “upon violation of a term or condition of [conditional discharge probation],” the court may enter judgment and proceed as otherwise provided. Language to that effect appears in G.S. 90-96(a), G.S. 90-113.14(a) (toxic vapors), G.S. 15A-1341(a6) (misdemeanors and Class H and I felonies and drug treatment court), and G.S. 14-204(b)(5) (prostitution). Those laws refer to violation of “a term or condition,” without specifying that it need to be a violation of any particular condition. There is no similar language directly applicable to deferred prosecution probation.

As practical matter, the JRA’s three-strikes approach to technical violations strikes me as a poor fit for deferral cases. In my opinion (outlined here) those cases are ineligible for CRV or quick dips—the sanctions that qualify as strikes one and two. It seems unlikely that the legislature intended deferral cases to be entirely revocation-proof until the defendant committed a new crime or absconded, but no law unambiguously exempts those cases from the general rule.

The one type of conditional discharge that clearly sets out a rule different from the JRA is G.S. 90-96(a1). That lesser-used cousin of G.S. 90-96(a) says that a failure to complete drug education school—something that would be a mere technical violation in the context of a regular post-conviction probation case—“shall constitute grounds to revoke.” Indeed, upon receipt of information that the defendant has failed to complete the program, the court is required to revoke. That’s a departure from the general rule that the court has discretion on whether or not to revoke probation even in the face of a revocation-eligible violation.

Does a No Contact Order Apply While the Defendant Is in Jail?

When setting conditions of pretrial release in domestic violence cases, magistrates and judges often order a defendant not to contact the victim. Those directives clearly apply to a defendant once he is released from jail subject to those conditions. But what about a defendant who remains in jail? Is he also subject to a no contact condition included on a release order? The court of appeals addressed that issue yesterday in State v. Mitchell.

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Some Clarity on Self-Defense and Unintended Injuries

Earlier this year, in State v. Gomola, ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E.2d 797 (Feb. 6, 2018), the Court of Appeals addressed a self-defense issue that has sometimes puzzled the North Carolina courts. The question in Gomola was whether a person can rely on self-defense to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. The Court answered with a decisive yes . . . if the basis for the involuntary manslaughter charge is an unlawful act such as an assault or affray. Continue reading

Even When the Controlled Buys Happen at the Back Door, Knock and Talks Must Happen at the Front Door

I’ve blogged before about whether law enforcement officers may go to a side door, or the back door, when attempting to conduct a knock-and-talk. The court of appeals just decided another case on point, again holding that an officer generally may not do so. Continue reading