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What Do We Know About Violent Crime Trends in North Carolina?

Crime statistics are compelling reading. When federal agencies release new estimates of the national crime rate, the news media pounce. The crime rate, its causes, and how to address crime are being hotly debated. Violent crime in particular prompts concern about public safety and the appropriate policy response.

So, what do the data tell us about trends in violent crime in North Carolina?

Where the data come from and what they can and can’t tell us about crime

There are three main sources of crime data in North Carolina: police data, court data, and victim surveys (Figure 1).

This post focuses on the first two data sets: police and court data. Although the victim survey data (from the annual National Crime Victimization Survey) provide estimates for both the nation and North Carolina, they are challenging to use and an in-depth discussion requires more than a single blog post.

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Assessments in Delinquency Cases: When Can They be Done and Are They Confidential?

One of the unique features of the juvenile justice system is its statutory focus on identifying the needs of juveniles and resolving matters to provide “appropriate rehabilitative services to juveniles.” G.S. 7B-1500(2)b. In addition to protecting public safety, dispositions should include “an appropriate plan to meet the needs of the juvenile.” G.S. 7B-2500. The caselaw and statutes that govern one form of assessment in delinquency cases—the comprehensive clinical assessment (CCA)—have undergone rapid change in the last few years. Other assessments, such as assessment for problematic sexual behavior or trauma-focused assessments, may also be needed in certain cases. Questions abound regarding when assessments can occur and what confidentiality law applies to them. This new infographic provides a high-level overview of the law that addresses these questions.

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Does a Dirty Trash Pull Provide Probable Cause to Search a Residence?

The Supreme Court of the United States has held that trash left for collection at the curb is not subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy and therefore may be searched by the police without a warrant. See California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988). So-called “trash pulls” are now a routine feature of drug investigations. When officers find drugs, drug residue, drug paraphernalia, or other indicia of drug activity in the trash, does that provide probable cause to support the issuance of a search warrant for the associated residence? Continue reading

News Roundup

As I write this, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is in federal court in San Francisco for sentencing. She was convicted of defrauding investors and owes restitution of more than $100 million. She could potentially be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, and given the loss amount, federal prosecutors have asked for a 15-year sentence. Holmes is asking for house arrest, and has submitted letters from Senator Corey Booker and over 100 other people in support of her compassion and character. Plus one of the letters says that she’s pregnant, and another says that her dog was “carried away by a mountain lion” from her front porch. The Verge has some highlights and a link to her sentencing memorandum here. Keep reading for more news. Continue reading

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Case Summaries – N.C. Court of Appeals (Nov. 15, 2022)

This post summarizes the published criminal opinions from the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on November 15, 2022. These summaries will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to the present.

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Quick Post-Bruen Update on the Constitutionality of Gun Laws

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022), holding that New York could not constitutionally require residents to show a special need (beyond the general concerns about self-defense that any person might have) in order to obtain a permit to carry a handgun outside the home. I wrote a detailed summary of the case in this prior post. North Carolina doesn’t require any such showing, so the direct impact on our state was minimal.

However, Bruen’s holding arose from a new interpretive approach. The Court rejected the intermediate scrutiny test most lower tribunals had used when analyzing gun laws and replaced it with a historical analysis in which a limit on gun rights is constitutional only if it is “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Lower courts have now begun to apply this framework to assess the constitutionality of various gun laws. The early returns suggest that Bruen’s impact may be substantial across a wide range of federal and state gun laws. Continue reading

News Roundup

The election this week had some notable results. Republicans swept the races for appellate judgeships, shifting the state supreme court from majority Democrat to majority Republican. In Columbus County, Jody Greene was elected sheriff just weeks after resigning the same office. He resigned after District Attorney Jon David filed a petition seeking to remove him based in part on racially-charged comments he made during a recorded phone call. This local story indicates that District Attorney David is planning to file a new removal petition against Sheriff-elect Greene. A similar pattern nearly played out in Franklin County, where former clerk of court Patricia Chastain, who had been removed from office by a superior court judge, narrowly lost her bid to be elected back to the same position. This pre-election story has the details. Keep reading for more news. Continue reading

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State v. Diaz-Tomas Recognizes Broad Prosecutorial Discretion Following Dismissals With Leave

The North Carolina Supreme Court held last week in State v. Diaz-Tomas, ___ N.C. ___, 2022-NCSC-115 (November 4, 2022), that neither a criminal defendant nor the court has the right to compel a district attorney to reinstate criminal charges that were dismissed with leave pursuant to G.S. 15A-932 due to the defendant’s failure to appear. The case arose in Wake County, where the district attorney’s office reportedly would reinstate misdemeanor charges dismissed with leave under G.S. 15A-932 only if the defendant agreed to plead guilty and to waive his or her right to appeal to superior court for trial de novo. As a result, Diaz-Tomas’s only option for ending the indefinite license revocation that was imposed for his failure to appear is to plead guilty to the driving while impaired charges that were dismissed with leave. This post discusses the state supreme court’s analysis and considers how it might apply in other circumstances.

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Case Summaries: N.C. Supreme Court (Nov. 4, 2022)

This post summarizes the published criminal opinions from the Supreme Court of North Carolina released on November 4, 2022. This summary will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to the present.

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Must a Vehicle Be Located in a PVA to Be Searched Without a Warrant?

In State v. Parker, __ N.C. App. __, __ S.E.2d __, 2022 WL 4850255 (Oct. 4, 2022), the Court of Appeals considered the warrantless search of a vehicle that took place at a gas station. The court upheld the legality of the search based on probable cause that the vehicle contained evidence of drug activity. In the course of its opinion, the court stated that “the automobile exception [to the warrant requirement] . . . requires that the vehicle be in a public vehicular area.” Is that right? Continue reading