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Fourth Circuit Strongly Suggests Including Temporal Limitations on Search Warrants for Social Media Account Information

Earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit decided United States v. Zelaya-Veliz, 94 F.4th 321 (4th Cir. 2024). Phil summarized it here when it came out, but we thought it merited its own post because of its extended discussion of how the Fourth Amendment applies to search warrants for social media account information. The court’s discussion of the need for temporal limitations in such warrants is especially noteworthy, as is the court’s analysis of the scope of the information seized pursuant to the warrants approved by the court. We’ll start with a recap of the case, and then end with some thoughts for law enforcement and prosecutors, and for defenders.

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News Roundup

The first criminal trial of a former U.S. President continues to dominate the news. Trump’s trial on state charges of falsifying business records in furtherance of a felony in New York is now several weeks along. However the trial shakes out, the former president has already been adjudicated guilty of ten counts of criminal contempt for violating a gag order prohibiting him from talking about jurors and witnesses in the case. The trial judge has expressly warned Trump that further violations may result in jail (while also noting the practical difficulties that a jail term would entail). Politico has the latest on the contempt cases here.

Meanwhile, one of Trump’s other criminal cases involving the alleged mishandling of classified records in federal court in Florida is currently in limbo. While a trial date of May 20 had previously been set, the judge recently ruled that more time was needed to resolve pending pretrial motions and removed the case from the trial calendar without setting a new date for trial. It now seems likely that the Florida trial will not occur before the presidential election in November, as this story reports. Read on for more criminal law news.

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Plain Feel, Pill Bottles, and Probable Cause: State v. Jackson

A common point of confusion among law enforcement and the public is about the use of unlabeled pill bottles. Is it legal to possess prescription medicine in a container other than the original bottle with the prescription affixed? Does discovering an unlabeled pill bottle justify seizing and searching it to see if it contains contraband? Can a pill bottle be removed from a pocket during a frisk based on plain feel? Does it provide reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search or arrest a suspect? A case decided by the Court of Appeals earlier this month, State v. Jackson, No. COA23-727; ___ N.C. App.  ____; ___ S.E.2d ___ (Mar. 19, 2024), sheds some light on these questions. Read on for the details.

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Spring 2024 Cannabis Update (Part II)

In Part I of my Spring 2024 cannabis update, I discussed the search and seizure issues arising in North Carolina courts around cannabis. Part II explores drug identification evidence issues surrounding marijuana prosecutions and examines potential challenges defenders might raise. This post will also cover recent developments on the state, federal, and tribal levels impacting cannabis.

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Spring 2024 Cannabis Update (Part I)

It has been a while since my last post on cannabis and criminal law issues, and it is past time for an update. In addition to a number of state cases grappling with search and seizure issues surrounding cannabis, there have been recent developments in the area on the federal and tribal levels. Today’s post will focus on search and seizure issues in marijuana prosecutions. Part II will cover drug identification issues and other recent issues affecting the state of cannabis law.

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News Roundup

Reuters reports that threats against federal judges have substantially increased over the last several years. Threats deemed “serious” by the U.S. Marshals Service rose from 179 incidents in 2019 to more than 450 in 2023. A majority of these threats seem to be motivated by politics and are coming from people without a direct connection to any litigation before the judges. The phenomenon is not unique to federal court judges. A 2022 survey by the National Judicial College of primarily state-court judges revealed that almost 90% of the 398 judges polled expressed concerns for their physical safety. A “true threat” is punishable under state and federal law under any number of different statutes, but many disturbing or offensive comments are protected speech under the First Amendment, as my former colleague Jonathan Holbrook discussed here. Read on for more criminal law news.

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Another Look at PJCs

Prayer for judgment continued or a “PJC” is a common disposition in criminal cases, most frequently for traffic law violations or low-level crimes, where entry of final judgment is delayed indefinitely. We have previously covered when conditions on a PJC convert it to a final judgment, limits on the use of PJCs, sex offender registration and PJCs, whether a PJC can be expunged, collateral consequences of PJCs, and other contexts where questions about PJCs arise. A case from the Court of Appeals last year has generated renewed interest in dispositional PJCs. Dispositional or “true” PJCs typically serve as the final resolution of a case. This is in contrast with PJCs used to continue judgment for a set period of time so the defendant can satisfy some condition or for the court to otherwise remain involved in the case. Today’s post will examine that decision, offer thoughts on how defenders can mitigate the potential risk of a dispositional PJC, and discuss how an unwanted PJC might be avoided altogether.

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