The Fourth Circuit recently issued a decision prohibiting retrial of a defendant charged with murder following a mistrial. The government obtained the mistrial over the defendant’s objection when a key witness could not be located during the trial. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit found that no manifest necessity justified the mistrial and that double jeopardy prohibited another attempt by the government to convict the defendant. I previously wrote about mistrials and double jeopardy here, and I wanted to flag this case for readers for its treatment of missing witnesses in the mistrial context. The case is Seay v. Cannon, ___ F.3d ___, 2019 WL 2552953 (4th Cir., June 21, 2019). Continue reading
Back in November of last year, I wrote about hemp and CBD laws here. I have been teaching quite a bit on the subject lately and wanted to follow up that post with an examination of how legal use of hemp products may affect marijuana prosecutions in North Carolina. Continue reading →
A new study by UNC professors raises questions about how we think about drug prosecutions. In Sharks and Minnows in the War on Drugs: A Study of Quantity, Race, and Drug Type in Drug Arrests, the authors reviewed more than 700,000 drug arrests and examined the race of the arrestee, the type of drugs involved, and the quantity of drugs involved. According to the authors, several important points emerge from the data: 1) The vast majority of all drug arrests are for marijuana; 2) The vast majority of all drug arrests are for very small amounts of drugs; 3) People of color are disproportionately arrested for drugs; 4) Such disparities are likely due to the types of drugs targeted by law enforcement and not due to any racial group’s greater involvement in the drug trade. Their study challenges the common rationale for prosecuting low level drug offenders: that in order to catch the big fish (the “sharks”), we must first catch the small fish (the “minnows”). “A drug war premised on hunting great white sharks instead scoops up mostly minnows, and disproportionately ones of color.” Joseph Kennedy, Issac Unah, & Kasi Wahlers, Sharks and Minnows in the War on Drugs: A Study of Quantity, Race, and Drug Type in Drug Arrests, 52 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 729, 730 (2018) (citations hereafter are to the page numbers of the pdf file linked above). The authors argue that their data supports changing the way we approach drug prosecutions by eliminating felony liability in cases involving a gram or less of any drug. This post examines some of those findings. Continue reading →
James gives his friend Angela some money to purchase drugs. Angela doesn’t get the drugs and doesn’t return the money. James then comes to Angela’s house to confront her and get his money back, barging into the house and threatening her with a gun. James ultimately leaves without any money but is soon charged with attempted armed robbery. He testifies at trial that he had no intent to commit robbery; he was simply trying to get his property back. Angela admits on the stand that she had the money and never returned it or bought the drugs. James moves to dismiss, arguing that the State’s evidence is insufficient to establish any felonious intent—because he had a legitimate claim to the property, he couldn’t have committed robbery.
Cast your vote, and read on for the answer.
Back in December, the Fourth Circuit ruled on a habeas petition of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, denying relief. The case has been winding its way through federal courts for more than 40 years. I wanted to flag it for readers in this post, both as one of the more notorious North Carolina murder cases and as an opportunity to examine the legal principles of actual innocence claims in federal habeas. Fair warning, this post contains some minimal (but grisly) details of the killings. Continue reading →
Last week I had the pleasure of hosting around 40 attorneys for the second part of a new course, Higher Level Felony Defense. The first part, held in early 2018, focused primarily on preparing a case for trial. We also included a deep dive into jury selection. This second part focused on common issues in serious felony cases as well on sentencing advocacy. As a new program, I’m sure it will evolve, but I thought the first iteration was promising and wanted to talk briefly about the program and our goals. Continue reading →
That in effect was the question presented in the recent N.C. Supreme Court decision in State v. Melton (Dec. 7, 2018), where the court vacated an attempted murder conviction in a murder-for-hire case. Before getting into the case, let’s review the elements of solicitation and attempt. Continue reading →
Chances are you’ve heard of CBD products. Many cities around North Carolina have stores specializing in CBD products, and it’s widely available online and in ‘vape’ shops. It’s marketed for its health benefits and is touted as a safe and legal (if largely unregulated) treatment for a variety of conditions, from depression to inflammation to cancer and acne. I was recently asked to look at the law surrounding CBD products, and this post summarizes what I found. Continue reading →
Back in February, I blogged about State v. Bridges, ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E.2d 365 (Feb. 6, 2018), and drug identification. In short, Bridges held that the defendant’s out-of-court admission to an officer that a substance was “meth” was sufficient to meet the State’s burden of proving the identity of the substance, at least where the defendant failed to object to the testimony. This decision arguably signified an expansion of the Nabors exception to the Ward rule that a chemical analysis is generally required to establish drug identity (subject to other exceptions covered in the post). For a more thorough review of the topic, see that previous post. The Court of Appeals recently decided another drug ID case, State v. Osborne, ___ N.C. App. ___ (October 2, 2018), adding a new wrinkle to the rules. Continue reading →
Consider the following scenario: Driver Dan is traveling down a dark county two-lane road in his sedan. Traffic is light but slow due to the cold weather and mist. Another driver in a truck appears behind Dan and starts tailgating him, getting within a few feet of his bumper. After unsuccessfully trying to pass Dan, the other driver begins tailgating Dan even more, now staying within inches of his bumper. When the cars ahead turn off and the road is clear, slows to let the other driver pass, but the other driver continues closely riding Dan’s bumper for several miles, flashing high beams at times. Eventually, the other driver pulls alongside Dan and begins “pacing” him, staying beside Dan’s car instead of passing. The other driver then begins to veer into Dan’s lane, forcing Dan’s passenger-side tires off the road. As Dan feels the steering wheel begin to shake, he fears losing control of his car and decides to defend himself with his (lawfully possessed) pistol. He aims through his open window at the other driver’s front tire and shoots, striking it and halting the other vehicle. The other driver stops without further incident, and Dan leaves. Dan is eventually charged with shooting into an occupied and operating vehicle, a class D felony and general intent crime.
Vote here, and then read on for the answer. Continue reading →