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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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Recordings by Government Officials

This post is co-authored with SOG faculty member Kristina Wilson and is cross-posted to the Coates’ Canons blog.

When and how can state and local government officials and employees record government meetings or their interactions with citizens? Does it matter if the recording is done openly or secretly? Recording may be tempting, particularly where there is a controversial matter at issue. The ability to record can be a useful tool, but there are several laws that government actors need to know if they want to use this tool legally and effectively. This post focuses on the issues surrounding government officials and employees recording oral communications outside of the law enforcement context. A later post will examine the issues surrounding video recording.

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News Roundup

Raleigh police are offering rewards for information leading to suspects in two unsolved hit and run cases from late last year, according to this piece. One of the incidents occurred near New Bern Avenue and South Raleigh Boulevard in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 2023. The suspect in that case was driving a gray Dodge Charger. The other involved a pickup truck of an unknown make and model and occurred on Poole Road on the evening of December 16, 2023. The pickup sustained damage to its right headline (or ceiling cover). Both cases resulted in pedestrian fatalities. Raleigh police also intend to pass out flyers to local drivers soliciting information on the crimes. The reward amounts are not mentioned, but anyone with information can contact the Raleigh Police Department or Raleigh Crimestoppers. Read on for more criminal law news.

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News Roundup

A recent study published by The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania examines the use of presumptive field tests used by law enforcement to detect the presence of illegal drugs. It notes that field tests are “notoriously imprecise” and commonly produce a positive result even when no controlled substance is present. The study found that more than 770,000 drug arrests in the nation involved field tests and suggests that around 30,000 people are wrongfully arrested based on false positives from the tests each year. North Carolina law recognizes that field tests do not meet the standards for expert testimony under Evid. R. 702. State v. Carter, 237 N.C. App. 274 (2014). But the use of field tests on the ground—whether to establish probable cause or to determine compliance with conditions of supervision, for instance—remains a common occurrence. You can read the study here. Read on for more criminal law news.

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