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Misdemeanor Attorneys Come to the SOG

Last week we hosted nearly 30 mostly new attorneys for the Misdemeanor Defender program. The training takes place here every fall, and focuses on preparing attorneys for handling cases at the district court level. If you’d like to know more about our indigent defense education programs, jump to the end of this post to find out about available training materials and future trainings.

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State v. Huddy and the Community Caretaking Exception

Huddy, ___N.C. App. ___, 799 S.E.2d 650 (April 18, 2017) was decided earlier this year and reversed the trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress. A unanimous Court of Appeals found that the search of the defendant’s home was not justified under either the knock and talk doctrine or the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. The knock and talk portion of the opinion is interesting (indeed, the concurring opinion is devoted solely to that topic) and invalidates the search on those grounds, but I wanted to focus on the community caretaking aspect of the opinion. Jeff previously blogged about the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement here. Huddy doesn’t answer all of the questions raised in that post about the exception, but the opinion sheds some light on its scope and shows the balancing test for the exception in practice.

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Summer Confrontation Clause Cases

This past June saw a flurry of Confrontation Clause cases from the appellate division: State v. Miller, ___ N.C. App. ___ (June 20, 2017), temp. stay allowed, ___ N.C. ___ (July 3, 2017); State v. McKiver, ___ N.C. ___ (June 9, 2017); and State v. Clonts, ___ N.C. App. ___ (June 20, 2017), temp. stay allowed, ___ N.C. ___ (July 9, 2017) (a sprawling 84 page opinion including the dissent). These make for some great summer reading, at least to me. Because the cases touch on various aspects of Confrontation Clause law (and just in case your summer reading interests vary from mine), I wanted to briefly summarize them.

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When is Ignorance of the Law an Excuse?

An ancient maxim of the law is ignorantia juris non excusat, or ignorance of the law does not excuse. Put another way, it is presumed that the public knows the laws, and a defense of ignorance is typically not allowed. This principle is at the heart of the recent decision by the state supreme court in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. ___, (June 9, 2017).

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State v. Glisson and Multiple Conspiracies

When a group of confederates undertake to commit a series of criminal acts, is there one conspiracy or multiple conspiracies? The case of State v. Glisson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 796 S.E.2d 124, (Feb. 7, 2017), dealt with that issue. The answer, it turns out, is fact-specific and less than crystal clear.

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Walker, Jacobs, and the Importance of Preserving the Record

Two weeks ago, the SOG hosted over 50 public defenders, contract attorneys, and private assigned counsel at its annual Felony Defender training. The training provides guidance to lawyers transitioning to superior court about handling a felony case from start to finish. Topics include discovery and investigation, pretrial motions, voir dire, and jury instructions, among others. On a personal note, it was my first training in my role as Defender Educator and my first behind-the-scenes look at the effort required to plan and execute a successful course. Without the hard work of the faculty and support staff from the SOG, as well as volunteers from IDS and the private bar, the program would not have been possible. Thanks to everyone that participated. I truly enjoyed the training, especially speaking with the lawyers that attended, and I hope they found it worthwhile as well.

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Mistrial Leads to Double Jeopardy Violation in State v. Schalow

In State v. Schalow (Dec. 20, 2016), the trial court’s error in declaring a mistrial led to a successful claim of double jeopardy by the defendant and allowed him to avoid further prosecution for attempted murder. Schalow sheds light on the relatively obscure (at least to me) law of mistrials and double jeopardy.

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Rule 404 and Evidence of Prior Incarceration

In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals granted a new trial on the ground that improper and prejudicial character evidence regarding a prior incarceration of the defendant was admitted at trial. The case presents a reminder about the distinction between North Carolina Rules of Evidence 404(a) and 404(b) and sheds light on the admissibility of evidence of a defendant’s incarceration.

Facts. In State v. Rios, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Dec. 20, 2016), law enforcement obtained a warrant to search the residence of the defendant, where he lived with the homeowner and another roommate. The search revealed nearly sixty pounds of marijuana and a host of other evidence of drug distribution activity. The police found about seven pounds of marijuana in the defendant’s bedroom, most of which was in a large box. Fifty more pounds were found in the garage. A latent fingerprint found on drug-packaging material in the homeowner’s room was matched to the defendant.

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Body-Camera Footage Leads to Plain Error Reversal in State v. Miller

My colleagues here have previously blogged about the impact of Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), and my predecessor Alyson Grine created a handy chart summarizing North Carolina cases on the matter, found here. Rodriguez of course held that a traffic stop may not be extended beyond the time necessary to accomplish the purpose of the stop, absent reasonable suspicion or consent, and effectively overruled prior case law in NC allowing de minimis extensions of such stops. In December, the Court of Appeals issued a new, unanimous decision applying this rule in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. App. ____ (Dec. 20, 2016), temp. stay allowed, ___ N.C. ___ (Jan. 4, 2017). I found it noteworthy for the role that the officer’s body-camera footage played, as well as for the fact that the court applied plain error review to grant the defendant a new trial. 

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