This post summarizes the published criminal cases from the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued on March 17, 2020.
My colleagues and predecessors here at the School of Government have written about video evidence many times over the years, summarizing the basic rules and significant cases in posts available here, here, here, here, and here.
Recently, though, I’ve been getting questions about a relatively new but increasingly common type of video evidence: high-tech, app-controlled, and remotely stored videos taken by automated devices ranging from doorbell cameras to wifi-enabled, cloud-connected, teddy bear spy cams. Do the old rules still work the same way for these new video tools? Is it substantive or illustrative evidence? If it’s substantive, how is it authenticated? Is a lay witness qualified to testify about how these cameras work? Does the proponent need the original video? Come to think of it, what is the “original” of a video that exists only as bits of data floating somewhere in the cloud…?
As Prof. Shea Denning mentioned in her post yesterday, the School of Government and the Conference of District Attorneys jointly presented the Practical Skills for New Prosecutors course last week. In addition to covering relevant criminal law and ethical rules, the program also addressed the nuts and bolts of running a courtroom and moving the docket — complex tasks that present unique challenges of their own.
One issue from the mechanics and procedure realm that caught my attention was a point that came up during the session on courtroom interpreters and other language services. In the hectic and fast-paced world of district court, how should attorneys and the court respond to a person who says that he or she does not want an interpreter, but there is reason to believe that the person may actually need one? Conversely, what about when someone asks for an interpreter, but he or she seems able to communicate adequately without one? What are the standards and guidelines for deciding if an interpreter is required?
In this blog post from 2012, Professor Jessica Smith summarized Rules of Evidence 101 and 1101, which together dictate that the rules of evidence apply to “all actions and proceedings in the courts of this State,” except for proceedings that are specifically excluded by the rules or another statute. Pursuant to these two rules and the case law interpreting them, proceedings at which the rules of evidence (except for rules of privilege) do not apply include: applications for warrants; grand jury proceedings; first appearances; pretrial release hearings; probable cause hearings; hearings on motions to suppress; witness voir dire; sentencing hearings; probation revocation hearings; and more.
That’s quite a list. If the rules of evidence do not apply to any of these proceedings, are there any limits at all on the evidence that may be offered? Could an unsworn and mentally incompetent witness with no personal knowledge offer irrelevant and prejudicial triple-hearsay testimony about a prior conviction more than 10 years old, offered solely for the purpose of showing the defendant’s bad character and the likelihood that he acted in conformity therewith?
Surely not. But if there are no rules of evidence, why not? The short answer to nearly any question about the admissibility of evidence under Rule 1101(b) is “it’s in the judge’s discretion,” but what guides that discretion, and what are its limits?
If you type “miranda” into the search box on this blog, it will return more than 50 posts covering a wide range of related topics: the meaning of custody, deficient warnings, knowing and voluntary waivers, ambiguous assertion of rights, special rules for juveniles, readvising and reinterviewing, public safety exceptions, and many, many others.
But I was stumped recently by a deceptively simple question that I had not heard before, and did not come up in those results: what if the defendant’s lawyer is present? Does an in-custody defendant still have to be advised of his Miranda rights before he can be questioned by police?
I did some digging, and the case law on this issue genuinely surprised me.
The defendant has been indicted for a felony, and is in custody awaiting trial. The prosecutor decides to submit a superseding indictment to the grand jury, alleging the same offense but expanding the date range and adding a second victim. Unfortunately for the state, the grand jury returns “no true bill” on the superseding indictment.
What impact does the grand jury’s verdict have on the underlying case? Can the state still proceed on the original indictment? Should the defendant be released? May the state submit another superseding indictment and try again? If so, is there a limit to how many times?
These questions crossed my desk recently, and I discovered that the case law interpreting the key North Carolina statutes, G.S. 15A-629 and 646, is pretty thin on these issues. I also learned that other jurisdictions have reached dramatically different answers to the same questions. This post looks at the reasoning behind the competing views, and considers which approach is a better fit under our statutes and cases.
Shocking videos on sites like Faceboook Live may dominate the headlines (see examples here and here), but criminal attorneys know that the humble, old-fashioned audio recording still plays a large role in many cases. The state’s evidence at trial might include recordings of jail calls, witness interviews, 911 calls, suspect interrogations, wiretap intercepts, controlled buys, incriminating voicemails, and more. To aid in presenting that evidence to the jury (especially when the quality or volume of the recording is less than ideal), some prosecutors also prepare and introduce a written transcript of what was said on the tape.
That raises a tough question: Does the introduction of a transcript of an audio recording run afoul of the “best evidence” rule? There are cases that go both ways on this issue, and at first glance the rule seems to be something along the lines of “it is a violation, except when it isn’t, and sometimes maybe it doesn’t matter anyway.”
Let’s try to clean that up a little.
When you open a discussion by saying “I came across a really interesting venue issue the other day,” reactions typically range from “I doubt it” to “could we please talk about something else?”
But hear me out on this one — it’s a puzzler.