As Chris Tyner explained here a few weeks ago, the School of Government will be continuing Professor Smith’s practice of summarizing recent North Carolina appellate cases on criminal law. The summaries will be posted here on the blog, and also sent out to the criminal law listserv. This post provides summaries of the North Carolina Court of Appeals opinions published on July 2, 2019.
Jeff Welty blogged last week about State v. Capps, __ N.C. App. __, 2019 WL 2180435 (May 21, 2019). The central issue in that case was the state’s use of a misdemeanor statement of charges, but there was a minor detail in the facts that caught my eye because it raises an issue I’ve been asked about more than once.
What is the status and authority of a law enforcement officer when he or she is off-duty?
Let’s start with a brainteaser:
If there are no North Carolina criminal appellate cases citing to Rules of Evidence 803(7) or 803(10), does that prove that the rules are never used?
If you know your rules of evidence, then you get it. (You’re probably not that amused… but you get it.) If you need a quick refresher on these two rules, or an explanation of why it would be surprising that there are virtually no criminal appellate cases mentioning either of them, read on.
This question has come up more than once around here lately, so I thought it would be worth summarizing in a blog post.
The defendant is in district court charged with a routine misdemeanor (e.g., larceny, assault, or DWI). The state has additional evidence that would support pursuing a related felony charge instead (e.g., new information about the value of the stolen property, the severity of the injuries inflicted in the assault, or the defendant’s multiple prior convictions for DWI). The prosecutor and the defense attorney talk it over, and they reach a deal: the state will not bring the higher felony charge, but only if the defendant pleads guilty to the misdemeanor – right now, as charged, take it or leave it.
The defendant agrees and enters a guilty plea. Then, a few days later, the defendant gives notice of appeal to superior court for trial de novo on the misdemeanor. May the state now prosecute the felony charge in superior court?
This post walks through the legal arguments for and against it, and then offers a few suggestions on how the state can avoid getting caught in this trap in the first place, including one option whose persistent absence from North Carolina criminal practice really puzzles me: a basic appeal waiver.
Love them or hate them, it looks like “emojis” are here to stay. As of this writing, more than 3,000 emojis have been officially recognized, standardized, and named by the Unicode Consortium (a group that cares very deeply about emojis, among other things) and they have been adopted for widespread use on cell phones, tablets, email clients, and social media platforms.
Emojis now exist as a way to succinctly express everything from the ordinary and familiar ( smiling face; thumbs-up) to the surprisingly specific ( mountain cableway; moon viewing ceremony) to the routinely misunderstood ( not “angry” but rather “persevering face;” not “shooting star” but rather “dizzy”), to the criminally repurposed ( snowflake to mean cocaine; rocket to mean high drug potency).
The explosive growth of this alternative form of communication is raising some interesting questions for criminal attorneys and the court system as a whole. Should emojis be considered “statements,” on equal footing with written or spoken words? If they’re not statements, then what are they? Who decides what is meant by the use of a particular emoji? Do they have to be published to the jury and included in the record as images, or can they be summarized and described by words? What should practitioners do to make sure that emojis are accurately reflected in transcripts, court orders, and appellate opinions, since many court systems are text-based and do not allow for the inclusion of images?
Let’s about it.
I spent a few years working on drug cases when I was a prosecutor, so I was generally aware that North Carolina has a set of laws that impose taxes on “unauthorized substances.” See G.S. 105-113.105 – 113. Just like cigarettes, cars, or blue jeans, these unauthorized substances are commodities that people buy and sell, so they are subject to taxation by the state.
I was also aware that, not surprisingly, virtually no one pays these taxes or obtains the appropriate “tax stamps” to put on their drugs and moonshine. Instead, the laws are used primarily as a mechanism to pursue civil forfeiture of a defendant’s assets after he or she is convicted of a drug offense.
But recently, I began to wonder – are these laws purely theoretical? Is it even possible for drug dealers to comply? Does the Department of Revenue keep big rolls of stamps behind the counter, like a post office? What would happen if someone walked into a Revenue office one day and said “hello, will you sell me some tax stamps for illegal substances, please?”
I wanted to find out, so that’s exactly what I did.
Last Monday, North Carolina’s newly-elected sheriffs were sworn into office. A key issue in several of the campaigns was whether the candidates would or would not continue to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Incoming Sheriff Garry McFadden announced that he will be ending Mecklenburg County’s participation in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “287(g) program.” Incoming Sheriff Gerald Baker in Wake County likewise pledged to end his office’s participation in the 287(g) program, and incoming Sheriff Clarence Birkhead in Durham County announced that his office would no longer honor any “detainer requests” from ICE.
Coincidentally, on the same day that those elections were being held, the Court of Appeals decided Chavez v. Carmichael, __ N.C. App. __ (Nov. 6, 2018), which analyzed whether a defendant can challenge immigration detainers in state court on habeas corpus grounds. In addition to answering that central question, the Chavez decision also helps to clarify the sometimes-overlooked distinction between the 287(g) program as a whole and ICE detainers in particular, and it points out an important statutory limitation on the extent to which custodial law enforcement agencies may “decline to investigate” the immigration or residency status of a person in custody. Continue reading →
Ordinarily, a pleading that fails to accurately allege every element of the offense is defective and is treated as a jurisdictional nullity. See, e.g., G.S. 15A-924(a)(5) (“as a prerequisite to its validity, an indictment must allege every essential element of the criminal offense it purports to charge”); State v. Harris, 219 N.C. App. 590 (2012) (indictment is invalid and confers no jurisdiction on the trial court if it “fails to state some essential and necessary element of the offense”).
The limited exception to this rule is the somewhat relaxed pleading standard for a citation, which may still be sufficient even if it fails to state every element, as long as it reasonably identifies the crime charged. Shea Denning and Jeff Welty covered that issue in a series of posts available here, here, and here.
Several recent cases from the Court of Appeals have offered a good reminder about another important corollary to the general rule for pleadings: although an indictment must “allege every element” in order to be valid, the state has quite a bit of flexibility in how that standard can be met.
Like most of the rest of the country, I followed the recent confirmation hearings for Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh with great interest.
As the readers of this blog already know, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Much of her testimony recounted her recollection of that event, but some of her testimony was of a different nature. In addition to telling the Committee what she recalled, Dr. Ford also described the biological and chemical processes of memory itself, such as the way that neurotransmitters encode memories into the hippocampus.
Most of us will never participate in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but a similar type of dual testimony can arise in criminal trials in state court, and it raises some interesting issues.
As far as I know, July 21, 2015, was a pretty normal day at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The court published around a dozen opinions. Most of them dealt with issues like worker’s compensation and equitable distribution, but there were a few criminal cases. One of them was State v. Saldierna, a juvenile interrogation case, which was later reversed. Bob Farb blogged about that here.
In other words, just another day at the office.
The court also released more than 30 additional opinions on the same day, on the same website, written by the same judges, and many of them addressed hot-button criminal topics like lay witness identification of drugs, custodial interrogations of juveniles, sufficiency of a drug indictment, and improper closing arguments.
But those cases were marked as “unpublished,” so we all pretty much just ignored them and pretended they didn’t happen.
Wait… what? What are unpublished cases? We’re told that citing to them is “disfavored,” so are they good law or not? Who decides which cases make the cut for publication? And more importantly — why? In a digital world where cases are available online, what does “unpublished” really mean? And why are we talking about July 21, 2015?
So many questions. I have one or two answers.