The court of appeals held yesterday in State v. Fincher, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (2018), that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it permitted a drug recognition expert to testify in a DWI trial that the defendant was under the influence of a central nervous system depressant. The defendant argued that the State failed to lay a sufficient foundation to establish the reliability of the drug recognition examination, but the court determined that no such foundation was required as the General Assembly had legislatively sanctioned the admission of this type of evidence under Rule 702(a1)(2).
I was out for a run the other day when I saw signs posted on a private pathway advising me not to exceed 7.5 miles per hour since children were playing. Sadly for my split times (but happily for the children at play), I was in no danger of exceeding this limit. Those signs reminded me, however, of a question that I’m asked from time to time: Are the speed limits posted on private subdivision streets enforceable?
The easiest way for the State to prove impairment in a prosecution for impaired driving is by introducing the results of a test of the defendant’s breath. Such test results are admissible without the foundation that would otherwise be required for this kind of scientific evidence so long as the testing was carried out in accordance with statutory and administrative rules governing implied consent testing. G.S. 20-139.1(b). Because the rule allowing breath test results to be introduced into evidence is relied upon so often, I thought it might be helpful to review the admissibility rule and the requirements for such tests. Continue reading →
This morning Jamie Markham and I loaded a passenger van with a group of district court judges who had come to the SOG for a week-long orientation course. We hauled them (through the snow) over to the offices of Community Corrections on Yonkers Road in Raleigh. Jamie lectured while I drove.
We took the judges over to probation headquarters so that in addition to learning about the law of probation from the expert (Jamie, obvi), they could meet, hear from, and question the people who set, write, and administer probation policy and who supervise probationers. The experience was amazing.
One month ago today, a gunman who police say was armed with an AR-15 rifle walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and opened fire, killing 17 people. Today, in schools across the country, including many in North Carolina, students plan to recognize the Parkland victims by walking out of class for 17 minutes. Some participants also plan use the walkout as a platform to advocate for stricter gun control. Debate over the appropriate legislative response to this tragedy has raged—and ranged—over the past several weeks. Some have called for arming teachers. Others have advocated for barring a person under 21 from purchasing an assault rifle. And last week, an op-ed in the Washington Post advocated a relatively new variety of weapons restriction: Gun violence restraining orders. Continue reading →
After a bad break-up, Dan drives to a local bar, where he begins drinking. He hasn’t planned in advance how he is going to get home. If he drinks too much to drive, he thinks, he will summon a ride on his smart phone. Dan is on his seventh drink in two hours when a man storms through the front door of the bar, waving an assault rifle and threatening to shoot up the place. Dan bolts for the nearest exit, jumps in his car, and drives away. Less than a half-mile away from the bar, Dan runs through a red light and is stopped by a law enforcement officer. Dan is subsequently charged with driving while impaired. At trial, he asks the judge to instruct the jury on the defense of necessity. Is Dan entitled to that instruction?
I doubt it is much of an exaggeration to say that in every workplace in North Carolina this time of year, there is talk of basketball. College basketball, of course, and, more specifically, ACC basketball. The conversation in late February usually is about the second UNC/Duke game, first-place finishers in the conference, brackets, and which teams are on the bubble. But this week, the conversation wasn’t usual. Instead it was about which school’s current and former players got what benefits from whom and who knew about it. That conversation was spurred by last Friday’s Yahoo Sports report listing dozens of players from dozens of schools who may have received payments in violation of the NCAA’s amateurism rules. The report was based on reporters’ review of documents obtained by the FBI in connection with its “investigation into the underbelly of college basketball.” All of this caused me to wonder, aside from potential NCAA rules violations, what crimes are associated with the alleged payments to coaches, players, and player’s family members.
The art of swindling is as old as time, and governments have worked for centuries to combat the practice. Indeed, North Carolina first criminalized the obtaining of property by false pretenses in 1811. In more recent years, the legislature has focused on a set of victims who are especially vulnerable to financial fraud: older adults. Financial exploitation of such a person is its own kind of crime—a crime that may be subject to more severe punishment than other types of fraud and that encompasses a broader array of deceptive behavior. Assets obtained through such fraud may also be frozen or seized pending the resolution of the criminal case to ensure that the victim receives the restitution he or she is owed.
The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States increased in by 5.6 percent from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, 37,461 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roadways, compared to 35,485 the previous year. North Carolina’s fatality figures followed the national trend, with fatalities increasing from 1,379 in 2015 to 1,450 in 2016, a 5.1 percent increase. Many such fatalities result in criminal vehicular homicide charges, which number in the hundreds each year in North Carolina alone.
Investigators and prosecutors in such cases are increasingly relying upon the vehicle itself to tell the story of what happened during and just before the crash. Many vehicles driven today (and nearly all manufactured in the past five years) are equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR) installed by the manufacturer. An EDR, often referred to as a car’s black box, contains data related to various aspects of the car’s operation seconds before a crash, including its speed, whether the brakes were applied, and the position of its gas pedal. This kind of evidence can play a central role in the State’s attempt to show culpably negligent driving. But how may the State lawfully obtain EDR information? And, once obtained, how may it be introduced into evidence?
More than thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Jacobson, 466 U.S. 109 (1984), defined the private search doctrine. Jacobson held that the Fourth Amendment is not implicated by the government’s inspection of private effects when that inspection follows on the heels of a private party’s search and does not exceed its scope. This is because the search by the private party frustrates an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the item or area searched.
Jacobson thus determined that federal agents’ warrantless examination of a package of cocaine discovered by Federal Express employees and their field testing of its contents was not a Fourth Amendment search. When federal agents inspected the contents of the package, they “learn[ed] nothing that had not previously been learned during the private search,” and when they tested the substance to determine whether it was cocaine, they did not abridge any legitimate privacy interest.
In the ensuing decades, state and federal courts have applied and refined this analysis to determine the lawfulness of warrantless governmental searches of videotapes, computer disks, luggage, and other items turned over to law enforcement officials by private parties. And yesterday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Terrell, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2018), considered whether the private-search doctrine insulated from Fourth Amendment scrutiny the government’s search of a USB flash drive turned over by the defendant’s girlfriend after she discovered among its contents a photo of her nine-year-old granddaughter sleeping without a shirt on.