Suppose the trial court, over the defendant’s objection, instructs the jury on a theory of a crime that is not supported by the evidence. Is the defendant entitled to automatic reversal on appeal? Or, alternatively, must the appellate court evaluate whether the erroneous instruction prejudiced the defendant? The North Carolina Supreme Court answered these questions in State v. Malachi, ___ N.C. ___ (2018), published last Friday, and applied its answer in State v. Fowler, ___ N.C. ___ (2018), decided the same day.
2019 won’t be the only new number you’ll need to adjust to come January 1. On that date, most of North Carolina’s prosecutorial districts also will have new numbers. Several of them will also have newly elected district attorneys.
Schools across the country experienced a “dramatic uptick” in threats of school-related violence following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018. One set of researchers reported that in the thirty days after the Parkland shooting, threats and incidents of violence in schools nationally increased by more than 300 percent–from an average of 13.2 threats and incidents per day to 59.4 per day. The national trend played out in North Carolina as well, with schools in several North Carolina counties responding to several reported threats of violence in the weeks following the Parkland massacre. When such threats were made, it wasn’t always clear whether they amounted to a crime. The actions often were a poor fit for the two most obvious candidates: communicating threats (because the threat was not always communicated to the person threatened) and making a false report concerning mass violence on educational property (because it wasn’t always clear that the person who made the threat had made a report that the person knew to be false).
The General Assembly responded last June to this gap in the criminal code by enacting a new crime, communicating a threat of mass violence on educational property, effective for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2018.
The North Carolina Supreme Court decided State v. Jones, ___ N.C. ___ (2018) on Friday, affirming the court of appeals’ determination that the citation that charged the defendant with transporting an open container of alcoholic beverage, but left out several elements, was legally sufficient to invoke the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction.
Suppose you are a prosecutor and you want to subpoena a witness from another state to testify at an upcoming trial. How might you go about doing that? What forms do you use? Do you need some sort of certificate from a judge? Is the witness entitled to compensation? If so, how much? Can you pay in advance?
If you are getting ready for trial, all of these questions might occur to you, and you might wish there was a one-stop shop for an answer, given all the other items on your trial prep list. Guess what? There is! It’s a new application called NC Prosecutors’ Resource Online (NC PRO) and you can find it here. Just type “out of state witness” into the search box, and click on the entry titled “Securing Attendance of Witnesses.” There you will find the answers to every question posed above and links to the relevant forms. Continue reading →
More than 200 district court judges from districts across North Carolina convened last week for their semiannual conference. Much of the continuing education agenda was dedicated to informing judges about the controlling law for the types of cases over which they preside—criminal, family and juvenile. But one session had a different focus. Instead of teaching judges how to “get outcomes right,” Judges Kevin Burke and Steve Leben talked to the group about how to handle procedural matters in a “way that enhances perceptions of fair treatment.” Kevin Burke & Steve Leben, The Evolution of the Trial Judge from Counting Case Dispositions to a Commitment to Fairness, 18 Widener L. J. 397, 403-04 (2009) [hereinafter Evolution]. The presenters made the case that institutionalizing principles and practices of procedural fairness can increase public support for and confidence in the courts, leading to greater acceptance of court decisions, greater public approval of the court system and increased compliance with court orders.
Last week, I blogged about the lack of a statute of limitations for felony offenses in North Carolina. There is, of course, a two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors, a matter that has been the subject of a fair amount of recent litigation. A reader posed an excellent question at the end of that post: Is the statute of limitations a defense that may be waived or does a trial court lack jurisdiction over a time-barred offense?
An experienced attorney from another state recently remarked on her surprise at learning that there was no statute of limitations barring the prosecution of felony offenses in North Carolina after the passage of a specified period of time. This attorney’s comment reminded me that while the no-statute-of-limitations-state-of-affairs may be well-known among experienced practitioners of criminal law in NC, it isn’t necessarily known by others. Continue reading →
(Author’s note: The last section of this post was added after its initial publication.)
Electric scooters have recently appeared overnight in cities across North Carolina. The scooters, most of which are owned by the Bird Rides company, have been deposited without advance announcement in downtown areas. Would-be riders download an app that allows them to scan a code on the scooter that unlocks it. The scooter can then be ridden for $1 start-up charge plus 15 cents per minute. The app instructs users to ride in bike lanes where available and to avoid pedestrians on the sidewalk. It also states that traffic regulations prohibit riding on sidewalks, in public parking structures, without a helmet, and without a valid driver’s license. Is all of that correct? And can these scooters lawfully be operated on North Carolina streets?
The court of appeals in State v. Mathis, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2018), decided yesterday, considered whether a licensed bail bondsman could be convicted of obtaining property by false pretenses and unlawfully accessing a government computer for submitting false monthly reports to the NC Department of Insurance that omitted some of the outstanding bonds he had issued. The court upheld one conviction but found the evidence insufficient to support the other. Hazard a guess as to which conviction met which fate. Then read on to see how the court ruled and why.