A couple of recent court of appeals opinions emphasize a bright-line rule in cases involving traffic stops. An officer who observes a driver commit a traffic violation may stop the driver to address that violation, even when the violation is minor and the officer has elected to respond to the observed violation because she suspects that other unsubstantiated criminal activity may be afoot.
Two recent North Carolina Court of Appeals opinions help delineate when an officer has probable cause to believe a driver is driving while impaired. In each case, the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s determination that the officer lacked probable cause.
When setting conditions of pretrial release in domestic violence cases, magistrates and judges often order a defendant not to contact the victim. Those directives clearly apply to a defendant once he is released from jail subject to those conditions. But what about a defendant who remains in jail? Is he also subject to a no contact condition included on a release order? The court of appeals addressed that issue yesterday in State v. Mitchell.
An officer sees a motorcycle that he has probable cause to believe is stolen parked in the suspect’s driveway. The motorcycle is partially covered by a tarpaulin. May the officer lawfully walk into the driveway without the permission of the suspect or any other resident and lift the tarp to read the license plate and VIN number on the motorcycle? Continue reading →
A Fourth Amendment seizure does not occur when an officer turns on her patrol vehicle’s lights and siren to signal for a vehicle to stop. Instead, it occurs when a driver submits to that show of authority by stopping the car. Thus, if an officer lacks reasonable suspicion when she activates the siren, but gathers information sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion by the time the vehicle stops, the traffic stop does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.
But what if the car is already stopped when the officer turns on the blue lights and siren? Have the occupants of the car then been seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment? Not necessarily, as the court of appeals recently explained in State v. Turnage, __ N.C. App. ___ (May 15, 2018).
James Courtney was charged with first degree murder in 2009 for shooting and killing James Deberry outside Deberry’s Raleigh apartment. Courtney was tried on those charges in December 2010. The jury deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Four months later, the State dismissed the murder charges, stating on the dismissal form that it had elected not to retry the case. Four years later, the State changed its mind. After gathering new evidence, it sought and received a 2015 indictment once again charging Courtney with first degree murder for killing Deberry. Courtney moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the State’s dismissal of the initial murder charges following the mistrial precluded the State from recharging him. Was he right?
Belk Department Stores are the Bloomingdales of North Carolina. If someone says they are going to Belk (or, more often, “Belk’s”), you know that they are heading into town to pick up some modern, southern style (or, more likely, something off the wedding registry). And if you hear that so-and-so stole something from your local Belk’s, you can generally picture the scene of crime, since, outside of the big cities, there is generally just one Belk’s in town. So when the court of appeals held last year that a Rowan County indictment alleging that the defendant stole shirts belonging to “Belk’s Department Stores, an entity capable of owning property,” was invalid because it failed to adequately identify the victim of the larceny, it may have left some people in Salisbury (where there is only one Belk’s) scratching their heads.
The state supreme court recently reversed that determination in a per curiam opinion that rejected this kind of technical pleading requirement for larceny of personal property.
Consider whether the following facts are sufficient to support a conviction for DWI:
The scene. Law enforcement officers in Avery County respond to a reported accident on the highway leading to Grandfather Mountain around 8:30 p.m. They find a Jeep Cherokee on the side of the highway, with a damaged side panel. Tire impressions indicate that the vehicle traveled about 100 feet after leaving the roadway. A large rock embankment along the roadway is scuffed. No one is in the car, which is registered to Paul Eldred.
The defendant. A law enforcement officer finds Eldred walking along the side of the highway two or three miles north of the accident. Eldred has a mark on his forehead, is twitching, and is unsteady on his feet. The officer asks Eldred why he is walking on the highway. Eldred responds: “I don’t know, I’m too smoked up on meth.” The officer calls for medical help, and Eldred is taken to the hospital.
The interview. Another officer questions Eldred at the hospital around 10 p.m. Eldred explains that he was driving his car when it ran out of gas. He then says “‘he was hurt bad and was involved in a wreck a couple of hours ago.’” Eldred tells the officer that he had not been drinking alcohol. The officer asks whether Eldred has taken any medications, and Eldred says he is “on meth.” During the interview, Eldred is twitching, appears dazed and has difficulty answering questions. He does not know the date, the day of the week, or the time.
North Carolina is divided into 44 prosecutorial districts. Each is headed by an elected district attorney or, the case of a mid-term vacancy, a district attorney appointed by the governor. District attorneys are constitutionally and statutorily charged with prosecuting criminal actions in their districts. Each district attorney employs a number of assistant district attorneys who assist in carrying out this work. A district attorney may even, as Jonathan discussed in this earlier post, employ a private attorney to assist with prosecution.
When a district attorney identifies a conflict of interest associated with his or her prosecution of a case, the district attorney may seek assistance with the prosecution from another prosecutorial district, the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division, the Administrative Office of the Courts, or the Conference of District Attorneys.
Sometimes, however, the district attorney decides to proceed with prosecuting a case notwithstanding a defendant’s insistence that a conflict of interest exists. When that occurs, the defendant may ask the court to remove the prosecutor from the case. May the court do so? If so, what standard governs the court’s determination of whether the prosecutor is disqualified from the case?
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).