Folks, we have an answer. The court of appeals held yesterday in State v. Younts, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2017), that a law enforcement officer trained to administer a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test may properly testify about the results of a test he administered without any determination by the trial court that HGN testing is scientifically reliable.
Jeff wrote on Monday about efforts by North Carolina government officials to combat the opioid epidemic.The initiatives he highlighted, such as addiction treatment and needle exchange programs, primarily attack the problem from a public health perspective. Jeff noted the contrast between this approach and the criminal-drug-law enforcement response to the spread of crack cocaine in the 1990s.
That’s not to say, however, that the criminal justice system isn’t responding to the current crisis. In counties across the State, including New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Union, and Wake, prosecutors are pursuing second-degree murder charges against defendants who are alleged to have provided the opioids leading to victims’ deaths.
This post explores the basis for murder charges based on the unlawful distribution of drugs and what the State must prove at trial to establish a defendant’s guilt.
Two of last week’s opinions from the North Carolina Supreme Court address significant legal issues arising in impaired driving cases. In State v. Godwin, the supreme court reversed the court of appeals, holding that the trial court was not required to explicitly recognize a law enforcement officer as an expert witness before the officer could testify to the results of a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. In State v. Romano, the supreme court upheld the court of appeals’ determination that the withdrawal of blood from an unconscious impaired driving defendant violated the Fourth Amendment, notwithstanding a state statute authorizing this practice. Continue reading →
The general rule for a driver involved in a crash in which a person is injured or at least $1,000 in property damages occurs is this: The driver must stop his vehicle at the scene and must remain there with the vehicle until a law enforcement officer completes the crash investigation or authorizes the driver to leave and the vehicle to be removed. There is, however, an exception to this rule. That exception led to yesterday’s court of appeals opinion in State v. Scaturro, reversing a driver’s conviction on charges that he left the scene of a crash. Continue reading →
Suppose a law enforcement officer enters the front door of your home without a warrant. You are asleep when he enters, but wake up when you hear the door open. You pick a gun up from your nightstand and walk toward the front door.
The officer sees you coming toward him with the gun pointed in his direction.
Is it reasonable for him to shoot you? Is the entity that employed the officer liable for your injuries? Continue reading →
Earlier this month, the North Carolina House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 551, An Act to Amend the Law and Constitution of North Carolina to Provide Better Protections and Safeguards to Victims. The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate, where it has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations. The legislation is championed by the advocacy group, Marsy’s Law for All, which is seeking to amend state constitutions and, ultimately, the U.S. Constitution to enshrine victims’ rights. What is the impetus for Marsy’s Law and how would enactment of the constitutional amendment proposed in House Bill 551 change North Carolina’s existing constitutional and statutory protections for victims? Continue reading →
I was recently asked to talk to a group of attorneys about “hot topics” related to the criminal prosecution of impaired driving. Those of you who practice in the field are doubtless better equipped than I am to identify those topics. If pressed, I’d put these items on the list: (1) how the two-year statute of limitations applies to misdemeanors charged by magistrate’s order; (2) the admissibility of expert testimony by law enforcement officers, particularly regarding horizontal gaze nystagmus; (3) the admissibility of the results of warrantless blood tests; and (4) the appropriate remedy for statutory violations related to a defendant’s arrest and pre-trial detention. While the state supreme court has yet to issue its opinion regarding the statute of limitations issue in State v. Turner (discussed here) and neither the court of appeals nor the supreme court has opined about the admissibility of horizontal gaze nystagmus testimony following the 2011 amendment of Rule 702, recent court of appeals cases address both of the remaining issues.
My eldest child turned 15 last week. Everyone in North Carolina knows what that means . . . it is learner’s permit time. Unfortunately, however, we were not able to run over to DMV on his birthday and get his permit. We are still working on some prerequisites. If someone near and dear to you is approaching this milestone birthday, here is what you need to know.
Last week I blogged about the basic rules for felony murder prosecutions in North Carolina. I promised to return this week with an update on the felony murder rule and the merger doctrine. This post, like Jeff’s 2009 article, focuses on the merger rule that bars charges of felony murder that are based upon killings resulting from certain types of felony assaults. It does not address the merger rule that requires the court to arrest judgment on the underlying felony when a defendant is convicted of first-degree murder solely on the basis of felony murder.
I can’t be the only person who was surprised to learn in my first year of law school that a person who never intended to kill someone else could be convicted of first degree murder. Even an accidental killing can result in first-degree murder charges if it occurs during the commission of a dangerous felony. The classic example of this theory of murder, known as felony murder, is the defendant who agrees to serve as get-away driver while his friends rob a business. Once inside the business, one of the robbers brandishes a gun. The owner of the business, who is confronted by one of the robbers, suffers a heart attack and dies. The defendant and his co-conspirators all are prosecuted for and convicted of first-degree murder based on the felony murder rule. See People v. Stamp, 82 Cal. Rptr. 598 (Cal. Ct. App. 1969).
Today’s post will review the basics of North Carolina’s felony murder rule. Next week’s post will explore recent developments regarding when the so-called merger rule may apply to bar charges of felony murder that arise from a single assault that injures and kills a single victim.