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State v. Johnson, __ N.C. __ (August 18, 2017) opens like a novel:
Defendant was stopped at a red light on a snowy evening. When the light turned green, defendant’s truck abruptly accelerated, turned sharply left, and fishtailed, all in front of a police officer in his patrol car. The officer pulled defendant over for driving at an unsafe speed given the road conditions.
On second thought, maybe this reads more like a bar exam question (or a Dan Fogelberg song).
What say you, barristers? Was the stop lawful?
Legislation enacted by the General Assembly this session again makes it possible for persons convicted of habitual impaired driving to (eventually) have their driving privileges restored.
North Carolina adopted a rule in 1979 to limit the introduction of evidence about the sexual behavior of an alleged victim in criminal trials for rape and other sexual offenses. Before that so-called rape shield rule was enacted, evidence of prosecuting witness’s general reputation for unchastity could be introduced in a rape trial to attack the witness’s credibility and to show the likelihood of his or her consent. See, e.g., State v. Banks, 295 N.C. 399 (1978), overruled on other grounds, State v. Collins, 334 N.C. 54 (1993).
A 1977 report on sexual assaults by the Legislative Research Commission recommended adoption of the rape shield rule “to improve the conduct of sexual assault prosecutions” in the state. Detailed Comments on Draft Law, Legislative Research Commission, Report to the 1977 General Assembly of North Carolina: Sexual Assaults 86 (1977). The commission explained that such prosecutions were “too often conducted in a way that embarrasses or intimidates the victim beyond the defendant’s legitimate interest in a fair trial.” Id. The “chief evil” was the “use of evidence of irrelevant sexual behavior to influence the court and jury, not because it is logically related to any material issue in the proceeding, but because it creases prejudice against the person whose sexual behavior is so demonstrated.” Id. The rule adopted in 1979 is codified in substantially the same form today as Rule 412 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence.
Nearly forty years after its adoption, the appellate courts continue to refine the scope of the rape shield statute. Several recent cases explore the rule’s limitations and the analysis a trial court must employ when a defendant charged with a sexual offense seeks to admit evidence regarding the prosecuting witness’s sexual conduct.
My ten-year-old daughter asked me a few weeks ago what O.J. Simpson had done. Like the rest of America, she heard news of his parole hearing. What she couldn’t figure out is why people were so interested in when he would be released from jail. I told her about the hotel room and the sports memorabilia. And then I told her about the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. (Don’t judge me: She has older brothers and she has watched so many episodes of Criminal Minds that the damage is already done.) I told her that a great many people thought O.J. had gotten away with murder; that’s why some thought he should stay in jail. With O.J., as with nearly everyone tried in the court of public opinion, allegations of other bad behavior shape the public’s perception of the person’s current predicament.
Four years ago, the General Assembly increased the criminal fine for passing a stopped school bus and enacted new license revocation and registration hold provisions. During the previous year—2012—there had been more than 1,300 misdemeanor charges for passing a stopped school bus and three felony charges, two for unlawfully passing a stopped school bus and striking a person and one for doing so and causing death. Not much has changed. In 2016, there were 1,400 misdemeanor charges for passing a stopped school bus and three felony charges for doing so and striking a person. This year, the General Assembly took a different tack. S.L. 2017-188 (S 55) authorizes counties to adopt ordinances that enforce the provisions of G.S. 20-217 by means of automated school bus safety cameras and impose civil penalties for violations. Continue reading →
Last month, the General Assembly ratified a bill authorizing the operation of fully autonomous vehicles on state roadways. The legislation is effective December 1, 2017. If you expect your car to begin driving you to work later this fall, however, you’ll be disappointed. In this instance, legislation has outpaced the technology it regulates.
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 →