This post summarizes criminal decisions released by the Supreme Court of North Carolina on June 11, 2021.
Half of the adults in North Carolina have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the number of people testing positive for the virus in the state continues to plummet. Fewer than 200 positive cases were identified on the last day for which case counts were reported. Metrics like these signal the waning of a pandemic that has altered the lives of North Carolinians over the past 15 months and that has hampered the operations of state courts. On Friday, Chief Justice Paul Newby issued an order, effective today, extending only two of the dozens of emergency directives that have been issued over the course of the pandemic. Noting that COVID-19 concerns have caused cases to accumulate in the courts, Justice Newby stated that he was extending for 30 days only those directives necessary to dispose of those accumulated cases: Emergency Directive 3 and Emergency Directive 5.
The Fourth Circuit held in United States v. Davis, No. 20-4035, 2021 WL 1826255, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir. May 7, 2021) that officers unlawfully searched a suspect’s backpack, which he dropped before he lay on the ground on his stomach, where he remained as he was arrested and his arms were handcuffed behind his back. The case is significant for at least two reasons: (1) The Fourth Circuit extended Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), to searches outside the automobile context; and (2) The court determined that a bag the suspect could have easily reached while unrestrained was not within his reach while he was prone and handcuffed. Continue reading →
This post summarizes published criminal decisions from the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on May 4, 2021. These summaries, which were written by Shea Denning and Jamie Markham, will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to present. Continue reading →
Recent well-publicized incidents have led to questions about when a law enforcement officer may use deadly force to seize a fleeing suspect. The short answer is that the Constitution permits an officer to use deadly force when he or she has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or to others. Because officers must make “split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” courts evaluate the reasonableness of an officer’s determination from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and without the benefit of hindsight. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). The Constitution “does not require police to gamble with their lives in the face of a serious threat of harm.” Elliott v. Leavitt, 99 F.3d 640, 641 (4th Cir. 1996).
Factors critical to evaluating the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force to effectuate a seizure include: (1) the severity of the crime at issue; (2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; and (3) whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by fleeing. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. An officer’s subjective intent or motivation is not relevant to the inquiry, nor is the reasonableness of the officer’s actions in creating the dangerous situation. Waterman v. Batton, 393 F.3d 471, 477 (4th Cir. 2005)
The short answer seldom provides a definitive assessment of whether an officer’s use of deadly force in a particular circumstance violated a suspect’s constitutional rights. Even so, there are a few bright-line principles that can be applied to any such inquiry. Continue reading →
A week ago, I noted that Chief Justice Paul Newby had renewed several emergency directives, including Emergency Directive 21, which required that persons in a court facility wear a face covering while in common areas of the courthouse. That changed on Friday, following the Centers for Disease Control’s advice that fully vaccinated people can safely resume most indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask. By order issued and effective on Friday, May 14, 2021, Chief Justice Newby eliminated Emergency Directive 21 altogether. Continue reading →
More than 50 percent of adults in North Carolina have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 43 percent of NC adults are fully vaccinated. COVID-19 cases have declined precipitously since a January peak of more than 15,000 positive tests on a single day, with daily cases now averaging under 2,000. Governor Roy Cooper has responded to these positive trends by lifting outdoor mask restrictions and increasing mass gathering capacity limits. The Governor has said if these trends continue, he plans to lift mandatory social distancing, capacity, and mass gathering restrictions by June 1.
Courthouse personnel, charged with ensuring that courts remain open and that justice is administered without delay, were designated as frontline essential workers and thus received early access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Many court officials are among the group of fully vaccinated North Carolina adults.
Recognizing these positive trends and the judicial branch’s constitutional obligations, Chief Justice Paul Newby entered an order on Friday, effective today, extending and modifying certain pandemic-related emergency directives, while allowing other directives to expire.
Emergency Directives 2, 3, 5, 11, 14, 15, and 21 remain in place (as modified) for an additional thirty days, expiring on June 6, 2021. Emergency Directive 8 (which allowed a chief district court judge to restrict the hours and times at which magistrate-officiated marriage ceremonies were conducted) and Emergency Directive 12 (which required each senior resident superior court judge to ensure that certain public health protocols, including the marking of six-foot intervals, the establishing of maximum occupancy, and the cleaning of public areas, were followed for each facility in his or her district) were not renewed and expired yesterday.
This post summarizes published criminal decisions from the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on May 4, 2021. These summaries will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to present.
Chief Justice Paul Newby issued an order on Friday, effective today, extending emergency directives currently in place for an additional thirty days to in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading →
In 2016, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held in State v. Adams, 250 N.C. App. 664 (2016), that law enforcement officers acted lawfully when, lacking a warrant, they chased a man suspected of driving while license revoked into his home where they arrested him. The court determined that because the officers were engaged in hot pursuit, they did not need to establish additional exigent circumstances such as immediate danger or destruction of evidence to justify forcibly entering the suspect’s home. This year, the United States Supreme Court is reviewing a California case raising the same issue: Does pursuit of a person who a police officer has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor categorically qualify as an exigent circumstance sufficient to allow the officer to enter a home without a warrant? See Lange v. California, 141 S. Ct. 1617 (2020) (granting review of People v. Lange, No. A157169, 2019 WL 5654385 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2019) (unpublished)). Continue reading →