I doubt it is much of an exaggeration to say that in every workplace in North Carolina this time of year, there is talk of basketball. College basketball, of course, and, more specifically, ACC basketball. The conversation in late February usually is about the second UNC/Duke game, first-place finishers in the conference, brackets, and which teams are on the bubble. But this week, the conversation wasn’t usual. Instead it was about which school’s current and former players got what benefits from whom and who knew about it. That conversation was spurred by last Friday’s Yahoo Sports report listing dozens of players from dozens of schools who may have received payments in violation of the NCAA’s amateurism rules. The report was based on reporters’ review of documents obtained by the FBI in connection with its “investigation into the underbelly of college basketball.” All of this caused me to wonder, aside from potential NCAA rules violations, what crimes are associated with the alleged payments to coaches, players, and player’s family members.
The art of swindling is as old as time, and governments have worked for centuries to combat the practice. Indeed, North Carolina first criminalized the obtaining of property by false pretenses in 1811. In more recent years, the legislature has focused on a set of victims who are especially vulnerable to financial fraud: older adults. Financial exploitation of such a person is its own kind of crime—a crime that may be subject to more severe punishment than other types of fraud and that encompasses a broader array of deceptive behavior. Assets obtained through such fraud may also be frozen or seized pending the resolution of the criminal case to ensure that the victim receives the restitution he or she is owed.
The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States increased in by 5.6 percent from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, 37,461 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roadways, compared to 35,485 the previous year. North Carolina’s fatality figures followed the national trend, with fatalities increasing from 1,379 in 2015 to 1,450 in 2016, a 5.1 percent increase. Many such fatalities result in criminal vehicular homicide charges, which number in the hundreds each year in North Carolina alone.
Investigators and prosecutors in such cases are increasingly relying upon the vehicle itself to tell the story of what happened during and just before the crash. Many vehicles driven today (and nearly all manufactured in the past five years) are equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR) installed by the manufacturer. An EDR, often referred to as a car’s black box, contains data related to various aspects of the car’s operation seconds before a crash, including its speed, whether the brakes were applied, and the position of its gas pedal. This kind of evidence can play a central role in the State’s attempt to show culpably negligent driving. But how may the State lawfully obtain EDR information? And, once obtained, how may it be introduced into evidence?
More than thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Jacobson, 466 U.S. 109 (1984), defined the private search doctrine. Jacobson held that the Fourth Amendment is not implicated by the government’s inspection of private effects when that inspection follows on the heels of a private party’s search and does not exceed its scope. This is because the search by the private party frustrates an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the item or area searched.
Jacobson thus determined that federal agents’ warrantless examination of a package of cocaine discovered by Federal Express employees and their field testing of its contents was not a Fourth Amendment search. When federal agents inspected the contents of the package, they “learn[ed] nothing that had not previously been learned during the private search,” and when they tested the substance to determine whether it was cocaine, they did not abridge any legitimate privacy interest.
In the ensuing decades, state and federal courts have applied and refined this analysis to determine the lawfulness of warrantless governmental searches of videotapes, computer disks, luggage, and other items turned over to law enforcement officials by private parties. And yesterday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Terrell, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2018), considered whether the private-search doctrine insulated from Fourth Amendment scrutiny the government’s search of a USB flash drive turned over by the defendant’s girlfriend after she discovered among its contents a photo of her nine-year-old granddaughter sleeping without a shirt on.
I concluded last week’s post on District of Columbia v. Wesby, ___ U.S. ___ (2018), with a promise to return to Justice Ginsburg’s suggestion in her concurring opinion that it might be time for the Court to re-think Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996). So let’s take a closer look. Continue reading →
The United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in District of Columbia v. Wesby on Monday, holding that police officers had probable cause to arrest 16 people for unlawful entry after finding them reveling in a vacant house without the permission of its owner. The court further held that even if one assumed the officers lacked probable cause, they were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no clearly established law that rendered their actions unreasonable. The D.C. Circuit and the trial court had ruled otherwise, leading to a compensatory damages award of nearly $700,000 for the plaintiffs.
While trial courts are regularly called upon to evaluate whether facts known to an officer provide probable cause of criminal activity, it is less common for the Supreme Court to engage in such factbound determinations. Thus, the analysis in Wesby, whose language doubtless will soon be cited in the North Carolina reporters, warrants a closer look. Continue reading →
The court of appeals decided another significant Rodriguez case yesterday, ruling (again) in State v. Reed that the highway patrol trooper who stopped the defendant for speeding on Interstate 95 detained the defendant for longer than necessary to carry out the mission of the stop without reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity.
Defendant commits an armed robbery in county A, obtaining stolen goods that he transports to county B. May the defendant be prosecuted and punished for armed robbery in county A and be separately prosecuted and punished for possession of stolen goods in county B?
I learned a new word on my drive home yesterday: swatting. Ari Shapiro, host of NPR’s All Things Considered, explained in this report that swatting occurs when a person falsely reports a crime in an effort to cause a large group of officers or a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team to converge on the scene. The prank is associated with video gamers who reportedly have used it as a form of revenge as well as entertainment.
Last week I wrote about studies examining the prevalence of driving with drugs in one’s system. Research has shown that an increasing number of drivers have detectable drugs in their symptoms. What we don’t yet know is how many of those drivers are impaired by drugs and whether the incidence of drug-impaired driving is increasing.
We do know, of course, that drug-impaired driving is dangerous. Policy-makers in North Carolina and elsewhere have attempted to combat the problem by enacting zero-drug-tolerance laws and provisions that prohibit driving with a threshold of a drug or its metabolites in one’s body. And law enforcement officers across the country have created detection protocols that are geared specifically toward the drug-impaired driver rather than a driver impaired by alcohol.
Notwithstanding these measures, drug-impaired driving continues to be prosecuted in North Carolina and other states under statutory schemes and law enforcement protocol that were primarily written and developed to deter, detect and punish alcohol-impaired driving.
Courts across the country are increasingly being required to consider how those schemes and that protocol apply to drug-impaired driving prosecutions. This post will summarize recent court rulings on the admissibility in drugged driving prosecutions of (1) evidence regarding a defendant’s performance on field sobriety tests, (2) testimony about the effects of certain drugs, and (3) lay opinion testimony about the person’s impairment. It will also review recent opinions regarding the quantum of proof necessary to establish drug-impaired driving. It will conclude with a case that demonstrates why drugged driving is a matter of serious concern.