This post summarizes published criminal decisions from the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on March 15, 2022. These summaries will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to present.
There was probable cause to believe that a person whose license was revoked for refusing a chemical analysis after being charged with DWI was operating a vehicle and the procedures of G.S. 20-16.2 do not violate due process
Edwards v. Jessup, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-157 (Mar. 15, 2022). The superior court erred in reversing a DMV civil revocation of a driver’s license in a case where the appellee refused to consent to a chemical analysis after being charged with DWI. An officer responded to a call that a driver had fallen asleep in the drive-through lane of a fast food restaurant and discovered the appellee asleep in the driver’s seat of her vehicle, which was not running and was parked in the parking lot. After an investigation where the appellee admitted to falling asleep while in the drive-through lane and failed a field sobriety test, she was charged with DWI. The appellee refused to consent to a blood sample for a chemical analysis, causing the DMV to revoke her license pursuant to G.S. 20-16.2 and sustain the revocation following an administrative hearing. The superior court reversed the revocation on two grounds, finding that there was a lack of evidence that the appellee was operating a motor vehicle and also finding that the procedures of G.S. 20-16.2 deprived the appellee of due process. Leaving open the question of whether there was sufficient evidence to convict the appellee of DWI, the Court of Appeals found that the officer had probable cause to believe that the appellee was operating the vehicle, as required by the statute. As for the due process issue, the Court of Appeals found that the procedures prescribed by G.S. 20-16.2 do not violate due process merely because DMV hearing officers are DMV employees and there is no attorney at revocation hearings putting on the State’s case.
The trial court did not err by revoking the defendant’s probation where there was substantial evidence that he had constructive possession of controlled substances
State v. Bradley, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-163 (Mar. 15, 2022). The trial court did not err by revoking the defendant’s probation where there was substantial evidence that he committed the criminal offense of possessing controlled substances but insufficient evidence of maintaining a vehicle for sale of controlled substances. There was competent evidence to support the trial court’s finding that the defendant committed simple possession of schedule II and IV controlled substances where officers conducting a traffic stop for reckless driving discovered Oxycodone, Xanax, and Clonazepam in a pill bottle in the glove compartment in front of the passenger seat where the defendant was sitting. Analyzing the issue of whether the defendant had constructive possession of the drugs and finding that he did, a majority of the court emphasized the defendant’s close proximity to the glove compartment and pill bottle, his behavior suggesting his fear that the drugs would be discovered, and his exhibition of obvious signs of impairment that caused officers to call for EMS to check whether he should be taken to the hospital. The majority went on to find that there was insufficient evidence that the defendant committed the offense of maintaining a vehicle for the sale of controlled substances, but that the trial court’s error in revoking defendant’s probation on the basis of this offense was not prejudicial given the proper revocation based upon the possession offense.
Judge Hampson dissented and expressed the view that there was insufficient evidence of the defendant’s constructive possession of the drugs in the glovebox. Judge Hampson explained that the defendant’s behavior arguably evincing fear did not clearly indicate he was aware of the drugs, and further explained that it was not clear that his impairment was specifically related to the drugs.
The trial court erred by sentencing the defendant to a period of period of supervised probation exceeding the time specified in G.S. 15A-1343.2(d) without making a specific finding that a longer period was necessary, as required by the statute
State v. Porter, ___ N.C .App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-166 (Mar. 15, 2022). In an assault on a female case, the State conceded that the trial court erred by sentencing the defendant to 24 months of supervised probation without making a specific finding, as required by G.S. 15A-1343.2(d), that a probationary period longer than 18 months was necessary. The court remanded the case for resentencing.
In a first-degree murder case, the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s challenges to (1) the validity of a search warrant for his home; (2) the trial court’s refusal to suppress electronic monitoring data from a GPS unit the defendant was wearing at the time of the offense; (3) the trial court’s refusal to allow him to cross examine a witness; (4) the admission of expert testimony concerning firearms identification and examination: (5) the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the murder charge
State v. Gallion, ___ N.C .App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-164 (Mar. 15, 2022). In this first-degree murder case, the defendant challenged (1) the validity of a search warrant for his home; (2) the trial court’s refusal to suppress electronic monitoring data from a GPS unit the defendant was wearing at the time of the offense; (3) the trial court’s refusal to allow him to cross examine a witness on a particular issue; (4) the admission of expert testimony concerning firearms identification and examination: (5) the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the murder charge. The Court of Appeals rejected each of the defendant’s arguments and upheld his conviction.
(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a search warrant for his home address was defective because of an insufficient nexus between the murder, the evidence sought, and the defendant’s address. The court noted, among other things, that the search warrant affidavit explained that officers looking through a window had seen bullets on a shelf inside a building at the defendant’s address, that firearms were found in the defendant’s truck when he was arrested, and that there were blood smears on the defendant’s truck and his hands when he was arrested. The allegations in the warrant affidavit were sufficient for a magistrate to reasonably infer that the items sought under the warrant, such as weapons, ammunition, bloodstains, and DNA evidence, likely could be found at the defendant’s residence. The court also determined that the trial court’s findings of fact related to the defendant’s motion to suppress supported the trial court’s conclusion that there was probable cause to support the issuance of the warrant.
(2) The Court of Appeals determined that no plain error occurred in connection with the trial court refusing to suppress electronic monitoring data from a GPS device the defendant was wearing at the time of the offense because was on post-release supervision. Among other things, the court noted that the defendant moved to suppress the data under G.S. 15A-974(a)(2) as a substantial violation of Chapter 15A while alleging that the evidence was obtained in violation of G.S. 15-207. The court explained that G.S. 15A-974(a)(2) “does not provide a mechanism by which [the defendant] could allege evidence was obtained as a result of a substantial violation of Chapter 15.”
(3) The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that he should have been allowed to cross-examine a witness a witness concerning a Facebook message that the victim sent his mother on the day of the murder suggesting that the victim, who was killed in his home, planned to go somewhere else to fight an unknown person. The trial court properly excluded the testimony on hearsay grounds, and, given that the message did not point directly towards the guilt of another party, the Court of Appeals concluded that it was “too remote and speculative to be relevant.”
(4) The court next rejected the defendant’s challenge to expert firearm identification evidence, which it examined for plain error because of the defendant’s failure to object to the admission of the testimony at trial. Conducting a detailed Rule 702 analysis and recounting significant portions of the expert’s testimony, which generally opined that casings and bullets collected from the crime scene were fired from a pistol seized from the defendant, the court determined that the testimony was based on sufficient facts or data and was the product of reliable principles and methods which the expert applied reliably to the facts of the case, as required under Rule 702.
(5) Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge on the basis of insufficient evidence of malice, premeditation, and deliberation or that the defendant was the perpetrator. The court found that the defendant had both the opportunity and the capability to commit the murder, as evidenced by GPS data placing him at the crime scene and witness testimony that on the day in question the defendant brandished a firearm matching the murder weapon. Evidence tending to show that the defendant fired three shots into the victim’s head, two of which were from close range, was sufficient on the issues of malice and premeditation and deliberation.
The trial court’s findings supporting its denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress were not supported by competent evidence and a deputy may have unlawfully extended a seizure of the defendant that was initiated based upon the deputy’s mistaken belief that the defendant was the subject of outstanding arrest warrants
State v. Mullinax, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-165 (Mar. 15, 2022). In a drug possession case, some of the trial court’s findings in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress were not supported by competent evidence. A uniformed deputy approached the defendant while she sat in her car in a parking lot based on the deputy’s mistaken belief that the defendant was a different person, a Ms. McConnell, who was the subject of outstanding arrest warrants. Five minutes after obtaining the defendant’s driver’s license and a total of eight minutes into the encounter, the deputy returned to the defendant’s car having determined that she was not Ms. McConnell and was not subject to any outstanding warrants. At that time, the deputy did not return the defendant’s license and asked for consent to search the car. Fifty seconds later a backup deputy arrived and noticed what he suspected were drugs in the defendant’s pocket. The backup deputy asked to search the defendant’s pockets, retrieved a bag of methamphetamine, and placed her under arrest. Ruling on the defendant’s motion to suppress, the trial court found that the defendant was not seized at the time the first deputy returned to her car while still in possession of her license and “essentially found” that no gap in time occurred between the return to the car and the discovery of drugs in the defendant’s pocket. Contrary to the trial court, the Court of Appeals determined based on its review of bodycam footage of the incident that the defendant was seized at some point prior to the deputy’s return to the defendant’s car, though it did not resolve the legality of the seizure. Saying that the case was similar to State v. Parker, 256 N.C. App. 319 (2017), where it held that a stop was illegally extended without reasonable articulable suspicion, the Court of Appeals remanded the case for additional findings as to whether any such suspicion justified the defendant’s continued seizure during the delay between the deputy’s return to the defendant’s vehicle and the detection of the drugs in her pocket by the backup deputy 50 seconds later.
Civil case involving issues of sovereign and governmental immunity and public official immunity
Graham v. Lambert, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-161 (Mar. 15, 2022). This negligence and wrongful death civil case arising from the fatal collision of a police cruiser with a pedestrian involving issues of sovereign and governmental immunity and public official immunity may be of interest to readers.
Constitutionality of a city’s Red Light Camera Enforcement Program
Fearrington v. City of Greenville, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-158 (Mar. 15, 2022). This case where the Court of Appeals determined that the funding framework of Greenville’s Red Light Camera Enforcement Program violates the Fines and Forfeiture Clause of the North Carolina State Constitution may be of interest to readers.
Whether a particular statute concerning the operation of a city’s automated traffic cameras is an unconstitutional local law relating to public health
Vaitovas v. City of Greenville, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-169 (Mar. 15, 2022). This case affirming a three-judge panel’s determination that a local law permitting Greenville to “enter into a contract with a contractor for the lease, lease-purchase, or purchase of” a red-light traffic camera system was not an unconstitutional local law relating to health may be of interest to readers.