An ancient maxim of the law is ignorantia juris non excusat, or ignorance of the law does not excuse. Put another way, it is presumed that the public knows the laws, and a defense of ignorance is typically not allowed. This principle is at the heart of the recent decision by the state supreme court in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. ___, (June 9, 2017). Continue reading
Category Archives: Crimes and Elements
Over two years ago I said I would someday try to sort North Carolina’s reportable sex crimes into the tiers set out in the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). Today’s the day. Continue reading →
Some offenses can be proved by alternative theories. For example, impaired driving occurs when a person drives while (1) while under the influence of an impairing substance, (2) after consuming a sufficient quantity of alcohol that the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more at any relevant time after the driving, or (3) with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolites in his or her blood or urine. See Jessica Smith, North Carolina Crimes: A Guidebook on the Elements of Crime (7th ed. 2012). The three options noted above constitute three separate theories upon which an impaired driving conviction can rest. Similarly, kidnapping occurs when a person (1) confines, (2) restrains, or (3) removes a person and other elements are satisfied. Id. The three options—confines, restrains, or removes—constitute three separate theories upon which a kidnapping conviction can rest. Sometimes alternative theories are bound up in the definition of an element of an offense. For example, first-degree sexual assault with a child requires, among other things, that the defendant engage in a “sexual act” with the victim. Id. The term sexual act is defined to include, in part, (1) cunnilingus, (2) analingus, (3) fellatio, and (4) anal intercourse. Id. These acts constitute separate theories that can support a sex offense conviction. Continue reading →
Under G.S. 14-208.16, a registered sex offender may not reside “within 1,000 feet of the property on which any public or nonpublic school or child care center is located.” What’s the right way to measure those 1,000 feet? As the crow flies? Property line to property line? Building to building? Continue reading →
When a group of confederates undertake to commit a series of criminal acts, is there one conspiracy or multiple conspiracies? The case of State v. Glisson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 796 S.E.2d 124, (Feb. 7, 2017), dealt with that issue. The answer, it turns out, is fact-specific and less than crystal clear. Continue reading →
I was teaching a class about charging documents recently when the conversation turned to the rule that a charge of resisting, delaying, or obstructing a public officer in violation of G.S. 14-223 must describe the particular duty that the officer was discharging at the time of the resistance. A member of the class asked whether it would suffice to describe the duty as “protecting and serving.” I gave my best guess about the answer but I thought I would see how others react to the question. So take the poll below, then read the rest of the post for a little history about the rule, a summary of a recent case, and a discussion of authority about the sufficiency of a general description like “protecting and serving.”
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.
Many–perhaps even most–parents paddle, spank, or otherwise use physical force to discipline their children. This kind of discipline is generally viewed by law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and the courts as a parental prerogative and not as criminal child abuse. Yet there are limits on the degree of physical force that a parent may lawfully employ and the degree of injury a parent may lawfully inflict. A parent who acts with malice, uses grossly inappropriate force or who causes lasting injury may be prosecuted for child abuse. A recent court of appeals case demarcates the boundaries of permissible parental discipline and sets forth standards for determining when physical discipline by parents constitutes criminal child abuse.
Last week, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina decided State v. Wright, a case that answers an interesting question: Does a defendant commit armed robbery when he takes a victim’s property after displaying a gun, even if he doesn’t point the gun at the victim or expressly threaten to shoot the victim — and even if the victim denies having being scared? Continue reading →