This post summarizes published criminal opinions of the Court of Appeals decided on July 7, 2020. Continue reading
Category Archives: Evidence
On Thursday, June 4, 2020, the North Carolina General Assembly passed S.B. 315, referred to as the State Farm Bill, which was subsequently signed into law by the Governor. The bill was pending all last session and stalled, allegedly over a dispute about how to treat smokable hemp. As I understand it, the bill originally intended to clarify that hemp in all forms (including smokable hemp) was legal (here is an earlier version of the bill taking that approach). After hearing objections from law enforcement and prosecutors (as detailed in the SBI memo on the subject), the proposed bill was changed to ban smokable hemp and regulate the rest of the hemp industry in a variety of ways. When the bill was last being discussed in the news, the dispute at the General Assembly had apparently narrowed to when the smokable hemp ban was to kick in. But, the bill never passed last session, and we were without a Farm Bill until this month. So, what big changes does the bill have in store for hemp in North Carolina? Continue reading →
My colleagues and predecessors here at the School of Government have written about video evidence many times over the years, summarizing the basic rules and significant cases in posts available here, here, here, here, and here.
Recently, though, I’ve been getting questions about a relatively new but increasingly common type of video evidence: high-tech, app-controlled, and remotely stored videos taken by automated devices ranging from doorbell cameras to wifi-enabled, cloud-connected, teddy bear spy cams. Do the old rules still work the same way for these new video tools? Is it substantive or illustrative evidence? If it’s substantive, how is it authenticated? Is a lay witness qualified to testify about how these cameras work? Does the proponent need the original video? Come to think of it, what is the “original” of a video that exists only as bits of data floating somewhere in the cloud…?
In this blog post from 2012, Professor Jessica Smith summarized Rules of Evidence 101 and 1101, which together dictate that the rules of evidence apply to “all actions and proceedings in the courts of this State,” except for proceedings that are specifically excluded by the rules or another statute. Pursuant to these two rules and the case law interpreting them, proceedings at which the rules of evidence (except for rules of privilege) do not apply include: applications for warrants; grand jury proceedings; first appearances; pretrial release hearings; probable cause hearings; hearings on motions to suppress; witness voir dire; sentencing hearings; probation revocation hearings; and more.
That’s quite a list. If the rules of evidence do not apply to any of these proceedings, are there any limits at all on the evidence that may be offered? Could an unsworn and mentally incompetent witness with no personal knowledge offer irrelevant and prejudicial triple-hearsay testimony about a prior conviction more than 10 years old, offered solely for the purpose of showing the defendant’s bad character and the likelihood that he acted in conformity therewith?
Surely not. But if there are no rules of evidence, why not? The short answer to nearly any question about the admissibility of evidence under Rule 1101(b) is “it’s in the judge’s discretion,” but what guides that discretion, and what are its limits?
If you type “miranda” into the search box on this blog, it will return more than 50 posts covering a wide range of related topics: the meaning of custody, deficient warnings, knowing and voluntary waivers, ambiguous assertion of rights, special rules for juveniles, readvising and reinterviewing, public safety exceptions, and many, many others.
But I was stumped recently by a deceptively simple question that I had not heard before, and did not come up in those results: what if the defendant’s lawyer is present? Does an in-custody defendant still have to be advised of his Miranda rights before he can be questioned by police?
I did some digging, and the case law on this issue genuinely surprised me.
In August, the North Carolina Supreme Court weighed in on drug identification once again in State v. Osborne, ___ N.C. ___ (August 16, 2019). I wrote about the earlier Court of Appeals decision in the case, here. The new Osborne decision clarifies the application of drug identification rules as well as sufficiency of the evidence in this context. Continue reading →
Shocking videos on sites like Faceboook Live may dominate the headlines (see examples here and here), but criminal attorneys know that the humble, old-fashioned audio recording still plays a large role in many cases. The state’s evidence at trial might include recordings of jail calls, witness interviews, 911 calls, suspect interrogations, wiretap intercepts, controlled buys, incriminating voicemails, and more. To aid in presenting that evidence to the jury (especially when the quality or volume of the recording is less than ideal), some prosecutors also prepare and introduce a written transcript of what was said on the tape.
That raises a tough question: Does the introduction of a transcript of an audio recording run afoul of the “best evidence” rule? There are cases that go both ways on this issue, and at first glance the rule seems to be something along the lines of “it is a violation, except when it isn’t, and sometimes maybe it doesn’t matter anyway.”
Let’s try to clean that up a little.
May a law enforcement officer who personally investigates, but does not observe, a vehicle crash testify as to his opinion about who was driving the vehicle? Does the answer depend upon whether the officer is qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction? The court of appeals considered those questions in State v. Denton, ___ N.C. App. ___ (June 4, 2019), decided yesterday.
Several years ago (some might say that’s an understatement) I wrote The Law of Self-Defense in North Carolina, in which I looked at over 200 years’ worth of North Carolina court opinions on self-defense and related defenses, such as defense of others and defense of habitation. The book’s approach reflected that North Carolina was a common law state when it came to self-defense. The right to act in self-defense depended primarily on the authority of court decisions. The General Assembly’s adoption in 2011 of three defensive force statutes—G.S. 14-51.2, G.S. 14-51.3, and G.S. 14-51.4—changed that. An understanding of the law of self-defense in North Carolina now must begin with the statutory law of self-defense. Continue reading →
Back in November of last year, I wrote about hemp and CBD laws here. I have been teaching quite a bit on the subject lately and wanted to follow up that post with an examination of how legal use of hemp products may affect marijuana prosecutions in North Carolina. Continue reading →