Two of last week’s opinions from the North Carolina Supreme Court address significant legal issues arising in impaired driving cases. In State v. Godwin, the supreme court reversed the court of appeals, holding that the trial court was not required to explicitly recognize a law enforcement officer as an expert witness before the officer could testify to the results of a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. In State v. Romano, the supreme court upheld the court of appeals’ determination that the withdrawal of blood from an unconscious impaired driving defendant violated the Fourth Amendment, notwithstanding a state statute authorizing this practice. Continue reading
Category Archives: Motor Vehicles
The general rule for a driver involved in a crash in which a person is injured or at least $1,000 in property damages occurs is this: The driver must stop his vehicle at the scene and must remain there with the vehicle until a law enforcement officer completes the crash investigation or authorizes the driver to leave and the vehicle to be removed. There is, however, an exception to this rule. That exception led to yesterday’s court of appeals opinion in State v. Scaturro, reversing a driver’s conviction on charges that he left the scene of a crash. Continue reading →
I was recently asked to talk to a group of attorneys about “hot topics” related to the criminal prosecution of impaired driving. Those of you who practice in the field are doubtless better equipped than I am to identify those topics. If pressed, I’d put these items on the list: (1) how the two-year statute of limitations applies to misdemeanors charged by magistrate’s order; (2) the admissibility of expert testimony by law enforcement officers, particularly regarding horizontal gaze nystagmus; (3) the admissibility of the results of warrantless blood tests; and (4) the appropriate remedy for statutory violations related to a defendant’s arrest and pre-trial detention. While the state supreme court has yet to issue its opinion regarding the statute of limitations issue in State v. Turner (discussed here) and neither the court of appeals nor the supreme court has opined about the admissibility of horizontal gaze nystagmus testimony following the 2011 amendment of Rule 702, recent court of appeals cases address both of the remaining issues.
My eldest child turned 15 last week. Everyone in North Carolina knows what that means . . . it is learner’s permit time. Unfortunately, however, we were not able to run over to DMV on his birthday and get his permit. We are still working on some prerequisites. If someone near and dear to you is approaching this milestone birthday, here is what you need to know.
An officer who stops a motorist for a traffic infraction may run a computer check on the driver’s license and may check for outstanding warrants. The results of these checks may determine how the officer proceeds. For example, if a check reveals that the driver’s license is revoked, the officer may charge the driver with DWLR and may direct the driver that he or she cannot drive the vehicle away from the location of the stop.
May an officer also check a motorist’s criminal record? Such historical information is less likely to dictate the officer’s course of action. But knowing whether a motorist has a record of violent crimes may help an officer determine how cautious he or she must be while completing the stop. This post discusses whether an officer may take time to run a motorist’s criminal record, and summarizes two recent cases on point. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Stanford University study suggesting that granting driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants improves overall traffic safety. That approach is not an option in North Carolina, where unauthorized immigrants have been ineligible to obtain a driver’s license, learner’s permit or identification card since 2006. Recognizing that many unauthorized immigrants drive regardless of whether they are licensed, the district attorney in Orange and Chatham Counties announced this week a new policy for disposing of no operator’s license charges against such drivers, provided they meet certain conditions.
In Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), the United States Supreme Court significantly limited the scope of a traffic stop. It is almost exactly two years since the ruling, and appellate court opinions throughout the country are still proliferating. And so have our faculty’s blog posts: Jeff Welty has written relevant posts here, here, here, here, and here, Alyson Grine here and here, Shea Denning here, Phil Dixon here, and my posts are here, here, and here. This post summarizes Rodriguez and three North Carolina Court of Appeals rulings that are currently before the North Carolina Supreme Court. Continue reading →
Researchers at Stanford University recently published a study showing that a 2013 California law allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses led to a significant reduction in hit and run accidents and did not increase the rate of traffic accidents and fatalities. The study’s authors said this latter finding “suggests there is no empirical support for the claim that unauthorized immigrants are less cautious drivers or generally more likely to cause accidents.” Instead, the findings suggest that “providing driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants led to improved traffic safety” and to “significant positive externalities for the communities in which they live.” What significance might this finding have for policymakers in North Carolina?
Jeff Welty wrote a post in 2010 on when a seizure occurs after an officer operates emergency lights to order a driver to stop his or her vehicle. This post updates his post by summarizing the relatively recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of State v. Mangum, ___ N.C. App. ___, 795 S.E.2d 106 (Dec. 6, 2016), review denied, ___ N.C. ___, 2017 WL 1086917 (March 16, 2017), which ruled on this issue and provides a useful summary of the case law in North Carolina and other jurisdictions. Continue reading →
This blog is full of posts about the laws governing sentencing for misdemeanor DWI. Until now, however, I haven’t written much about how DWIs are actually sentenced. That’s because I didn’t know. While the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission (“Sentencing Commission”) annually publishes a statistical report on the sentencing of felonies and misdemeanors, that report doesn’t include information about DWI sentences, which are governed by G.S. 20-179 rather than the Structured Sentencing Act. Thanks to the Sentencing Commission’s recent focus on DWI sentencing, however, I now have statistics about how DWIs are sentenced in courtrooms across North Carolina. And I think you’ll be interested in what they show.