The court of appeals decided State v. Shelton, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2019) yesterday, determining that the evidence of the defendant’s impairment was sufficient when he took impairing drugs hours before crashing his vehicle into a pedestrian after his brakes failed. Two aspects of the case are of particular interest: (1) the court’s evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence in a case where no one opined that the defendant was impaired; and (2) how the State obtained evidence that drugs remained in the defendant’s system in the first place.
Category Archives: Motor Vehicles
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari a few weeks ago to consider whether a state statute authorizing the withdrawal of blood from an unconscious driver suspected of impaired driving provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. The case, State v. Mitchell, arose in Wisconsin, but the issue may sound familiar to practitioners in North Carolina. Our state supreme court held in State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678 (2017) (discussed here) that the warrantless withdrawal of blood from an unconscious DWI suspect pursuant to state statute when there was no exigency violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin reached a different conclusion in Mitchell. The case provides the United States Supreme Court with an opportunity to tie up the ends it left loose in Birchfield v. North Dakota, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016) by clarifying how implied consent laws authorizing blood draws without a suspect’s consent do or do not comport with the Fourth Amendment. Continue reading →
(Author’s note: The last section of this post was added after its initial publication.)
Electric scooters have recently appeared overnight in cities across North Carolina. The scooters, most of which are owned by the Bird Rides company, have been deposited without advance announcement in downtown areas. Would-be riders download an app that allows them to scan a code on the scooter that unlocks it. The scooter can then be ridden for $1 start-up charge plus 15 cents per minute. The app instructs users to ride in bike lanes where available and to avoid pedestrians on the sidewalk. It also states that traffic regulations prohibit riding on sidewalks, in public parking structures, without a helmet, and without a valid driver’s license. Is all of that correct? And can these scooters lawfully be operated on North Carolina streets?
Local law enforcement officers do not have statewide territorial jurisdiction to arrest. Instead, they generally are authorized to arrest only within the jurisdictional boundaries of the city or county they serve or own property owned by that city or county. See G.S. 15A-402 (discussed in detail here). Exceptions to the general rule permit out-of-jurisdiction arrests based on immediate and continuous flight and in certain other limited circumstances. When a law enforcement officer makes an arrest outside of his or her territorial jurisdiction, the person arrested may move to suppress the evidence resulting from the arrest. How should a court evaluate whether to grant such a motion?
I spent much of the afternoon teaching magistrates, and one of the topics we covered was the immediate license revocation that often is ordered upon a person’s arrest for impaired driving.
Suppose a defendant is found responsible in district court for one of the many infractions codified in Chapter 20. Take your pick: speeding, a seat belt violation, jaywalking, improper passing, or one of the many other non-criminal motor vehicle offenses. The defendant wishes to appeal that adjudication. May she appeal the case to superior court?
A couple of recent court of appeals opinions emphasize a bright-line rule in cases involving traffic stops. An officer who observes a driver commit a traffic violation may stop the driver to address that violation, even when the violation is minor and the officer has elected to respond to the observed violation because she suspects that other unsubstantiated criminal activity may be afoot.
Two recent North Carolina Court of Appeals opinions help delineate when an officer has probable cause to believe a driver is driving while impaired. In each case, the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s determination that the officer lacked probable cause.
A week ago today, the Supreme Court of the United States resolved a circuit split and ruled that a person driving a rental car, but not listed on the rental agreement, has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle . . . at least sometimes. The case is Byrd v. United States. Continue reading →
Consider whether the following facts are sufficient to support a conviction for DWI:
The scene. Law enforcement officers in Avery County respond to a reported accident on the highway leading to Grandfather Mountain around 8:30 p.m. They find a Jeep Cherokee on the side of the highway, with a damaged side panel. Tire impressions indicate that the vehicle traveled about 100 feet after leaving the roadway. A large rock embankment along the roadway is scuffed. No one is in the car, which is registered to Paul Eldred.
The defendant. A law enforcement officer finds Eldred walking along the side of the highway two or three miles north of the accident. Eldred has a mark on his forehead, is twitching, and is unsteady on his feet. The officer asks Eldred why he is walking on the highway. Eldred responds: “I don’t know, I’m too smoked up on meth.” The officer calls for medical help, and Eldred is taken to the hospital.
The interview. Another officer questions Eldred at the hospital around 10 p.m. Eldred explains that he was driving his car when it ran out of gas. He then says “‘he was hurt bad and was involved in a wreck a couple of hours ago.’” Eldred tells the officer that he had not been drinking alcohol. The officer asks whether Eldred has taken any medications, and Eldred says he is “on meth.” During the interview, Eldred is twitching, appears dazed and has difficulty answering questions. He does not know the date, the day of the week, or the time.