This post summarizes published criminal and related decisions from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in March, 2020. Decisions of interest to state practitioners will be posted on a monthly basis. Previous summaries of Fourth Circuit criminal and related decisions can be found here.
The General Assembly clearly was preparing for the future in June 2017 when it enacted regulations governing the operation of fully autonomous vehicles. Just two-and-a-half years later, that future has arrived on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. There, students, staff and visitors to campus can take a ride with CASSI, a driverless vehicle.
North Carolina’s Impaired Driving Task Force held its first quarterly meeting of 2020 a few weeks ago. Bill Naff, program manager for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), spoke at the meeting about strategies to reduce impaired driving fatalities. You might be surprised to hear about one strategy that was near the top of the list: Get every vehicle occupant to buckle up.
The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission released last November a report recommending several changes to the state’s impaired driving laws and correctional policies. The report marked the culmination of more than three years of study that included examination of DWI sentencing and correctional data as well as consideration of input from law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and providers of substance abuse treatment. The report’s fifteen recommendations address issues ranging from pretrial conditions of release for defendants charged with impaired driving to the place of confinement for defendants serving active sentences.
This is not the first (and likely will not be the last) blog post about research findings and strategies to reduce impaired driving. A few months ago, I wrote about a veteran researcher’s recommendations to expand ignition interlock and conduct more high visibility enforcement. Last week, I wrote about the risks posed by impaired drivers, the prevalence of impairment by alcohol versus other impairing substances, and the percentage of impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes who have previously been convicted of impaired driving. This week’s post addresses research in two areas related to efforts to reduce impaired driving: (1) the impact of transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft, on the incidence of impaired driving; and (2) British Columbia’s success in reducing impaired driving through a program imposing administrative, rather than criminal, sanctions.
Happy New Year, everyone.
A few months ago, I blogged about the continuing phenomenon of impaired driving, the fatalities resulting from crashes involving impaired drivers, and recommendations from experts about how to reduce the incidence of impaired driving. Some of the feedback I received indicated that talk of solutions ought to be preceded by common agreement on the nature of the problem.
Legislation passed this fall allows for more remote license renewals, supports the study of futuristic license plates, exempts drivers and passengers in some open-air autocycles from helmet requirements, and makes it easier to buy an alcoholic beverage the day after your twenty-first birthday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released this report on fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2018. The number of traffic fatalities nationwide decreased modestly last year as did the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. In North Carolina, the number of fatalities in both categories modestly increased in 2018. In the aggregate, neither the national nor the state numbers reflect much change in the fatality rate associated with traffic crashes generally or impaired driving-related crashes specifically. While there were precipitous declines in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities from 1982 to 2000, since that time the number of impaired driving-related fatalities has remained rather constant. A similar plateau exists for all types of traffic fatalities, for which the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has remained relatively static for the last decade. This flat trend line has safety advocates wondering what they can do, particularly in the impaired driving context, to push the trend line toward zero.
Late last month, the Supreme Court decided Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 588 U.S. ___ (June 27, 2019), a case in which the petitioner argued that the State of Wisconsin violated the Fourth Amendment by withdrawing his blood while he was unconscious without a warrant, following his arrest for impaired driving. Like many other states, including North Carolina, Wisconsin has a state statute that permits such blood draws. The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the petitioner’s conviction, though no single opinion from that court commanded a majority. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide “[w]hether a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.” Though no justice found such a statutory exception and the judgment below was vacated, the outcome was not a win for the petitioner. Instead, a plurality of the court announced a State-favorable exigency rule, which it instructed the lower court to apply on remand.