This post summarizes published criminal opinions of the Court of Appeals decided on July 7, 2020. Continue reading
Category Archives: Procedure
North Carolina continues to make gradual strides in helping people clear their criminal records and enhance their opportunities going forward. On June 25, 2020, the Governor signed the Second Chance Act, S.L. 2020-35 (S 562), which passed the General Assembly unanimously. The Second Chance Act expands expunction opportunities and streamlines the process for people trying to clear their records. The product of negotiation and compromise, it reflects the interests of prosecutors, law enforcement, and court administrators as well. The act illustrates many of the record clearance issues being considered around the country, including automatic expunction of nonconviction records (to begin in North Carolina at the end of 2021), removal of barriers to expunctions of nonconviction records (most notably, no longer will prior convictions, whether for a felony or misdemeanor, be a bar), somewhat greater opportunities to expunge older convictions if “nonviolent,” and greater access by prosecutors and law enforcement to expunged case information. This summary does not try to explore the many nooks and crannies in the legislation. It is a first pass at describing the changes. Continue reading →
Quick Reference Guide to Orders from the Chief Justice and the North Carolina Supreme Court Related to COVID-19
[This post originally appeared on the School of Government’s civil law blog.]
Since the start of the pandemic, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina Supreme Court have issued a number of directives impacting the court system. Instead of doing a heavy substantive post today, I thought I would share a quick reference chart I’ve been using to keep track of these directives, their effect based on the most recent order issued, the dates of the order containing each directive, and their expiration date. Continue reading →
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered three emergency orders on Saturday affecting court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two of the orders impact criminal cases. One extends the deadline for filing notices of appeal. The other extends the authorization for remote proceedings in Emergency Directive 3 and renews and modifies the provisions of Emergency Directive 7, which provides additional time to pay monies owed in a criminal or infraction case. (The third order stays eviction actions that currently are pending in the trial courts until June 21, 2020 and imposes other requirements related to eviction proceedings.) Continue reading →
This post was updated on May 22, 2020 to include discussion of a May 21, 2020 order extending deadlines in criminal cases and a May 14, 2020 order from the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order today imposing eight new emergency directives (Directives 9 -16) to address court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chief Justice entered a separate order extending time for documents to be filed and acts due to be done in criminal cases in the trial courts.
In regular times, North Carolina’s state courthouses are high traffic venues, filled with employees, attorneys, media, law enforcement officers, and members of the public. Much of the work that transpires in these venues takes place through in-person interactions. Litigants file pleadings and other paperwork with the clerk’s office. Attorneys meet with clients, witnesses, law enforcement officers, and victims to explain proceedings, negotiate pleas, discuss schedules, and prepare for hearings and trials. Reporters often are on-hand to report on cases, activities, and trends of interest. Some law enforcement officers appear to testify; others are there to provide security. And then there is the public. Hundreds of defendants may appear on any given criminal district court docket. Many of them are accompanied by friends or family members. Some defendants seek to have an attorney appointed; others ask for a continuance. Some plead guilty in open court, and others submit a waiver of appearance, admission of guilt, and pay fines and costs to the clerk to resolve outstanding charges. Victims also appear to observe the disposition of a criminal cases in which they were harmed. Many of these people–defendants, friends, family, and victims alike–may spend hours sitting shoulder to shoulder in a crowded courtroom before completing their business before the court.
The courthouse scene has been dramatically different and has involved significantly fewer in-person interactions in the weeks since Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered her first COVID-19 emergency directive on March 13, 2020. While courts have remained opened, and judges have continued to hear emergency and time-sensitive matters, regular sessions of criminal court have largely ceased in most districts. Most criminal cases have been continued until June 1, 2020 or later pursuant to the Chief Justice’s directives. With June 1 just a few weeks away and with the Governor slowly easing COVID-19 restrictions, court officials are now considering how they can resume some of their previous in-court activities while ensuring the safety of everyone present in the courthouse—from employees to the public.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order on Friday, May 1, modifying and extending eight emergency directives previously issued on April 2 and April 16, 2020. The Chief Justice’s April 2 order, in which noted that she fully expected to extend its directives for an additional 30-day period and that judicial system stakeholders should plan for the directives to last through May, presaged the current one. Emergency orders issued by the Chief Justice pursuant to G.S. 7A-39(b)(2) initially may endure for no more than thirty days, but may be extended for additional 30-day periods. Friday’s order was effective immediately and expires on May 30, 2020.
As before, three of the emergency directives are particularly significant in criminal cases.
Ramos v. Louisiana, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last Monday and summarized here, holds that the Sixth Amendment impartial jury guarantee gives defendants a right to a unanimous jury verdict in state trials. The case is making waves for reasons tangential to the dispute between the parties: in a dizzyingly split opinion, the justices argue more over the meaning of stare decisis (the court’s obligation to follow its prior holdings) than whether defendants in state courts may be convicted by a less-than-unanimous jury. This aspect of the opinion has been widely discussed (see analysis here, here, here, and here), and foreshadows the justices’ likely battle over an upcoming reproductive rights case. Since the divergent perspectives on stare decisis have been covered elsewhere, I will consider another issue that split the justices: the legal relevance of the nonunanimous jury law’s Jim Crow origins.
First, a pop quiz
Did North Carolina ever allow non unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials? Read on for the answer. Continue reading →
Earlier this month, the North Carolina Supreme Court decided State v. Golder, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___, 2020 WL 1650899 (April 3, 2020). Before that decision, there were somewhat tricky rules about how to preserve appellate review of all issues in a motion to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence. No more. The Golder decision clarifies that all sufficiency issues are preserved with a properly timed motion to dismiss at trial. This decision overrules a line of cases holding otherwise and simplifies the process of preserving sufficiency issues at trial for defense counsel. Read on for the details. Continue reading →
As the struggle to contain the COVID-19 crisis grinds on, including concerns about the possible spread of the virus in jails and prisons, there has been a renewed interest in finding alternatives to sentences that involve extended periods of incarceration. It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that Jamie Markham has written about such alternatives many times over the years. But in light of the current health situation, I thought this would be a good opportunity to revisit some of those topics, collect them together in one post, and try to expand on a few of the suggestions and options.
I should also acknowledge that this post was prompted, at least in part, by the fact that I only recently learned about an unusual type of sentence known as the “Holbrook Holiday.”