If I had to answer the question in the title of this post in the briefest possible way, I would say: not usually. But there’s a lot of uncertainty and nuance packed into that short answer. This post gets into the details.
A new statute, effective next month (March 1, 2024), will give prosecutors greater power to combine the value of stolen property to justify a harsher sentence for certain financial crimes. S.L. 2023-151, § 2(a). Section 15A-1340.16F provides that if a person is convicted of two or more of the same financial crimes – embezzlement, false pretenses, or elder exploitation – the crimes may be “aggregated for sentencing” if: (1) the crimes were committed against more than one victim or in more than one county, and (2) the crimes were based on the same act or transaction or series thereof connected together or constituting parts of a common scheme or plan. The statute lays out a comprehensive arrangement for pleading, procedure, and punishment. This post explores the new law.
I am happy to announce that a new Administration of Justice Bulletin, The Pretrial Integrity Act, is now available. It answers several questions raised by the new pretrial release laws enacted by S.L. 2023-75. The bulletin explores the newly enacted changes, how they are affected by different charging documents, the impact of the new provisions on existing pretrial release laws, and potential challenges in implementation.
Because the State’s ability to prove impairment in prosecutions for driving while impaired often turns on whether the officer had probable cause to arrest — and thereafter test — the defendant, probable cause to make a warrantless arrest is a frequently litigated issue in DWI cases. While for many years there was a dearth of case law exploring the hard calls in this area, that trend has changed. In several arguably close cases over the past decade, the appellate courts have considered whether impaired driving arrests by law enforcement officers were supported by probable cause. See State v. Parisi, 372 N.C. 639 (2019) (driver’s admission to drinking, his red and glassy eyes, his odor of alcohol, and multiple indicators of impairment on field sobriety tests established probable cause; affirming court of appeals’ opinion reversing trial court); State v. Lindsey, 249 N.C. App. 516 (2016) (odor of alcohol on driver’s breath, red and glassy eyes, admission to drinking, and five clues of impairment from horizontal gaze nystagmus test provided probable cause; affirming trial court order denying motion to suppress); State v. Overocker, 236 N.C. App. 423 (2014) (light odor of alcohol and consumption of three alcoholic drinks in four-hour period were insufficient to establish probable cause; affirming trial court order granting motion to suppress); and State v. Townsend, 236 N.C. App. 456 (2014) (driver’s odor of alcohol, positive results on portable breath test, bloodshot eyes, and signs of impairment while performing field sobriety tests established probable cause; affirming trial court’s denial of motion to suppress).
Last December, the North Carolina Supreme Court added to that list with its opinion in State v. Woolard, ___ N.C. ___, 894 S.E.2d 717 (2023) reversing, upon certiorari review, the trial court’s determination that an arresting officer lacked probable cause for impaired driving. This post will review Woolard, its holding, and its path to the state’s highest court.
When abuse or neglect leads to the death of a child, concerned citizens, public officials, and members of the media often have questions about the circumstances leading up to the fatality. A North Carolina statute, G.S. 7B-2902, requires any public agency—including law enforcement agencies and departments of social services—to disclose a written summary of particular “findings and information” upon request with respect to child fatalities that meet certain criteria. Within five working days of when a public agency receives such a request, the agency is required to consult with the district attorney who is involved in the case concerning the child’s fatality or near fatality to determine what information may be released. This blog post discusses the responsibilities of public agencies to disclose information under G.S. 7B-2902, circumstances in which information may be withheld from public disclosure, and the role of the district attorney in consulting on what information may be released.
My colleague Jeff Welty recently wrote about S.L. 2023-123 and changes to our death by drug distribution laws. He mentioned changes to the mandatory drug trafficking fines for certain drugs there, but I wanted to follow up on that point with the details. The new law, with new fines for certain controlled substances, takes effect on December 1, 2023. This post examines the coming changes to drug trafficking fines. Consistent with my defender-focused role, it also explores potential constitutional issues defenders might consider raising in cases where the new fines apply.
I recently finished a new Administration of Justice Bulletin on Pretrial Release in Criminal Domestic Violence Cases. It is available here as a free download. Through a series of questions and answers, the bulletin discusses pretrial release generally; examines the special rules of pretrial release for domestic violence cases; and explores the mechanics of the 48-hour rule, the impact of violations of these special pretrial release rules, and questions on limitations of authority.
The Pretrial Integrity Act has been in effect for one month now and has generated several questions about the implications of the new provisions. Some of the most frequently asked questions stem from probation violations, particularly how arrests for probation violations are treated under the new law. This post briefly addresses the two most common questions in this context.
I mentioned in a recent News Roundup that the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in Smith v. Arizona. The case tees up a question that has been lingering since at least 2012: Does the Confrontation Clause permit the admission of substitute forensic analyst testimony? This issue arises when a forensic report is prepared for use in a criminal case, but the testing analyst is not available for trial. Instead of admitting the report through the original analyst, the State calls a different expert—one not necessarily involved in the original testing—to offer an opinion about the accuracy of the report. North Carolina generally allows such testimony, but there is a split among jurisdictions on the issue. Smith has the potential to alter the legal landscape here and elsewhere regarding the use of substitute analyst testimony, so today’s post dives into the legal issues and potential impact of the case.
The School of Government has published a new resource on initial appearances and pretrial release. Although any judicial official is authorized to preside at an initial appearance, in most cases that official is a magistrate. This guide addresses pretrial release only in the context of magistrates’ authority and limitations.