Last week, Chief Justice Paul Newby entered an order extending and modifying some of the emergency directives previously imposed by former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Chief Justice Newby’s order (issued January 13, 2021 and effective January 14, 2021) allowed other emergency directives to expire. This post reviews the latest emergency directives as well as recent leadership changes affecting the courts.
Category Archives: Procedure
As jury trials resume across the state, many criminal courts will soon confront the issue of whether to permit State’s witnesses to wear masks while testifying. CDC guidance suggests that there can be substantial health risks to allowing unmasked testimony in the confines of a courtroom, but as I explore below, the allowance of masked testimony presents its own significant constitutional risks.
Today Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order halting most types of court proceedings due to the rising levels of COVID-19. The order was expected. The Chief Justice and McKinley Wooten, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), had issued a memorandum to judicial branch employees on Friday notifying them that the order was coming. The memorandum stated that more than 80 North Carolina counties are experiencing substantial or critical community spread of the virus and that the recent surge of cases and hospitalizations had strained court operations. It further noted that 53 counties had reported court closures during the pandemic, some more than once, and that 11 counties had reported closures in the past week. Today’s order reinstitutes Emergency Directive 1, which previously had expired on May 30, 2020, and extends and modifies other emergency directives. The provisions of today’s order, discussed in more detail below, expire on January 13, 2021.
Yesterday, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order further extending the time in bail bond forfeiture proceedings for the filing of motions to set aside and objections to motions to set aside. The deadline for filing these motions and objections has been extended since April 14, 2020 in response to the public health threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. Motions and objections due to be filed on or after April 14, 2020 and before or on December 30, 2020 now may be filed until close of business on December 31, 2020. To implement the extension, the order stays until after December 31, 2020 any entry of final judgment of forfeiture or the granting of a motion to set aside due to the district attorney or board of education’s failure to file a timely written objection.
Last month, the Chief Justice entered an order extending previously entered emergency directives (discussed here), which now expire December 14, 2020. If those emergency directives are again renewed, we will be sure to note it here.
Last week, the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association released a 31-page Report on Law Enforcement Professionalism recommending numerous law enforcement reforms. The report, created by a working group formed after the killing of George Floyd and the public outcry for policing reform that followed, is part of “an effort to create a law enforcement profession that will not tolerate racism and excessive force by law enforcement, and that will hold North Carolina law enforcement to a high standard.” (Report at 5.) Changes are recommended for officer certification and de-certification, training, agency accreditation, use of force policy and data collection, and recruiting and retention. The document, which, among other things, contains the most comprehensive description of the training and education requirements for law enforcement officers I’ve ever seen, is worth reading in its entirety. This post focuses only on one aspect of the report: recommendations that would enable hiring authorities, certifying commissions and state prosecutors to learn of misconduct by officers, including untruthfulness, that would impair the officer’s credibility as a witness in criminal prosecutions and which must be disclosed to the defense
A few months ago, Jamie Markham summarized the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Capps, 374 N.C. 621 (2020), affirming the procedure used by the state to cure a defect with the name of the victim in larceny and injury to personal property charges. The higher court’s decision reversed the Court of Appeals ruling in State v. Capps, 265 N.C. App. 491 (2019), a case that Jeff Welty blogged about here.
The more recent Capps case is one that I have found myself mentioning over and over again during presentations on pleadings, amendments, and legal updates, so I thought we should close the loop on those earlier blog posts by digging a little deeper into its holding. Procedurally, Capps is a significant and helpful case for the state, but it remains to be seen how one aspect of the decision will be reconciled with existing case law.
While the suspension of jury trials caused by the pandemic has slowed the work of the criminal courts, judges across the state continue to sentence defendants who enter guilty pleas. The prospect of their clients facing prison time during the pandemic has spurred defense attorneys to consider what arguments might be made during sentencing proceedings with respect to the heightened danger of a defendant contracting COVID-19 in a correctional facility.
Procedural justice and procedural fairness are terms that refer to the way legal authorities interact with the public and how those interactions shape the public’s view of those authorities. I first learned of this framework for evaluating those interactions in connection with my work with court officials. Researchers have determined that people’s assessments of their experiences in the court system are influenced more by how they are treated and how their cases are handled than by whether they win or lose. It turns out that the same principles apply to the public’s perception of law enforcement officers. And a perception of procedural justice may increase the public’s compliance with the law and their willingness to cooperate with officers.
We have posted regularly during the COVID-19 pandemic about emergency directives entered by the Chief Justice pursuant to G.S. 7A-39(b)(2) that establish procedures and protocols governing the continuing operation of the courts. Last month’s post reviewed the status of directives then in place, noting their varying expiration dates. Last week, the Chief Justice entered an omnibus renewal order, which included all emergency directives currently in effect and placed all but one of them on the same expiration cycle. This post will briefly review those directives and other aspects of the September 15, 2020 order.
In the comments to a blog post I wrote about using unpublished cases, one reader suggested a follow-up topic: “Should do an article on dicta; what is it and is it precedent?”
At the time, I was lukewarm on the idea. Dicta are just the extraneous statements in a court opinion that are not part of the precedential holding. What else was there to say? But the question came back to my mind after I read Chavez v. McFadden, __ N.C. __, 843 S.E.2d 139 (June 5, 2020), where the state Supreme Court made a point of disavowing dicta in a related Court of Appeals decision, discussed here. I began digging a little deeper, and discovered that my casual attitude towards dicta was predicted by an article written nearly seventy years ago:
Dictum is one of the commonest yet least discussed of legal concepts. Every lawyer thinks he knows what it means, yet few lawyers think much more about it. […] The traditional view is that a dictum is a statement in an opinion not necessary to the decision of the case. This means nothing. The only statement in an appellate opinion strictly necessary to the decision of the case is the order of the court. A quibble like this shows how useless the definition is.
“Dictum Revisited,” 4 Stan. L. Rev. 509 (1952). So I decided to take a closer look at how we distinguish and classify dicta, and whether dicta have any value as precedent. It turns out that our theory and practice may not always line up.