On my drive home yesterday, I heard a news story on the radio. The report indicated that the Illinois Supreme Court had just upheld a law completely eliminating financial conditions of release in the Prairie State – apparently making it the first state in the country to abolish cash bail. The story didn’t detail the legal arguments at issue in the case, or even who had challenged the law. Given the national interest in bail reform, I thought the Illinois case might be a harbinger of things to come elsewhere, so I looked into it. This post briefly summarizes what I learned.
Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome M. Jeanette Pitts to the blog as an author. Jeanette is a Legal Research Specialist at the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab.
According to a report by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, there were over 250,000 traffic crashes in 2021 (276,026, to be exact). Even when crashes involving fatalities and injuries are removed from that figure, the number of crashes involving only property damage still hovers at 200,000. A glance at past year figures and the five-year average reveals that the number of crashes involving only property damage has been over 175,000 for several years.
The Supreme Court just concluded its Term with blockbuster decisions on affirmative action, free speech, and student loan forgiveness. But criminal law practitioners should be aware of a less-ballyhooed case that is significant for its broad pronouncements about the discretion of police and prosecutors. The case is United States v. Texas. This post summarizes the decision and places it in context of the ongoing national debate about discretionary decisions concerning arrest and prosecution.
Earlier this month, the state supreme court rejected a defendant’s challenge to his conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon pursuant to an indictment that failed to comport with a statutory pleading requirement. That case, State v. Newborn, 330PA21, ___ N.C. ___ (June 16, 2023), is the latest in a decade of rulings determining that technical pleading defects do not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction. This post will review Newborn and consider its place among jurisprudence departing from the traditional view that a defective pleading fails to vest jurisdiction.
Two recent cases from the North Carolina appellate courts indicate that reports of the demise of technical pleading requirements may have been greatly exaggerated. I am responsible for at least one of those reports. Several years ago, I posted about State v. Brawley, 370 N.C. 626 (2018) (per curiam), in which the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed a conviction based on an indictment charging the defendant with stealing shirts belonging to “Belk’s Department Stores, an entity capable of owning property,” even though “Belk’s Department Stores” was not the full legal name of the entity that suffered the loss. I noted then that Brawley was one in a series of recent state supreme court opinions rejecting claims that technical pleading defects deprived the trial court of jurisdiction over the offense. See also State v. Jones, 255 N.C. App. 364 (2017) (failure to allege every element in a citation was not a jurisdictional defect).
Yet, in recent months, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has issued two published opinions vacating convictions based on fatally defective indictments. The first was a rape conviction pursuant to an indictment that failed to allege the defendant knew the victim was physically helpless. State v. Singleton, 285 N.C. App. 630 (2022). The second was a conviction for possessing a firearm at a protest where the pleading failed to state that the offense occurred on public property. State v. Reavis, __ N.C. App. __, 882 S.E.2d 590 (2022). To be sure, each of these cases involves the failure to plead elements of the offense, which is distinguishable from the victim-naming requirements in Brawley and related cases. Nevertheless, each relies on the notion that defects in an indictment deprive the court of its power to adjudicate a case, even when the pleading is sufficient to pass constitutional muster. This post will discuss these cases and consider potential future developments.
The General Assembly last amended our satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) laws in 2021, substantially reworking who qualifies for SBM, the process of petitioning for termination of SBM, and the potential length of SBM (among other changes). If you are still adjusting to those new rules, buckle up. Tucked into the back of S.L 2023-143 (SB 20) are new amendments that once again substantially revise North Carolina’s SBM scheme (in Part VIII, starting at page 44 of the linked bill), effective for SBM orders entered on or after October 1, 2023. This post examines those changes and their potential implications.
Are you thinking about implementing a citation in lieu of arrest policy? Have you been implementing a policy and want to improve it? The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab recently released a final report for the Citation Project, which included four recommendations for those interested in this work. This post summarizes the report and those recommendations.
Pretrial release is generally set by magistrates at a defendant’s initial appearance. As a special approach to setting conditions of pretrial release, the “48-hour rule,” as it is known in domestic violence cases, shifts that responsibility to judges. The rule comes from G.S. 15A-534.1, which provides that a judge rather than a magistrate must set a defendant’s pretrial release conditions during the first 48 hours after arrest for certain offenses. The 48-hour rule generates a lot of questions. Below, I have answered some fundamental questions that have arisen with this rule.
A non-lawyer might be forgiven for being somewhat confused by the rules governing indictments. The basics are summarized easily enough: a trial court’s jurisdiction depends on a facially valid indictment; an indictment is facially valid so long as it sufficiently alleges all the essential elements of the offense; and the essential elements consist of what the State must prove in order to obtain a conviction. But these basics are so pocked with exceptions, so piled with caveats, that few cases are resolved by reference to them alone. Our appellate courts have decided a few cases in the last several months which illustrate this complexity. This post attempts to provide a brief recurrence to fundamental principles applicable to indictments and to throw a lifeline to prosecutors who discover a potential defect during a trial. My colleagues have blogged pretty frequently about indictment issues, most recently Shea Denning addressing a recent opinion here.
In December, the North Carolina Supreme Court decided State v. Atwell, 2022-NCSC-135, ___ N.C. ___ (2022)—its third time weighing in on the issue of forfeiture of counsel. The defendant had had five court-appointed attorneys when the trial court determined that the defendant was engaging in delay tactics and entered an order of forfeiture. A majority of the Court of Appeals found no error. In reversing this decision, a majority of the Supreme Court concluded that the record did not show that the defendant engaged in the level of conduct sufficient to warrant a finding of forfeiture.
This post discusses State v. Atwell, forfeiture guidelines as set forth by the state Supreme Court, and suggested practices in dealing with forfeiture of counsel issues.