The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice recommended in a 2020 report that state and local law enforcement agencies enact policies requiring officers to intervene in and report about circumstances in which a law enforcement officer witnesses excessive use of force or abuse of a suspect or arrestee. The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association similarly recommended in a 2020 report that all law enforcement agencies and the North Carolina Law Enforcement Accreditation Program adopt a policy requiring an officer to intervene when necessary to prevent another officer from using excessive force and to report any such intervention. This session, the General Assembly imposed such duties as a matter of state law rather than agency policy. This post will discuss current statutory law governing officer’s use of force and recent amendments enacted by S.L. 2021-137 (H 536) and S.L. 2021-138 (S 300).
Category Archives: Search and Seizure
This post summarizes published criminal and related decisions from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals released during July 2021 which may be of interest to state practitioners. Summaries are also emailed to subscribers of the SOG criminal law listserv. Previous summaries of Fourth Circuit decisions are available on the SOG website, here. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago the United States Supreme Court decided Lange v. California, 594 U.S. ___, ___ S. Ct. ___ (June 23, 2021), holding that the flight of a person suspected of a misdemeanor offense does not categorically justify an officer’s warrantless entry into a home. Today’s post reviews how Lange fits into the landscape of Fourth Amendment cases establishing when an officer may forcibly enter a suspect’s home without a warrant.
The Fourth Circuit held in United States v. Davis, No. 20-4035, 2021 WL 1826255, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir. May 7, 2021) that officers unlawfully searched a suspect’s backpack, which he dropped before he lay on the ground on his stomach, where he remained as he was arrested and his arms were handcuffed behind his back. The case is significant for at least two reasons: (1) The Fourth Circuit extended Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), to searches outside the automobile context; and (2) The court determined that a bag the suspect could have easily reached while unrestrained was not within his reach while he was prone and handcuffed. Continue reading →
Recent well-publicized incidents have led to questions about when a law enforcement officer may use deadly force to seize a fleeing suspect. The short answer is that the Constitution permits an officer to use deadly force when he or she has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or to others. Because officers must make “split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” courts evaluate the reasonableness of an officer’s determination from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and without the benefit of hindsight. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). The Constitution “does not require police to gamble with their lives in the face of a serious threat of harm.” Elliott v. Leavitt, 99 F.3d 640, 641 (4th Cir. 1996).
Factors critical to evaluating the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force to effectuate a seizure include: (1) the severity of the crime at issue; (2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; and (3) whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by fleeing. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. An officer’s subjective intent or motivation is not relevant to the inquiry, nor is the reasonableness of the officer’s actions in creating the dangerous situation. Waterman v. Batton, 393 F.3d 471, 477 (4th Cir. 2005)
The short answer seldom provides a definitive assessment of whether an officer’s use of deadly force in a particular circumstance violated a suspect’s constitutional rights. Even so, there are a few bright-line principles that can be applied to any such inquiry. Continue reading →
In 2016, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held in State v. Adams, 250 N.C. App. 664 (2016), that law enforcement officers acted lawfully when, lacking a warrant, they chased a man suspected of driving while license revoked into his home where they arrested him. The court determined that because the officers were engaged in hot pursuit, they did not need to establish additional exigent circumstances such as immediate danger or destruction of evidence to justify forcibly entering the suspect’s home. This year, the United States Supreme Court is reviewing a California case raising the same issue: Does pursuit of a person who a police officer has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor categorically qualify as an exigent circumstance sufficient to allow the officer to enter a home without a warrant? See Lange v. California, 141 S. Ct. 1617 (2020) (granting review of People v. Lange, No. A157169, 2019 WL 5654385 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2019) (unpublished)). Continue reading →
Several prior posts on this blog have addressed authenticating and admitting digital evidence like social media posts and text messages (see here, here, here, and here) and we’ve also previously covered the basic rules and requirements for using the business records hearsay exception (see here, here and here), but we’ve not yet explored the questions and issues that arise when those two topics collide.
For example, if the state obtains a complete copy of a suspect’s account records from Facebook, Twitter, or AT&T, including user-generated content such as messages, chats, texts, and posts, can that evidence be admitted as a business record? I recently had an opportunity to talk about digital evidence with prosecutors in several other states, and there are opposing views in different jurisdictions about the correct answer to this question. This post looks at the conflicting interpretations, the North Carolina guidance we have so far, and an interesting alternative approach.
This post is the third in a series examining the impact of Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct 2206 (2018) on electronic surveillance and the obtaining of location and other types of information from third parties. The first post summarized post-Carpenter decisions relating to surveillance by pole camera and tower dumps. The second examined post-Carpenter rulings on the obtaining of real-time surveillance information through satellite-based Global Positioning System data (GPS) or cell site location information (CSLI). This post examines the use of cell site simulators and the obtaining of other information about a person’s on-line activities or accounts from third parties.
This post is the second in a series examining the impact of Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct 2206 (2018) on electronic surveillance and the obtaining of location and other types of information from third parties. The first post in this series summarized post-Carpenter decisions relating to surveillance by pole camera and tower dumps. This post examines post-Carpenter rulings on the obtaining of real-time surveillance information through satellite-based Global Positioning System data (GPS) or cell site location information (CSLI). The last post in this series will examine the use of cell site simulators and the obtaining of other information about a person’s on-line activities or accounts from third parties.