The Rape Kit Backlog and What’s Being Done about It

In 1985, Anthony Wyrick sexually assaulted two teenage girls in Charlotte. The police collected semen and other biological evidence but DNA testing was not available at that time and the crime went unsolved. Almost 30 years later, the case came to the attention of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s sexual assault cold case unit. Officers submitted the biological evidence for DNA testing. The results pointed to Wyrick, who lived near the scene of the crime in 1985 and who had since been convicted of an unrelated second-degree rape. Wyrick was eventually arrested, charged, and convicted. His conviction was affirmed last month in State v. Wyrick, which I how I learned of the case. Reading it got me wondering about the status of what is popularly known as the rape kit backlog. Continue reading

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News Roundup

Larry Nassar was back in Michigan court this week for another sentencing hearing arising from a November guilty plea to three counts of criminal sexual conduct.  The New York Times says that 65 women are scheduled to speak at this hearing.  USA Today reports that the Nassar case has caused Texas Governor Greg Abbott to direct the Texas Rangers to investigate the Karolyi Ranch, a former National Training Center for USA Gymnastics run by Bela and Marta Karolyi.  Several victims have alleged that Nassar abused them at the ranch.  Keep reading for more news.

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Category: Uncategorized

2018 Cost Waiver Report Available

The Administrative Office of the Courts has submitted its annual report on criminal cost waivers to the General Assembly. The report, available here, tracks court cost waivers under G.S. 7A-304(a)—among other things. Continue reading

Probable Cause, Pretext and the Proliferation of Crimes

I concluded last week’s post on District of Columbia v. Wesby, ___ U.S. ___ (2018), with a promise to return to Justice Ginsburg’s suggestion in her concurring opinion that it might be time for the Court to re-think Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996). So let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

When a Person Commits a Crime, Is There Probable Cause to Search the Person’s Phone for Evidence?

The question in the title of this post is one that I’ve been asked lots of times in different factual contexts. The basic question is, given that most people have cell phones, and that people tend to use their phones to document and to communicate about just about everything that they do, is it reasonable to believe that a person who has committed a crime has evidence of that crime on his or her phone? Continue reading

Real-Time Cell Phone Tracking Update, Including a New Case

The Court of Appeals of North Carolina recently decided a case about police obtaining real-time location information from a suspect’s cellular service provider. The case does not address the principal controversy concerning such information. Nonetheless, it provides a good refresher on the issue and marks a good time for an update on the national controversy about this issue. Continue reading

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News Roundup

On Tuesday, a 15-year-old high schooler with a handgun killed two fellow students and wounded sixteen others in Kentucky.  According to NBC News, the shooter opened fire in a common area of Marshall County High School just before 8:00 a.m., sending the school into chaos as students desperately fled the attack.  Police officers arrived at the school minutes later, quickly disarming the shooter and taking him into custody.  Bailey Nicole Holt died at the scene and Preston Ryan Cope died later at a hospital.  Keep reading for more news.

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Felony Deferrals in District Court

Can a district court judge enter a deferred prosecution order or conditional discharge for a defendant charged with a felony? Continue reading

Probable Cause and the Party at Peaches’ House

The United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in District of Columbia v. Wesby on Monday, holding that police officers had probable cause to arrest 16 people for unlawful entry after finding them reveling in a vacant house without the permission of its owner. The court further held that even if one assumed the officers lacked probable cause, they were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no clearly established law that rendered their actions unreasonable. The D.C. Circuit and the trial court had ruled otherwise, leading to a compensatory damages award of nearly $700,000 for the plaintiffs.

While trial courts are regularly called upon to evaluate whether facts known to an officer provide probable cause of criminal activity, it is less common for the Supreme Court to engage in such factbound determinations. Thus, the analysis in Wesby, whose language doubtless will soon be cited in the North Carolina reporters, warrants a closer look. Continue reading

New Developments Regarding Risk Assessments

Risk assessment tools are starting to take root in the criminal justice system. They’re used to make decisions about pretrial release, sentencing, and the level of supervision or custody to which a defendant will be subject. Some of the results are encouraging. For example, Mecklenburg County uses a risk assessment developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to help make pretrial release decisions. The pretrial services office there reports that the risk assessment has contributed to “transformational change” in how pretrial justice is administered, with fewer secured bonds being imposed the jail population falling with no harm to public safety. Based in part on Mecklenburg’s success, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice encouraged the creation of a pilot project that would “implement and assess more broadly . . . an empirically derived pretrial risk assessment tool.” Continue reading