Update on Pole Cameras and the Fourth Amendment

When an officer attaches a video camera to a utility pole and uses it to monitor a suspect’s home continuously for several months, is that a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment? Or is it just the officer seeing what any passer-by might see, such that there is no intrusion on the suspect’s reasonable expectation of privacy? This issue has been a focal point of litigation since Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018), which held that the long-term collection of historical cell site location information is so intrusive that it is a search, even though any individual piece of such data does not belong to the phone’s user and is not subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Whether the rationale of Carpenter extends to pole cameras has been addressed before on this blog, most recently here and here by Shea Denning. But there are a number of new cases in this area, which I have summarized below. Continue reading

News Roundup

Queen Elizabeth II died this week. When she took the throne, Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Harry Truman was the President of the United States. She was truly an institution. And, to draw at least a slight connection to criminal law, she was an institution that could not be prosecuted. As The Guardian explains here, British law provides near-total immunity to the monarch. King Charles now enjoys that protection. Read on for more news. Continue reading

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Case Summaries – N.C. Court of Appeals (Sept. 6, 2022)

This post summarizes the published criminal opinions from the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on September 6, 2022. This summary will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to the present. The summary of State v. Teague was authored by Phil Dixon.

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EWarrants, Errors, and First Appearances, Oh My!

Last July, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) launched a new application for generating criminal process and pleadings: eWarrants. This application replaced NCAWARE and is part of the court system’s migration to eCourts, a digital system that will replace the current paper-based system for maintaining court records. Given the scope of eWarrants, it may not be surprising to hear that the rollout was not seamless. Indeed, the thousands of magistrates, clerks, deputy clerks, and assistant clerks who became immediate users of the application soon identified defects and issues, many of which have subsequently been resolved. One such issue was the application’s failure, in certain circumstances, to print out charging language on criminal process and pleadings such as magistrate’s orders and warrants for arrest. When the issuing official does not immediately detect and remedy such an error, a judge who later holds a first appearance on such a charge may wonder how to proceed. This post will review the judge’s options in such a circumstance. Continue reading


New Bulletin on Units of Prosecution

I’m happy to announce the publication of my new bulletin, Units of Prosecution: Charging Multiple Counts for the Same Conduct. The bulletin explores a common issue that arises in various contexts: when does conduct constitute one continuing offense and when does conduct constitute more than one offense? Continue reading

News Roundup

The news story I pondered the most this week was this AP article entitled Watering While Black. It explores the arrest of a Black pastor in Alabama who was tending a neighbor’s flowers while the neighbor was away. A third neighbor called the police, seemingly failing to recognize the pastor even though he had lived on the same street for years. Officers responded and soon got sideways with the pastor. The whole situation fell apart through a series of faulty inferences and failed communications that put me in mind of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers. Read on for more news. Continue reading

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DMV Hearings and Procedural Due Process

Earlier this year, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Edwards v. Jessup, 282 N.C. App. 213 (2022), considered whether a license revocation hearing in which a hearing officer employed by the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) both elicited and evaluated evidence, ultimately ordering revocation, violated the petitioning driver’s right to due process. Spoiler alert:  The Court held that the DMV hearing process did not violate the driver’s constitutional rights. Continue reading to learn why.

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Should Small Towns Have Police Departments?

Kenly is a small town with a population just under 2,000. It made national news recently when the chief and all the full-time officers in the Kenly Police Department resigned. It sounds like Kenly is planning to rebuild its police department. But that isn’t mandatory. For now, the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office is providing law enforcement services in Kenly, and Kenly could choose to do without a police department on a permanent basis. In fact, there are hundreds of municipalities in North Carolina that don’t have their own police departments. This post highlights some of the considerations for small towns thinking about whether or not to have a police department. Continue reading

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News Roundup

On Monday, a grand jury in Wake County returned a presentment against Attorney General Josh Stein and two people affiliated with his 2020 electoral campaign. The presentment asked the Wake County District Attorney to “submit for grand jury consideration an indictment” charging a violation of G.S. 163-274(a)(9), which makes it a misdemeanor to “publish . . . derogatory reports with reference to any candidate in any primary or election, knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, when such report is calculated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election.” The basis of the presentment is a television ad run by Attorney General Stein’s campaign during the 2020 election cycle, accusing Stein’s opponent, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, of leaving “1,500 rape kits on a shelf.” On Tuesday, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit enjoined further state court proceedings pending resolution of a federal lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s campaign and related parties, claiming that the statute at issue violates the First Amendment. The issuance of the injunction pending appeal indicates that the panel believes the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits, but the matter is to be briefed expeditiously and argued in December. Keep reading for more news. Continue reading

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A Look at the 2022 Sentencing Commission Recidivism Report

The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission released its biennial Correctional Program Evaluation, better known as the Recidivism Report. It is prepared in conjunction with the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, as required by G.S. 164-47. The full report is available here. It covers defendants placed on probation or released from prison in Fiscal Year 2019, and examines their subsequent arrests, convictions, and incarcerations during a two-year follow-up period. Continue reading