How Serious Is a “Serious Bodily Injury”?

Here’s a question for you: which of the following injuries is more serious?

  • The victim, a police officer injured while fighting with a suspect, “sustained puncture wounds [from bites] on his left forearm and right bicep.” The officer testified that the bites were extremely painful, and they caused “severe bruising and depressions, [and] permanent scarring . . . includ[ing] a large circle on his right bicep, ‘just over a half an inch to an inch in a circle’ with a ‘large depression[,]’ and ‘a deep ridge’ on his left arm. The officer experienced loss of sleep and extreme stress [and] had to be tested multiple times for communicable diseases.”
  • The victim, a six-year-old girl injured when her father “forcibly twisted” her leg until it broke, suffered a “spiral fracture” of her femur. A physician described such fractures as “incredibly painful,” and the child required morphine to control her discomfort. She was placed in traction and underwent surgery to place titanium rods in her leg. The surgery resulted in lifelong scars. The victim was in a cast for several weeks, and used a wheelchair and a walker during her recovery. She regained the full use of her leg in five to eight months, but had to repeat kindergarten as a result of missing so much school.

You can vote on the answer below. Once you have voted, read on to see how the court of appeals viewed these two scenarios.

Which injury was more serious?

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“Belk’s Department Stores, an entity capable of owning property”

The court of appeals recently decided that an indictment alleging that a defendant stole some shirts from “Belk’s Department Stores, an entity capable of owning property,” did not sufficiently identify the victim as an entity capable of owning property. State v. Brawley, __ N.C. App. __, __ S.E.2d __, 2017 WL 4632820 (Oct. 17, 2017). This post summarizes the decision, considers the possibility of further review, and explains how other states handle this issue.

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Court of Appeals Rules that a Citation Was Sufficient Even Though It Failed to Allege Multiple Elements of an Offense

Last year, the court of appeals ruled that a citation that failed to allege an essential element of an offense was sufficient to serve as the State’s pleading. The court concluded that “the standard for issuance of an indictment [which must allege every essential element of an offense to be valid] is not precisely the same as [for] a citation,” and under the more relaxed standard, the citation adequately identified the offense even though it failed to allege an essential element. State v. Allen, __ N.C. App. __, 783 S.E.2d 799 (2016) (an officer cited a motorist for an open container violation, but failed to allege that the container was in the passenger compartment of the defendant’s vehicle; more information about Allen is here).

Last week, a divided panel of the same court ruled that a citation that failed to allege multiple elements of an offense was sufficient. The new opinion raises questions about just how low the bar is for citations, and perhaps for other district court pleadings as well.

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Can the Fact that Daryl Had a Glock Yesterday Be Used to Prove that He Had an AK-47 Today?

When a defendant is charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, may the prosecution introduce, under Rule 404(b), evidence that the defendant previously possessed a different firearm? Courts nationally are divided. The Court of Appeals of North Carolina just ruled in State v. Williams that the answer is no.

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When Does a Seizure Occur When an Officer’s Vehicle Displays Emergency Lights That Directs a Vehicle to Stop?

Jeff Welty wrote a post in 2010 on when a seizure occurs after an officer operates emergency lights to order a driver to stop his or her vehicle. This post updates his post by summarizing the relatively recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of State v. Mangum, ___ N.C. App. ___, 795 S.E.2d 106 (Dec. 6, 2016), review denied, ___ N.C. ___, 2017 WL 1086917 (March 16, 2017), which ruled on this issue and provides a useful summary of the case law in North Carolina and other jurisdictions.

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Court of Appeals Caseload Information

House Bill 239 would reduce the number of judges on the court of appeals from 15 to 12. It has passed the House and awaits Senate consideration. Proponents of the bill (mostly Republicans) say that the court should contract because the number of appeals has fallen in recent years. The bill’s opponents (mostly Democrats) say that the court remains extremely busy, and that the real purpose of the bill is to prevent Governor Cooper from appointing replacements for three Republican judges who are nearing mandatory retirement age. This post presents some historical and statistical information that may help readers assess the bill for themselves. [Update: I have received several comments pointing out other factors, beyond caseload, that should be considered when determining the size of a court. Clearly, factors like disposition times, number of law clerks and staff attorneys, and case mix are all pertinent. This post presents caseload data because caseload information is relevant and readily available, but it isn’t intended as a complete analysis — interested readers are encouraged to consider the full spectrum of pertinent information. To get a sense of how complex measuring and comparing court performance is, see, e.g., W. Warren H. Binford et al., Seeking Best Practices among Intermediate Courts of Appeal: A Nascent Journey, 9 J. App. Prac. & Process 37 (2007) (noting that “[c]ourt productivity is difficult to define, let alone measure,” but finding the Court of Appeals of North Carolina to be above average in both “productivity” and “efficiency”).]

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The 2016 Election

Wow. That was a surprise. Donald Trump has been elected to serve as the nation’s 45th president, defying the outcome nearly all the experts predicted, in what The Washington Post called a “shocking ending” to a “traumatic campaign.”

President-elect Trump carried North Carolina by 3.8 percentage points over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That’s an impressive margin for a state that Republican nominee Mitt Romney carried by 2.2 percent over President Obama in 2012, and which Obama won by less than a percentage point in 2008.

What impact will a Trump presidency have on the legal issues discussed in this blog? 

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