Discovery of Officers’ Text Messages

More than a trillion text messages are sent each year in the United States alone. Some of these messages are work-related communications from law enforcement officers to fellow officers, witnesses, prosecutors, and others. Which, if any, of these messages are discoverable? How should officers preserve discoverable messages? Must prosecutors ask for officers’ text messages before providing discovery to the defense? This post begins to address these questions.

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Should an Officer Use His or Her Personal Cell Phone to Take Work-Related Photographs?

I’ve been asked several times lately whether it is a good idea for an officer to use his or her personal cell phone to take work-related photographs, such as photographs of a crime scene or photographs of seized items. In this post, I explain why I think that’s OK, so long as it is consistent with agency policy.

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How O.J. Got the Fuhrman Tapes (and You Can Get Out-of-State Materials)

Almost everyone knows about the trial of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Many people also know about a key piece of evidence introduced by the defense—taped interviews in which one of the investigating officers, Los Angeles Police Department detective Mark Fuhrman, used racial slurs. Less well known is the legal mechanism that the defense team used to obtain the tapes, which were in the possession of a North Carolina writer who refused to turn them over voluntarily. How did O.J.’s lawyers compel a resident of North Carolina to produce the tapes in faraway Los Angeles, California? This post reviews the procedure used in the O.J. case and other ways to obtain out-of-state materials in a criminal case.

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A Rare Opinion on Criminal Discovery in North Carolina

There seem to be fewer and fewer reported decisions about criminal discovery in North Carolina. A recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision finding a discovery violation by the prosecution, State v. Davis (Apr. 15, 2016), made me wonder why. This post reviews the evolution of North Carolina’s criminal discovery laws, which has brought relative calm to this area of law, along with the decision in Davis, which deals with a recurring issue about disclosure of expert opinion.

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New Ethics Opinion on Incarcerated Defendants’ Right to Review Discovery

Many criminal defense lawyers are reluctant to give incarcerated clients copies of discovery materials. Lawyers may worry that the materials will be stolen by other inmates, who will then use the information in the materials to bolster false claims that the defendant confessed to them. And lawyers may believe that certain clients simply should not have access to certain materials, such as the addresses and phone numbers of witnesses or alleged victims. But what if a client insists on having a copy of discovery materials? A new State Bar ethics opinion addresses this issue.

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Defendant’s Right to Third Party Confidential Records

Suppose Defendant is charged with sex offense against a child. He knows that DSS previously investigated similar allegations made by the child against other people and heard that DSS found those charges to be unfounded. When Defendant subpoenas the records from DSS, the agency moves to quash. Is Defendant entitled to the records? The answer is: Sort of. On these facts, Defendant has a right to have the court do an in camera review of the records. If the court finds that they contain favorable, material evidence, it has to be turned over to the defendant. This post outlines the relevant law, which stems from a U.S. Supreme Court case called Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987).

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Entrapment

A national, empirical study of defenses found that the defense of entrapment arose in just 0.08% of cases, usually “to little avail.” Stephen G. Valdes, Frequency and Success: An Empirical Study of Criminal Law Defenses, Federal Constitutional Evidentiary Claims, and Plea Negotiations, 153 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1709, 1716 (2005). But every now and again, … Read more

Search Warrants for Meth Labs

I’ve had several questions lately concerning search warrants for meth labs. The basic issue is whether officers who find hazardous chemicals and other dangerous items may destroy them right away, before the defendant has a chance to examine and test them. Related questions include whether a judge has the power to authorize such destruction when … Read more

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What Are Permissible Discovery Sanctions Against the Defendant?

In State v. Cooper, issued last week, the Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction for first-degree murder of his wife and ordered a new trial. The case has drawn considerable media attention; recent news reports indicate that the State intends to petition the state Supreme Court for review. This blog post focuses on one … Read more

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State v. Marino Finds No Error in Denying Defendant Source Code

The North Carolina Court of Appeals decided its first breath-testing source code case yesterday.  The court in State v. Marino affirmed the trial court’s determination that the defendant had no right to examine the source code for the Intoximeter EC IR II, the instrument used to analyze his breath alcohol concentration after he was arrested … Read more