I started wondering about that question after reading a recent decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Carolina Youth Action Project v. Wilson, 60 F.4th 770 (4th Cir. 2023) (summarized here). There, the court struck down two South Carolina state laws aimed in large part at regulating conduct and speech in and around schools. Those laws are similar to our version of disorderly conduct by disrupting schools. This post examines the holding of Carolina Youth Action Project and its potential implications for North Carolina law.
Editor’s note: This post contains vulgar language that isn’t suitable for children and quite possibly many adults. If you’re an email subscriber, your spam filter probably won’t like it, either. Also, it is quite long.
A federal court of appeals recently ruled in favor of a man who called a group of police officers “bitch ass fucking pigs,” “motherfuckers,” and “dirty rat bastards.” It found that his arrest on disorderly conduct charges was unjustified because “mere epithets” directed at a law enforcement officer, no matter how coarse or profane, do not constitute fighting words and are protected by the First Amendment. Wood v. Eubanks, 25 F.4th 414 (6th Cir. 2022). This raises the question: do police officers really have to put up with this?
Last week, the SOG offered a criminal law update featuring various members of the criminal law faculty. If you missed it and are interested viewing the recording, the webinar should be posted here within a few weeks. This post will be familiar to those who attended, as I covered the topic there. Consider watching the program—it is free to view for educational purposes, and a modest cost if you need the CLE credit. For those that prefer their criminal law updates from the blog, read on!
Editor’s note: The opinion analyzed in this post was withdrawn shortly after publication and replaced with this opinion reaching the same outcome.
Last week, in State v. Ellis, __ N.C. App. __, __ S.E.2d __, 2019 WL 3559644 (N.C. Ct. App. Aug. 6, 2019), a divided panel of the court of appeals held that a trooper properly stopped a vehicle “after witnessing . . . a passenger in [the] vehicle . . . extend his middle finger in the trooper’s general direction.” The majority acknowledged that “there are a number of decisions from courts across the country [holding] that one cannot be held criminally liable for simply raising his middle finger at an officer.” Yet it ruled that the defendant’s conduct provided reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, namely, disorderly conduct. See generally G.S. 14-288.4(a)(2) (making it unlawful to make a gesture “intended and plainly likely to provoke violent retaliation”). Let’s take a closer look at Ellis.
Author’s note: The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals discussed below as to the adjudication for disorderly conduct. In re T.T.E., ___ N.C. ___, 831 S.E.2d 293 (2019). The state supreme court concluded that substantial evidence established that the juvenile perpetrated an “’annoying, disturbing, or alarming act … exceeding the bounds of social toleration normal for’” the high school during the course of the instructional day through a public disturbance by “’engaging in violent conduct’” by “’throwing a chair toward another student in the school’s cafeteria.’”
A high school student throws a chair in the cafeteria. The chair doesn’t hit anyone; indeed, no one is in the immediate vicinity of the chair. The student runs out of the cafeteria. Has the student committed a crime? If so, how should school officials respond?
Protests are breaking out all over. This weekend, protesters gathered at RDU to oppose President Trump’s travel ban. Last weekend, participants in Women’s Marches took to the streets of Washington and Raleigh. This post considers the criminal law issues that most often arise during protests.
In Charlotte, there is a controversy over whether a transgendered person should use the bathroom assigned to his or her biological sex or to the sex with which he or she identifies. The Charlotte Observer has the story here. This post doesn’t address that issue directly, but instead concerns a related question that the story prompted me to ponder: is it illegal for a man to use the ladies’ room?
Kids do some appalling things. Last week, the court of appeals decided a case involving conduct at a school event that was beyond the pale. But did it rise to the level of a juvenile offense, i.e., a crime? The case is In re M.J.G. It began at a charity volleyball game that was being … Read more
No doubt in response to funeral protests by groups like Westboro Baptist Church, in 2006 NC amended its disorderly conduct statute, G.S. 14-288.4, adding a provision prohibiting disorderly conduct at a funeral. Under current law a person commits this offense when he or she: (1) intentionally (2) causes a public disturbance (3) by engaging in … Read more
Editor’s note: Much like newspapers sometimes waive the length limit on letters to the editor “to permit a fuller response,” I’m posting in full John Rubin’s detailed counterpoint to my previous post on the Gates case. John’s position is thoughtful and reasonable and I don’t plan to debate the issue further, beyond making the following … Read more