Many, perhaps most, law enforcement officers in North Carolina are at will employees. As the saying goes, they may be fired for any reason or for no reason. But when such an officer is fired for malfeasance, and that reason is made public such that potential future employers may be aware of it, the officer may be entitled to a “name clearing hearing” at which he or she can dispute the basis for the termination.
Were the constitutional rights of defendants who were prosecuted as adults in criminal court for offenses that they committed at ages 16 or 17, and prior to December 1, 2019, violated because the jurisdictional changes under raise the age were not retroactive? The North Carolina Court of Appeals does not think so. The decision in State v. Garrett, 2021-NCCOA-591, answers this question.
In this blog post from 2012, Professor Jessica Smith summarized Rules of Evidence 101 and 1101, which together dictate that the rules of evidence apply to “all actions and proceedings in the courts of this State,” except for proceedings that are specifically excluded by the rules or another statute. Pursuant to these two rules and the case law interpreting them, proceedings at which the rules of evidence (except for rules of privilege) do not apply include: applications for warrants; grand jury proceedings; first appearances; pretrial release hearings; probable cause hearings; hearings on motions to suppress; witness voir dire; sentencing hearings; probation revocation hearings; and more.
That’s quite a list. If the rules of evidence do not apply to any of these proceedings, are there any limits at all on the evidence that may be offered? Could an unsworn and mentally incompetent witness with no personal knowledge offer irrelevant and prejudicial triple-hearsay testimony about a prior conviction more than 10 years old, offered solely for the purpose of showing the defendant’s bad character and the likelihood that he acted in conformity therewith?
Surely not. But if there are no rules of evidence, why not? The short answer to nearly any question about the admissibility of evidence under Rule 1101(b) is “it’s in the judge’s discretion,” but what guides that discretion, and what are its limits?
This question has come up more than once around here lately, so I thought it would be worth summarizing in a blog post.
The defendant is in district court charged with a routine misdemeanor (e.g., larceny, assault, or DWI). The state has additional evidence that would support pursuing a related felony charge instead (e.g., new information about the value of the stolen property, the severity of the injuries inflicted in the assault, or the defendant’s multiple prior convictions for DWI). The prosecutor and the defense attorney talk it over, and they reach a deal: the state will not bring the higher felony charge, but only if the defendant pleads guilty to the misdemeanor – right now, as charged, take it or leave it.
The defendant agrees and enters a guilty plea. Then, a few days later, the defendant gives notice of appeal to superior court for trial de novo on the misdemeanor. May the state now prosecute the felony charge in superior court?
This post walks through the legal arguments for and against it, and then offers a few suggestions on how the state can avoid getting caught in this trap in the first place, including one option whose persistent absence from North Carolina criminal practice really puzzles me: a basic appeal waiver.
An experienced attorney from another state recently remarked on her surprise at learning that there was no statute of limitations barring the prosecution of felony offenses in North Carolina after the passage of a specified period of time. This attorney’s comment reminded me that while the no-statute-of-limitations-state-of-affairs may be well-known among experienced practitioners of criminal law in NC, it isn’t necessarily known by others.
Organizations around the country have called for bail reform. Here at home, a report by the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice recommended that North Carolina move forward with pretrial justice reform. A recent Fifth Circuit case holding that the bail system in Harris County, Texas violates due process and equal protection may create an impetus for jurisdictions to act: Litigation risk.
Last week, the court of appeals reversed a defendant’s conviction for first-degree murder. That doesn’t happen every day, so let’s unpack the case. The central issue concerns two eyewitnesses’ in-court identifications of the defendant.
The Supreme Court just decided Turner v. United States, rejecting the Brady claims of several defendants convicted of a brutal and highly publicized murder in Washington, D.C. Although the Court ruled in the prosecution’s favor, it also encouraged prosecutors to provide defendants with all evidence that may be helpful to the defense, even if that evidence does not cast material doubt on the prosecution’s case.
An ancient maxim of the law is ignorantia juris non excusat, or ignorance of the law does not excuse. Put another way, it is presumed that the public knows the laws, and a defense of ignorance is typically not allowed. This principle is at the heart of the recent decision by the state supreme court in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. ___, (June 9, 2017).
Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed a defendant’s conviction under G.S. 90-95(d1)(1)(c), which makes it unlawful to “[p]ossess a pseudoephedrine product if [a] person has a prior conviction for the possession or manufacture of methamphetamine.” The court ruled that the defendant’s “due process rights under the United States Constitution were violated by his conviction of a strict liability offense criminalizing otherwise innocuous and lawful behavior without providing him notice that a previously lawful act had been transformed into a felony for the subset of convicted felons to which he belonged.” In other words, the defendant’s apparent ignorance of the law excused his violation of it.