I was recently asked to talk to a group of attorneys about “hot topics” related to the criminal prosecution of impaired driving. Those of you who practice in the field are doubtless better equipped than I am to identify those topics. If pressed, I’d put these items on the list: (1) how the two-year statute of limitations applies to misdemeanors charged by magistrate’s order; (2) the admissibility of expert testimony by law enforcement officers, particularly regarding horizontal gaze nystagmus; (3) the admissibility of the results of warrantless blood tests; and (4) the appropriate remedy for statutory violations related to a defendant’s arrest and pre-trial detention. While the state supreme court has yet to issue its opinion regarding the statute of limitations issue in State v. Turner (discussed here) and neither the court of appeals nor the supreme court has opined about the admissibility of horizontal gaze nystagmus testimony following the 2011 amendment of Rule 702, recent court of appeals cases address both of the remaining issues.
Tag Archives: DWI
This blog is full of posts about the laws governing sentencing for misdemeanor DWI. Until now, however, I haven’t written much about how DWIs are actually sentenced. That’s because I didn’t know. While the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission (“Sentencing Commission”) annually publishes a statistical report on the sentencing of felonies and misdemeanors, that report doesn’t include information about DWI sentences, which are governed by G.S. 20-179 rather than the Structured Sentencing Act. Thanks to the Sentencing Commission’s recent focus on DWI sentencing, however, I now have statistics about how DWIs are sentenced in courtrooms across North Carolina. And I think you’ll be interested in what they show.
Shortly after I published last week’s post on State v. Babich, an astute reader asked about the court’s harmless error analysis. How, he inquired, could the improper admission of expert testimony that the defendant had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 be harmless error? Did the jury’s verdict indicate that it found the defendant guilty only under the “under the influence” prong of impairment rather than under the “alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more” prong? To answer these questions, I had to dig into the record on appeal and provide a bit of background on the requirement for jury unanimity in DWI cases. I thought others might be interested in my response.
I wrote in September 2015 that the court of appeals’ view of the admissibility of retrograde extrapolation under Daubert did not look much different from its take on the admissibility of that evidence under old Rule 702. As of yesterday, it does. The court of appeals in State v. Babich, __ N.C. App. __ (2017), changed the green light for retrograde extrapolation testimony in DWI cases to yellow. Continue reading →
In Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that an officer may “search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment” or it is “reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.” Gant involved an arrest for driving with a suspended license, and the Court concluded that was “an offense for which police could not expect to find evidence in the passenger compartment” of the arrestee’s car.
But what about DWI? If an officer arrests a driver for DWI and secures the driver in the officer’s cruiser, may the officer search the driver’s vehicle because it is reasonable to believe that evidence of impaired driving will be found in the vehicle? Yes, at least on the facts before it, ruled the Court of Appeals of North Carolina in State v. Martinez, __ N.C. App. __, 795 S.E.2d 386 (2016). This post summarizes Martinez and considers searches incident to DWI arrests more broadly. Continue reading →
A case involving charges of impaired driving is calendared on today’s district court docket. The defendant was charged more than two years ago; the case has been continued several times pursuant to motions made by the defendant and the State. When this case last appeared on the docket, the State moved for a continuance, and the defendant objected. The district court granted the State’s motion, but ordered that it be the last continuance for the State. Earlier this morning, the State again moved to continue the case. The district court denied the State’s motion, and directed the State to call the case or dismiss the charges. The State refused to take either action. What can the judge do?
A defendant charged in district court with the misdemeanor crime of driving while impaired cannot ascertain from the charging document whether he is subject to sentencing at Level A1 (the most serious level) or Level 5 (the least serious). That’s because the aggravating factors that lead to elevated sentencing aren’t considered elements of the offense and thus are not required to be alleged in the charging instrument. Yet because those factors can increase the maximum punishment a defendant may receive, they must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and, with the exception of prior convictions, be determined by a jury in superior court. And, for most charges of impaired driving prosecuted in superior court, the State must provide notice of its intent to seek aggravating factors. A case decided by the court of appeals last June, however, identifies an exception to this requirement for certain aggravating factors in driving while impaired prosecutions initiated in superior court.
Today’s post is a return to the Sentencing Whiteboard, this time to explain active sentences for aggravated level one DWI. As Shea and I have discussed in earlier posts (here, here, and here, among others), they are different from other DWI sentences. No parole. No good time. Not cut in half. The video explains why, and describes how typical aggravated level one sentences are administered by the county jails through the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program. As you’ll see, sentences for this most serious level of misdemeanor impaired driving are in many cases longer than a felony habitual DWI. I hope you’ll take a look. Continue reading →
Do the following facts provide probable cause to arrest for impaired driving?
An officer pulls behind a vehicle at a stoplight around 3 a.m. and sees that its registration is expired. He activates his blue lights, and the defendant turns into a nearby parking lot. When the officer approaches the car, the defendant tells him that his license is revoked for DWI. The officer smells a medium odor of alcohol coming from the defendant’s breath and sees that the defendant’s eyes are red and glassy. The officer performs an HGN test, noting 5 of 6 indicators of impairment. The defendant tells the officer that he had three beers at 6 p.m. the previous evening.
The court of appeals answered this question earlier this week in State v. Lindsey, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2016). Its answer, and the outcome of the case, may surprise you.
True or False: An officer does not have to be qualified as an expert to testify about horizontal gaze nystagmus in a hearing on a motion to suppress in an impaired driving case.