It was an epic throw down between two powerhouse teams on Monday in the heart of London. I don’t mean basketball. I certainly don’t mean football. I mean the moot court competition between UNC’s School of Law students and Middle Temple’s barristers-in-training (see earlier post this fall about Middle Temple). No winner was declared, to the disappointment of my students who were rooting on their fellow Tar Heels. But, the teams racked up the legal and educational points. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Evidence
The defense files a motion to suppress evidence in superior court, and the judge sets the matter for a hearing. The parties and their witnesses show up, ready to give testimony and make their arguments. The judge opens court and asks a simple question: “who’s going first, the state or the defense?”
A view I’ve often heard expressed is that the state has to go first, because even though it was the defendant’s motion which prompted the hearing, “the state always has the burden” and the party with the burden goes first.
That’s generally a correct statement about the burden of proof, but the corresponding rule about order of presentation is a little more… flexible.
The State of North Carolina goes to trial against Donnie Defendant, who is alleged to be the infamous “Tarheel State Killer” and charged with committing a series of brutal assaults and murders several decades ago. The state’s case depends heavily on matching DNA evidence from the crime scene to a sample of DNA taken off a cigarette butt discarded by Donnie. At trial, Special Agent Wanda Witness testifies as an expert in forensic DNA analysis for the state. After explaining the science behind PCR, STR, loci, and markers, Wanda opines that Donnie’s DNA is indeed a match to the DNA recovered from the crime scene.
Sounds like good news for the state, but what exactly does a “match” mean? And how may the significance or statistical probability of that “match” be expressed to the jury? It’s an important question, because what might sound like two similar ways of expressing the same probability can have dramatically different meanings – and possibly even be considered error on appeal.
A few weeks ago I participated in a seminar on digital evidence, and one of the topics we discussed was cell phone records (subscriber information, call detail records, historical location data, etc.). That’s not surprising, since the widespread use of cell phones has made these records an increasingly common and important tool in criminal cases. Location data can help prove that the defendant was in the victim’s house at the time of the murder, call logs can help prove the co-conspirators were in regular contact with each other, and so on.
What did surprise me was when I asked a group of 75+ prosecutors how often they have used an affidavit to authenticate these kinds of records and get them admitted into evidence, without the need for live testimony by a witness from the company? Only one prosecutor had ever done so, and that was in a case with a pro se defendant. There seemed to be a lot of confusion about (i) whether this was even possible, (ii) old rules vs. new rules, and (iii) state court vs. federal court, so I thought this post would be a good opportunity to help clear things up. Continue reading →
I wrote a post (here) about the recorded recollection exception to the hearsay rule, in which I noted that this exception often is confused with the technique of present recollection refreshed under Evidence Rule 612. We see a little of that in the recent court of appeals decision, State v. Brown. Let’s take a look. Continue reading →
After Roshawn Thompson picked up his cousin Kendall Rascoe from the Greenville mall in November 2014, Thompson and a friend, Andre Grey, robbed Rascoe at gunpoint. At Thompson’s armed robbery trial, his defense attorney sought to cross examine Rascoe about Facebook messages he sent to Thompson earlier in the day asking whether Thompson could get some marijuana for him while he was in Greenville. Rascoe denied sending the message and testified that he just happened to run into Thompson at the mall. The State objected to the admission of the screenshot of the messages.
Later in the trial, the State sought to introduce a screenshot of a picture of Thompson and Grey copied from Thompson’s Facebook page. Rascoe showed the investigating detective the picture for purposes of identifying Thompson and Grey. Thompson objected to the admission of the screenshot, in which both of his middle fingers were extended.
How did the trial court rule? Did it make the right call?
Over the weekend, the judge presiding over Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. I hadn’t followed the case very closely and my knee-jerk reaction was, “wait, fifty women have accused this guy of sexual assault and he didn’t get convicted?” As I thought more about it, I began to wonder how many accusers — other than Andrea Constand, the alleged victim in the case — were allowed to testify against Cosby. It turns out that it was only one. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
About a year ago, I wrote about State v. Hembree, 368 N.C. 2 (2015), a case in which the state supreme court reversed a murder conviction based on the State’s excessive use of Rule 404(b) evidence. This month, a divided court of appeals decided a case in the same vein. The case is State v. Reed. Continue reading →
The court of appeals recently decided State v. Ford, a case about the authentication of social media evidence. This is the first North Carolina appellate case to give careful consideration to the issue, and the opinion sets a relatively low bar for authentication. Because this type of evidence is increasingly prevalent, the case is an important one. Continue reading →