Consider a fact pattern that takes place every day, all across the country: a police officer stops a motorist for a traffic infraction, runs the motorist’s license through a computer database and finds nothing exceptional, and returns the driver’s license and registration, perhaps along with a warning or a citation. The officer then asks the driver for consent to search the driver’s car. The driver consents and the officer finds drugs. Did the officer do anything wrong in this situation? Are the drugs subject to suppression? The answers depend on whether the traffic stop ended when the officer returned the driver’s license. As a recent case shows, that can be a complex determination.
Joanna Julius was riding as a passenger in her parents’ car in McDowell County when the person driving the car crashed it into a ditch filled with water. The driver fled the scene. Law enforcement officers responded and searched the car for evidence of the driver’s identity. When they found drugs inside, they arrested Julius and searched her backpack. There, they found more drugs, a pistol, and cash.
Julius was indicted for drug trafficking and related offenses. She moved to suppress the evidence gathered at the scene on the basis that the car was unlawfully searched. The trial court disagreed, and Julius was convicted. She appealed. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed. Last month, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed, holding that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. See State v. Julius, ___ N.C. ___, 892 S.E.2d 854 (2023). This post will discuss the court’s analysis of whether the search was lawful and its remanding of the case for consideration of whether the exclusionary rule barred admission of the resulting evidence.
Inquisitive police officers regularly ask suspects questions like “Can I take a look at your phone?” or “Can I see your phone?” These on-the-street requests may give rise to legal questions in court. For example, if the suspect hands over the phone in response, does that provide consent for the officer to search the phone? And if so, what is the scope of the search that the officer may conduct? This post explores those issues.
Normally, the Fourth Amendment requires that police obtain a search warrant before officers may search a person’s phone or computer. But the person can waive his or her Fourth Amendment rights by consenting to a search without a warrant. The scope of a person’s consent is determined by what a “typical reasonable person [would] have understood by the exchange between the officer and the suspect.” Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248 (1991). Applying that test, if an officer asks a suspect for consent to search the suspect’s home, and the suspect agrees, does that allow the officer to search any digital devices located inside the residence?
Last month, the Court of Appeals ruled that police coerced a suspect into agreeing to let them search his backpack. Many of the traditional hallmarks of coercion, such as threatening language or the brandishing of weapons, were absent in this case, making it noteworthy for officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike. The case is State v. Wright, __ N.C. App. __, 2023 WL 5925671 (N.C. Ct. App. Sept. 12, 2023), and this post discusses it in greater detail than the summary previously posted on the blog.
I recently participated in a webinar with my colleagues Chris McLaughlin and Kirk Boone about the right of tax appraisers to enter private property. The webinar is available for purchase here. Professor McLaughlin has blogged about the issue before, and he has written again following our discussion. This post encapsulates what I learned in preparation for that webinar. It summarizes the laws governing criminal trespassing in North Carolina, glancing briefly back to their antecedents in the common law and looking ahead to recent statutory changes.
Four years after a plurality of the United States Supreme Court in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 588 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019), announced a State-favorable exigency rule for withdrawing blood from a suspected impaired driver who is unconscious, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Burris, COA22-408, ___ N.C. App. ___ (July 5, 2023), has applied the rule for the first time. This post will review the holding in Mitchell and the Court of Appeals’ analysis in Burris and will conclude with a summary of the Fourth Amendment limitations on implied consent testing.
A decade ago, I wrote a post about the circumstances under which police may stop a person who is carrying a gun openly. A lot has changed since then. The Supreme Court has strengthened the Second Amendment in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __ (2022). The General Assembly has eliminated the requirement that North Carolina residents obtain a permit before buying a handgun. See S.L. 2023-8. And empirical scholarship suggests that many more Americans are carrying guns on a daily basis. See Ali Awhani-Robar et al., Trend in Loaded Handgun Carrying Among Adult Handgun Owners in the United States, 2015-2019, Am. J. Pub. Health (2022) (finding that in 2019, “approximately 6 million [gun owners carried] daily,” which was “twice the 3 million who did so in 2015”). So it is a good time to revisit the question.
Suppose that Victor Victim was the victim of a non-fatal shooting. Law enforcement has charged Dan Defendant with the crime, but Victor is not enthusiastic about testifying against Dan and has not cooperated with the police and the prosecutor in the run-up to the trial. The State has issued a subpoena to compel Victor’s attendance. Olga Officer is out looking for Victor when she sees him driving by. May Olga stop Victor’s car in order to serve him with the subpoena?
The North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Eagle, 2022-NCCOA-680, ___ N.C. App. ___, 879 S.E.2d 377 (2022), considered whether the driver of a car that had already stopped when a patrol officer pulled in behind it with blue lights activated was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court had ruled that the driver was not immediately seized by the officer in this encounter. Instead, the court ruled that a seizure occurred only when the officer took Ms. Eagle’s driver’s license and returned to her patrol car. By this point, the officer had developed reasonable suspicion to believe Ms. Eagle was impaired. The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that Eagle was seized at the outset of this encounter. This post discusses State v. Eagle and its relationship to other recent seizure jurisprudence.