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.
Shea posted here about a 2019 opinion from the Sixth Circuit holding that chalking tires for purposes of parking enforcement was a Fourth Amendment search and rejecting at least some of the proposed legal justifications for the practice. That case led to some further proceedings and eventually to a new opinion, Taylor v. City of Saginaw, Michigan, 11 F.4th 483 (6th Cir. 2021), holding that the suspicionless chalking of tires (1) is a search, (2) is not justified as a community caretaking function, and (3) is not justified as an administrative search. The Taylor court ruled that the law was not previously clearly established, so the parking officer whose conduct was at issue was entitled to qualified immunity. But going forward, warrantless tire chalking is a no-no in the Sixth Circuit. Now another circuit has weighed in with a different perspective.
Suppose an officer conducts a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer gets a hunch that the driver may have drugs in the car. Can the officer ask the driver for consent to search the car? Even without reasonable suspicion? Does the time it takes to ask for consent, or the time it takes to conduct the search, unlawfully extend the stop? I’ll try to answer these important questions in this post.
When an officer attaches a video camera to a utility pole and uses it to monitor a suspect’s home continuously for several months, is that a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment? Or is it just the officer seeing what any passer-by might see, such that there is no intrusion on the suspect’s reasonable expectation of privacy? This issue has been a focal point of litigation since Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018), which held that the long-term collection of historical cell site location information is so intrusive that it is a search, even though any individual piece of such data does not belong to the phone’s user and is not subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Whether the rationale of Carpenter extends to pole cameras has been addressed before on this blog, most recently here and here by Shea Denning. But there are a number of new cases in this area, which I have summarized below.
I’ve had several questions lately about the requirement in G.S. 15A-248 that “[a] search warrant must be executed within 48 hours from the time of issuance.” The specific concern is how this applies to searches of digital devices, which frequently require off-site forensic analysis that may not begin, let alone end, until substantially more than 48 hours after issuance of the warrant. Although we don’t have an appellate case on point in North Carolina, courts in other jurisdictions have held that so long as the initial seizure of the device is timely, the forensic analysis may be conducted later.
Recent well-publicized incidents have led to questions about when a law enforcement officer may use deadly force to seize a fleeing suspect. The short answer is that the Constitution permits an officer to use deadly force when he or she has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or to others. Because officers must make “split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” courts evaluate the reasonableness of an officer’s determination from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and without the benefit of hindsight. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). The Constitution “does not require police to gamble with their lives in the face of a serious threat of harm.” Elliott v. Leavitt, 99 F.3d 640, 641 (4th Cir. 1996).
Factors critical to evaluating the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force to effectuate a seizure include: (1) the severity of the crime at issue; (2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; and (3) whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by fleeing. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. An officer’s subjective intent or motivation is not relevant to the inquiry, nor is the reasonableness of the officer’s actions in creating the dangerous situation. Waterman v. Batton, 393 F.3d 471, 477 (4th Cir. 2005)
The short answer seldom provides a definitive assessment of whether an officer’s use of deadly force in a particular circumstance violated a suspect’s constitutional rights. Even so, there are a few bright-line principles that can be applied to any such inquiry.