A Conditional Discharge Is Not a Conviction for Purposes of the Federal Felon-in-Possession Law

In United States v. Smith, 939 F.3d 612 (4th Cir. 2019), the Fourth Circuit held that a defendant who received a conditional discharge for a prior felony was not “convicted” of that crime within the meaning of the federal felon-in-possession statute. He was therefore not a felon under that law, and thus not barred from possessing a firearm under it. The appellate court reversed his conviction. The case gives us an opportunity to review what we know (and don’t know) about the subsequent effect of conditional discharges and PJCs.

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Is the Exigent Circumstances Doctrine an Exception to the Warrant Requirement, or Something More?


I have long thought of the exigent circumstances doctrine as an exception to the warrant requirement – it allows a search to be conducted when probable cause is present but it is impractical for officers to take the time to obtain a search warrant. That understanding was shaken when I read Phil Dixon’s summary of United States v. Curry, 937 F.3d 363 (4th Cir. 2019). The majority in Curry ruled that exigent circumstances allowed officers to search several men without probable cause or even reasonable suspicion because they were walking away from an area where shots had just been fired. In other words, the court took the position that exigent circumstances excused not only the lack of a warrant, but also the lack of individualized suspicion. Have I been mistaken all these years?

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May an Officer Run a Motorist’s Criminal Record During a Traffic Stop?

An officer who stops a motorist for a traffic infraction may run a computer check on the driver’s license and may check for outstanding warrants. The results of these checks may determine how the officer proceeds. For example, if a check reveals that the driver’s license is revoked, the officer may charge the driver with DWLR and may direct the driver that he or she cannot drive the vehicle away from the location of the stop.

May an officer also check a motorist’s criminal record? Such historical information is less likely to dictate the officer’s course of action. But knowing whether a motorist has a record of violent crimes may help an officer determine how cautious he or she must be while completing the stop. This post discusses whether an officer may take time to run a motorist’s criminal record, and summarizes two recent cases on point.

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Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules That an Officer Was Not Entitled to Summary Judgment in a Civil Lawsuit for an Arrest Allegedly Made Without Probable Cause

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled (2-1) in Smith v. Munday, 848 F.3d 248 (4th Cir. Feb. 3, 2017), that a North Carolina officer was not entitled to summary judgment in a civil lawsuit for arresting the plaintiff allegedly without probable cause. This case is the subject of this post.

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Fourth Circuit Sets Out Authority to Frisk When a State’s Law Permits Possession of Concealed Firearm

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, on a rehearing of a case en banc, held in United States v. Robinson, 2017 WL 280727 (Jan. 23, 2017), that an officer had the authority to conduct a frisk of a lawfully-stopped person whom the officer reasonably believed to be armed with a concealed firearm, regardless of whether the person may have been legally entitled to carry the firearm. This post discusses the ruling and its possible influence in the development of the law of frisk in North Carolina state courts. [For those who received my summary of this case as a subscriber to the criminal law listserv, this is the same summary but with the addition of an analysis and comment section at the end of this post.]

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