Earlier this month, the state supreme court rejected a defendant’s challenge to his conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon pursuant to an indictment that failed to comport with a statutory pleading requirement. That case, State v. Newborn, 330PA21, ___ N.C. ___ (June 16, 2023), is the latest in a decade of rulings determining that technical pleading defects do not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction. This post will review Newborn and consider its place among jurisprudence departing from the traditional view that a defective pleading fails to vest jurisdiction.
Questions frequently arise about the requirements to charge the various types of general crimes like attempt, conspiracy, and accessory. A related question is whether the theory of liability, such as acting in concert or aiding and abetting, must be specifically pled. For defenders new to felony work, it can come as an unwelcome surprise to discover the jury is being instructed on an unexpected theory not identified in the pleading. This post lays out the basics for pleading general crimes and theories of liability of participants in the crime and links to the jury instructions for each.
When a defendant steals personal property that belonged to someone who recently died, who should be alleged as the victim in the criminal pleading? I’ve been asked this question several times, so I thought I would try to answer it here on the blog.
What happens when a magistrate issues a criminal summons for a defendant but the defendant can’t be located until after the court date on the summons has passed? For example, suppose that Magistrate Morales issues a criminal summons on January 1. The summons orders Defendant Daniels to come to court on February 1 to answer a charge of misdemeanor larceny of his neighbor’s lawnmower. No law enforcement officer is able to locate and serve Daniels until February 14, when Officer Oxendine spots Daniels enjoying a Valentine’s Day meal out with his girlfriend. What’s the officer supposed to do?
Shortly before Christmas, the state supreme court decided a littering case captioned State v. Rankin, __ N.C. __, __ S.E.2d __, 2018 WL 6714931 (Dec. 21, 2018). The majority ruled that because the indictment “failed to . . . allege all . . . elements of the offense . . . the trial court had no jurisdiction to enter a conviction . . . against defendant.” The rule that the omission of an element is a jurisdictional defect is long-standing law in North Carolina, but many other jurisdictions, including the federal courts, have abandoned it. Chief Justice Martin, in dissent, argued that North Carolina should follow suit. This post summarizes the North Carolina rule, explains the controversy in Rankin, discusses why other jurisdictions have left the rule behind, and considers whether the General Assembly might address the issue.
While we wait to see what the North Carolina Supreme Court has to say in State v. Turner about the existing statute of limitations for misdemeanors, the General Assembly has amended G.S. 15-1 for future prosecutions.
Last year, the court of appeals ruled that a citation that failed to allege an essential element of an offense was sufficient to serve as the State’s pleading. The court concluded that “the standard for issuance of an indictment [which must allege every essential element of an offense to be valid] is not precisely the same as [for] a citation,” and under the more relaxed standard, the citation adequately identified the offense even though it failed to allege an essential element. State v. Allen, __ N.C. App. __, 783 S.E.2d 799 (2016) (an officer cited a motorist for an open container violation, but failed to allege that the container was in the passenger compartment of the defendant’s vehicle; more information about Allen is here).
Last week, a divided panel of the same court ruled that a citation that failed to allege multiple elements of an offense was sufficient. The new opinion raises questions about just how low the bar is for citations, and perhaps for other district court pleadings as well.
Is it proper to charge a defendant separately with a greater offense and with a lesser-included offense? For example, is it proper to charge a defendant with robbery and with larceny arising out of the same taking, even though larceny is a lesser-included offense of robbery?
Last week, the court of appeals decided State v. Allen, a case that holds that the pleading requirements that apply to indictments and other accusatory pleadings don’t necessarily apply to citations. The opinion is helpful to the State, but I think there’s a reasonable chance of further review.
I recently taught a class of law students about criminal pleadings. We discussed proper pleadings and defective pleadings, and the State’s ability to bring new charges against a defendant after a case is dismissed due to a fatal defect in the pleading. It was an interesting conversation, and it prompted me to look into the matter a bit more. This post summarizes the law.