Does a Magistrate Have the Discretion to Refuse to Issue Criminal Process When Probable Cause Exists?

If I had to answer the question in the title of this post in the briefest possible way, I would say: not usually. But there’s a lot of uncertainty and nuance packed into that short answer. This post gets into the details.

Read more

Anticipatory Search Warrants: Why Must There Be Probable Cause That the Triggering Condition Will Happen?

In preparation for some upcoming teaching, I’ve been brushing up on anticipatory search warrants. Such warrants authorize a search, but only once a “triggering condition” takes place. The most common scenario involves the controlled delivery of drugs that have been intercepted in transit. The warrant authorizes the search of the destination residence, but only once the drugs have been delivered. Case law establishes that a warrant may issue only if the drugs are on a “sure course” towards delivery. This post asks why – and whether – that should be the case.

Read more

The Effect of Legal Hemp on Drug Dog Sniffs (Part II)

Last week, in Part I of this series, I discussed whether having a drug dog sniff a vehicle is a search if the drug dog might alert upon smelling hemp, a substance that is legal to possess. Today’s post focuses on what may be an even more significant question: if a dog alerts, does the alert provide probable cause to search?

Read more

Does a Dirty Trash Pull Provide Probable Cause to Search a Residence?

The Supreme Court of the United States has held that trash left for collection at the curb is not subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy and therefore may be searched by the police without a warrant. See California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988). So-called “trash pulls” are now a routine feature of drug investigations. When officers find drugs, drug residue, drug paraphernalia, or other indicia of drug activity in the trash, does that provide probable cause to support the issuance of a search warrant for the associated residence?

Read more

blank

Summer 2022 Cannabis Update

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written about cannabis issues in the state. Many of the issues I’ve discussed here before remain unresolved, but there has been recent legislation and a new case impacting this area. This post examines the current state of the law on hemp and marijuana.

Read more

blank

Summer 2020 Hemp Update

On Thursday, June 4, 2020, the North Carolina General Assembly passed S.B. 315, referred to as the State Farm Bill, which was subsequently signed into law by the Governor. The bill was pending all last session and stalled, allegedly over a dispute about how to treat smokable hemp. As I understand it, the bill originally intended to clarify that hemp in all forms (including smokable hemp) was legal (here is an earlier version of the bill taking that approach). After hearing objections from law enforcement and prosecutors (as detailed in the SBI memo on the subject), the proposed bill was changed to ban smokable hemp and regulate the rest of the hemp industry in a variety of ways. When the bill was last being discussed in the news, the dispute at the General Assembly had apparently narrowed to when the smokable hemp ban was to kick in. But, the bill never passed last session, and we were without a Farm Bill until this month. So, what big changes does the bill have in store for hemp in North Carolina?

Read more

blank

Carts, Wax, and Oh, My: The New World of Marijuana Extracts

The advent of cannabis legalization across the country has led to a proliferation of new types of cannabis products. There are skin patches, food and drinks (for humans and pets), vaporizer or “vape” cartridges (or “carts”), and different concentrate or extract products (“dabs”, “wax” or “shatter”, among other names). [Click that last link and scroll down to see a chart listing the different forms of extracts and their names.] The products can be made from lawful hemp, or from illegal marijuana alike. The illegal versions have found their way into North Carolina, and questions abound regarding how to handle these cases. The questions most commonly involve wax and cartridges, so this post takes a look at the issues surrounding those cases (leaving the skin patches and edibles for another day).

Read more

When a Person Sells Drugs Away from His or Her Home, Does that Provide Probable Cause to Search the Person’s Home?

The question in the title of this post is an oversimplified version of the issue addressed by the court of appeals last week in State v. Bailey, __ N.C. App. __, __ S.E.2d __, 2019 WL 3925864 (Aug. 20, 2019). But it isn’t oversimplified by much, and the appellate division may be inching closer to answering the question in the affirmative.

Read more

Search Warrants for Very Minor Offenses

What’s the most inconsequential criminal offense in North Carolina? My personal favorite is sale of immature apples, a Class 3 misdemeanor under G.S. 106-189.2. But take a look at the list of Class 3 misdemeanors compiled by the Sentencing Commission and make your case in the comments.

Whatever your answer, now consider this: could a court properly issue a search warrant if there were probable cause to believe that evidence of a very minor crime was in a person’s home? Suppose that a sheriff’s office receives a report that a vendor is selling immature apples at a farmers’ market. A deputy applies for a search warrant for the home of the vendor in question on the basis that she likely has receipts and other evidence of the crime in her house. May a judicial official issue the warrant? Or are there some offenses that are so minor that the “cure” of the search warrant is worse than the “disease” of allowing the crime to go unpunished?

Read more

That Probable Cause Is Garbage!

It is settled law that the police may rummage through a person’s trash once it is put out to the curb for collection. “Trash pulls” are a routine part of drug investigations, where sufficient evidence of drug activity found in the garbage may support a search warrant for the associated residence. But how much evidence is enough? For example, if a person’s garbage contains the remains of a single marijuana cigarette, does that provide probable cause to believe that further evidence of drug activity will be present inside the house?

Read more