How does the appointment of counsel to represent juveniles with cases that are transferred to superior court for trial as adults work? This can be a confusing question to answer given that the legal authority for the appointment of counsel changes at the time of transfer, there are important immediate legal issues following transfer, and there are so many different ways in which indigent defense services are provided across North Carolina. This blog will (1) identify the law that governs appointment of counsel when cases are in juvenile court and following transfer, (2) share recently released guidance from the N.C. Office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS) regarding appointment of counsel in matters that are transferred, and (3) suggest a procedure that could be followed to ensure that the rights of juveniles regarding appeals of transfer orders and conditions of pretrial release are ensured. Continue reading
Tag Archives: right to counsel
If you type “miranda” into the search box on this blog, it will return more than 50 posts covering a wide range of related topics: the meaning of custody, deficient warnings, knowing and voluntary waivers, ambiguous assertion of rights, special rules for juveniles, readvising and reinterviewing, public safety exceptions, and many, many others.
But I was stumped recently by a deceptively simple question that I had not heard before, and did not come up in those results: what if the defendant’s lawyer is present? Does an in-custody defendant still have to be advised of his Miranda rights before he can be questioned by police?
I did some digging, and the case law on this issue genuinely surprised me.
Our trip to Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London, did not disappoint. It is physically stunning, a collection of beautiful courtyards and historic buildings. As important, it is a center of education, activity, chambers (law offices), and support for legal professionals. Plus, if you’re a member or a lucky guest, you get to eat in the Middle Temple “cafeteria”: Continue reading →
In McCoy v. Louisiana, 584 U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 1500 (2018), the US Supreme Court held that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment counsel right was violated when trial counsel admitted guilt over the defendant’s intransigent objection. In this post, I’ll discuss what impact, if any, McCoy has on North Carolina law. Continue reading →
Twenty-five years ago the North Carolina Supreme Court departed from national standards on attorney-client decision-making and gave clients greater control over the direction of their case, including trial strategy and tactics. Since then, the North Carolina courts have sorted through various matters on which attorneys and clients have disagreed. A recent decision, State v. Ward (Nov. 1, 2016), applies and perhaps expands one of the exceptions to client control over the case. Continue reading →
Suppose that when a criminal defendant appears in court, he is advised of the right to have counsel appointed if indigent, tells the judge he wants to hire his own lawyer, and signs a written waiver of his right to appointed counsel. When the defendant next appears in court, he does not have a lawyer. May the judge rely on the waiver of appointed counsel to require the defendant to proceed, without inquiring whether the defendant wants the assistance of counsel? Continue reading →
N.C. Court of Appeals Rules That Defendant Did Not Make An Unambiguous Assertion of Right to Counsel Under Miranda to Bar Officer’s Custodial Interrogation
The United States Supreme Court and North Carolina appellate courts have ruled that a defendant must make an unambiguous request for counsel under Miranda to bar an officer’s custodial interrogation. A week ago, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Taylor (April 19, 2016), ruled that the defendant did not make an unambiguous request for counsel under Miranda. This post provides the background to this issue and discusses the Taylor ruling. Continue reading →
In an opinion last week, the court of appeals helpfully summarized the law about how a defendant may lose the right to counsel, and may have recognized a new way that a defendant may lose that right. The case is State v. Blakeney, and this post explores it briefly. Continue reading →
I thought I’d take a few minutes and jot down some questions and answers about the new fine-only punishment scheme for Class 3 misdemeanors for many defendants (enacted as part of the 2013 Appropriations Act). Several hours later—after thinking about the different permutations, reading several cases, talking with patient colleagues, and pondering further—I came up with a list of 33 questions and answers on Appointment of Counsel for Class 3 Misdemeanors. The subject poses both constitutional and practical questions.
Beginning with offenses committed on or after December 1, 2013, the basic rule is that a court may not impose a punishment other than a fine for a Class 3 misdemeanor if the defendant has three or fewer convictions and no other statute authorizes a greater punishment. See G.S. 15A-1340.23(d). The impact of this rule is that defendants who cannot receive more than a fine are generally not entitled to appointed counsel because, under the Sixth Amendment, the right to counsel in misdemeanor cases applies only if the defendant receives a sentence of active or suspended imprisonment.
This aspect of Sixth Amendment jurisprudence has always been awkward to apply because it requires that courts work backward from the sentence to be imposed at the end of the case in determining the defendant’s entitlement to counsel at the outset of the case. (For felonies, an indigent defendant always has a right to appointed counsel.) The new punishment scheme for Class 3 misdemeanors poses new questions, such as:
- What dispositions are permissible for “fine-only” Class 3 misdemeanors? Are costs permissible? A deferred prosecution? A sentence of time served?
- When does the court have to determine the defendant’s prior record for purposes of appointing counsel?
- What of a defendant charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor who has been arrested and cannot make bond? Does he or she have a right to counsel although not subject to imprisonment if convicted?
- Do the collateral consequences of a conviction have a bearing on the analysis?
People undoubtedly will have more questions as well as different views about the impact of the change. As always, feel free to weigh in with your questions and comments.
The legislature has agreed on a budget, and it contains some provisions that will impact misdemeanor sentencing and the appointment of counsel — potentially in tens of thousands of cases each year.
Status of the budget. The current budget bill is S 402. It is available here. The accompanying “money report,” which provides narrative explanations of some of the provisions of the budget, is available here. Republican leaders in both chambers have endorsed the bill. The General Assembly is expected to approve it in the next two days, and Governor McCrory is expected to sign it.
Change to Structured Sentencing grid. Section 18B.13.(a) of the budget changes the misdemeanor Structured Sentencing grid as follows, effective for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2013:
This is the first change to the misdemeanor grid since 1995.
Fine only for many Class 3 misdemeanors. The same section states that “[u]nless otherwise provided for a specific offense, the judgment for a person convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor who has no more than three prior convictions shall consist only of a fine.” Fines for Class 3 misdemeanors generally may not exceed $200. G.S. 15A-1340.23(b).
One question about this provision is whether it applies to a defendant who has three or fewer prior convictions that may be counted separately for Prior Conviction Level purposes, but who has four or more total prior convictions. (For example, a defendant who incurred several convictions in a single week or session of court. See generally G.S. 15A-1340.21(d).) The new fine-only provision appears in the General Statutes amidst the discussion of the Prior Conviction Level determination, so maybe so. But it does not expressly refer to or incorporate the Prior Conviction Level rules, so maybe not.
Reclassification of offenses. In addition to changing the punishments for Class 3 misdemeanors, the budget also creates more of them. Section 18B.14 reclassifies a number of misdemeanors – most currently Class 2 – as Class 3 offenses. The new Class 3 misdemeanors include:
- Obtaining property by worthless check, G.S. 14-106
- Simple worthless check, G.S. 14-107
- Failure to return hired property, G.S. 14-167
- Conversion by bailee, G.S. 14-168.1
- Failure to return rental property with purchase option, G.S. 14-168.4
- DWLR, G.S. 20-28 (unless revoked for DWI, then still Class 1)
- Certain motor vehicle misdemeanors that were Class 2 under G.S. 20-35, including:
- Most NOLs, G.S. 20-7
- Failure to tell DMV of address change by driver, G.S. 20-7.1
- Allowing vehicle to be driven by unlicensed person, G.S. 20-34
- Certain motor vehicle misdemeanors that were Class 2 under 20-176, including:
- Failure to carry registration card in vehicle, G.S. 20-57(c)
- Failure to sign registration card, G.S. 20-57(c)
- Failure to tell DMV of address change by vehicle, G.S. 20-67
- Certain license plate/registration violations, G.S. 20-111
- Window tinting violations, G.S. 20-127(d)
- Misdemeanor speeding, G.S. 20-141(j1)
- No insurance, G.S. 20-313(a)
- Repeat fishing without a license, G.S. 113-135(a) (referring to 113-174.1 and -270.1B)
Also, section 18B.15 of the budget reclassifies a number of boating safety offenses from Class 3 misdemeanors to infractions.
Ineligibility for appointed of counsel. It seems that one goal of these provisions was to save money on appointed counsel. The money report states that IDS’s budget will be reduced by $2,000,000 annually because the budget “[r]eclassifies low-level misdemeanors that rarely result in incarceration as Class 3 misdemeanors or infractions and modifies the sentencing structure for Class 3 misdemeanors so that the first three [editor’s note: probably should read “four”] charges are fineable offenses. With no possibility of incarceration, these offenses do not require legal counsel.”
In other words, the changes made by the budget will provide that a defendant charged only with a Class 3 misdemeanor, and who has no more than three prior convictions, will be facing a potential sentence of a fine of $200 or less. Constitutionally, an indigent defendant is entitled to appointed counsel when facing incarceration, Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972), or even a suspended sentence, Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654 (2002), but not a fine alone, Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367 (1979). Nor does a defendant facing a small fine have a right to counsel under the North Carolina statute governing appointment of counsel. It extends only to cases in which “imprisonment, or a fine of five hundred dollars . . . or more, is likely to be adjudged.” G.S. 7A-451(a)(1).
Note that if a defendant is sentenced to a fine but does not pay it, “the court, upon the motion of the prosecutor or upon its own motion, may require the defendant to appear and show cause” for his failure to pay, and if he cannot, may imprison the defendant for up to 30 days. G.S. 15A-1364. I don’t know how common these show cause proceedings are, but a defendant would appear to be entitled to counsel at any such hearing.
Administering the new provisions. It will be interesting to see how these changes work in practice. For example:
- Who will be responsible for determining how many prior convictions the defendant has? The prosecutor? The clerk?
- How thoroughly will the responsible party research the defendant’s prior record? Will an ACIS check of the county in which the charges are pending be the norm? A statewide ACIS check? Will CJLEADS or other systems be used for this purpose?
- Will judges err on the side of appointing counsel in order to protect defendants’ rights, or to preserve the possibility of a sentence other than a fine? Will that remove some of the anticipated cost savings?
As always, I’m interested in readers’ thoughts about the upcoming changes in the law. Given the number of cases affected, the changes appear to be quite significant.