Readers may have heard of the plant commonly known as khat or qat (or Catha edulis, for the botanically inclined). The plant is indigenous to Africa and is popular in parts of that continent, as well as parts of the Middle East, and is commonly and legally used in some of those places. When the plant is ingested, it acts as a stimulant. As with more familiar stimulants, users tend to experience mild feelings of alertness and euphoria in smaller doses; larger doses can induce delusional thinking, mania, paranoia, and heart problems (among other potential harmful effects). Users typically ingest the plant by chewing its leaves. Exotic though it may be, the plant occasionally finds its way into North Carolina. I have heard anecdotal reports of its presence in Durham, and this recent story from WRAL News noted that it was found in Johnston County as a part of an unrelated investigation. This post examines state law on possession and distribution of khat. Read on for the details.
It has not been long since my last cannabis update, but there are some interesting new developments to report, most notably on drug identification and marijuana. Read on for the details.
In August, the North Carolina Supreme Court weighed in on drug identification once again in State v. Osborne, ___ N.C. ___ (August 16, 2019). I wrote about the earlier Court of Appeals decision in the case, here. The new Osborne decision clarifies the application of drug identification rules as well as sufficiency of the evidence in this context.
May a law enforcement officer who personally investigates, but does not observe, a vehicle crash testify as to his opinion about who was driving the vehicle? Does the answer depend upon whether the officer is qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction? The court of appeals considered those questions in State v. Denton, ___ N.C. App. ___ (June 4, 2019), decided yesterday.
Like most of the rest of the country, I followed the recent confirmation hearings for Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh with great interest.
As the readers of this blog already know, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Much of her testimony recounted her recollection of that event, but some of her testimony was of a different nature. In addition to telling the Committee what she recalled, Dr. Ford also described the biological and chemical processes of memory itself, such as the way that neurotransmitters encode memories into the hippocampus.
Most of us will never participate in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but a similar type of dual testimony can arise in criminal trials in state court, and it raises some interesting issues.
The court of appeals held yesterday in State v. Fincher, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (2018), that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it permitted a drug recognition expert to testify in a DWI trial that the defendant was under the influence of a central nervous system depressant. The defendant argued that the State failed to lay a sufficient foundation to establish the reliability of the drug recognition examination, but the court determined that no such foundation was required as the General Assembly had legislatively sanctioned the admission of this type of evidence under Rule 702(a1)(2).
Two of last week’s opinions from the North Carolina Supreme Court address significant legal issues arising in impaired driving cases. In State v. Godwin, the supreme court reversed the court of appeals, holding that the trial court was not required to explicitly recognize a law enforcement officer as an expert witness before the officer could testify to the results of a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. In State v. Romano, the supreme court upheld the court of appeals’ determination that the withdrawal of blood from an unconscious impaired driving defendant violated the Fourth Amendment, notwithstanding a state statute authorizing this practice.
Here’s a question that arose during a recent class: Suppose that a party in a criminal case seeks to introduce forensic evidence from a discipline of questionable validity, such as bite mark analysis. The lawyer on the other side isn’t aware that the technique has been the subject of scientific criticism and doesn’t object. Must the trial judge nonetheless assess the reliability of the proposed testimony before admitting it?
I wrote in September 2015 that the court of appeals’ view of the admissibility of retrograde extrapolation under Daubert did not look much different from its take on the admissibility of that evidence under old Rule 702. As of yesterday, it does. The court of appeals in State v. Babich, __ N.C. App. __ (2017), changed the green light for retrograde extrapolation testimony in DWI cases to yellow.
True or False: An officer does not have to be qualified as an expert to testify about horizontal gaze nystagmus in a hearing on a motion to suppress in an impaired driving case.