This post summarizes criminal decisions released by the Supreme Court of North Carolina on Friday, September 24, 2021.
This post summarizes opinions issued by the Court of Appeals of North Carolina on May 5, 2020.
After the legislature broadened the definition of “public vehicular area” in 2006 to include areas “used by the public for vehicular traffic at any time,” many wondered whether there was any place where one could drive a vehicle (other than a private driveway) that wasn’t considered a public vehicular area. There was even some doubt about those private driveways, since members of the public can drive into them and sometimes do so even without an invitation from the resident. Moreover, North Carolina’s appellate courts had broadly interpreted the term for years—even when it was more narrowly defined. But the court of appeals put the brakes on an overly expansive reading of public vehicular area last year, rejecting, in State v. Ricks, ___ N.C. App. ___, 764 S.E.2d 692 (2014), the State’s argument that all property used by the public for vehicular traffic is, in fact, a public vehicular area.
Whether there was probable cause to arrest the driver is a hotly litigated issue in cases involving impaired driving. Unfortunately, there aren’t all that many appellate opinions addressing the hard calls in this area. Instead, many resemble State v. Tappe, 139 N.C. App. 33, 38 (2000), which found probable cause based on “defendant’s vehicle crossing the center line, defendant’s glassy, watery eyes, and the strong odor of alcohol on defendant’s breath.” It is difficult to imagine a court ruling otherwise. A few years ago, the court of appeals decided a tougher issue in Steinkrause v. Tatum, 201 N.C. App. 289 (2009), aff’d, 364 N.C. 419 (2010) (per curiam), concluding that the “fact and severity” of the defendant’s one-car accident coupled with a law enforcement officer’s observation that she smelled of alcohol provided probable cause to believe she was driving while impaired. This past year, the court issued two significant published opinions on probable cause for impaired driving—State v. Overocker, __ N.C. App. __, 762 S.E.2d 921 (Sept. 16, 2014), and State v. Townsend, __ N.C. App. __, 762 S.E.2d 898 (Sept. 16, 2014),—as well as opinions in State v. Veal, __ N.C. App. __, 760 S.E.2d 43 (July 1, 2014), and State v. Wainwright, __ N.C. App. __, 770 S.E.2d 99 (2015), better defining the threshold for reasonable suspicion of DWI.