It is the time of the year when the School of Government criminal law faculty begin to gear up for case updates. To prepare — and to pitch in on our particular areas of expertise — several of us made short(ish) videos delving into the details of significant appellate decisions from the last six months, including State v. McLymore, 380 N.C. 185 (2022), State v. Strudwick, 379 N.C. 94 (2021), and State v. Taylor, 379 N.C. 589 (2021). The videos are available here if you’d like to check them out.
Tag Archives: state v. taylor
Near the end of last year, the North Carolina Supreme Court decided State v. Taylor, 2021-NCSC-164, 866 S.E.2d 740 (2021), and we summarized the opinion here. This post considers the potential impact of Taylor on other offenses involving threatening speech, and addresses a couple lingering questions that may arise in future cases.
My colleagues and I usually spend the waning weeks of May slogging through months of appellate opinions, determining which cases merit discussion at upcoming summer conferences. This year, of course, there are no live summer conferences.
Yet we are still slogging. We are delivering a virtual criminal case update for district court judges this week and will be offering similar on-line instruction to other court officials and advocates in the weeks to come.
In the seven months since the fall conferences, our appellate courts have addressed a number of significant — and, in some instances, novel — issues related to the investigation and prosecution of impaired driving offenses. Even though you can find summaries of all recent appellate decisions here on the blog, I thought readers might appreciate a post aggregating recent DWI-specific holdings.
Destruction of evidence. When the State destroys or fails to preserve material, exculpatory evidence, it violates a defendant’s right to due process. State v. Taylor, 362 N.C. 514 (2008); see also NC Defender Manual Vol. 1, Pretrial (2d ed. 2013), at 7. Thus, when the State destroyed a poster displayed in the district attorney’s office that displayed two pictures of the defendant, the first with the caption “Before he sued the D.A.’s office,” and the second, depicting the defendant with injuries and captioned, “After he sued the D.A.’s office,” dismissal of assault charges based on a due process violation was proper. State v. Williams, 362 N.C. 628 (2008). When, on the other hand, the State destroys or fails to preserve evidence that is only potentially useful to the defendant, the defendant must demonstrate that the State acted in bad faith to establish a constitutional violation. Taylor, 362 N.C. at 525. I speculated here about how this two-part analysis might apply to the destruction of dash-cam video in an impaired driving case. The court in State v. Taylor, ___, N.C. App. ___, 836 S.E.2d 658 (2019) (same last name, entirely different case), addressed that issue head-on.
State v. Taylor, ___, N.C. App. ___, 836 S.E.2d 658 (2019). The defendant in Taylor was charged with misdemeanor impaired driving in November 2016, and was indicted for habitual impaired driving in December 2017. The defendant’s attorney requested disclosure of video footage from the vehicle of the highway patrol trooper who stopped the defendant. The State informed the attorney that the footage had been purged from the highway patrol’s system. Video of such stops is maintained only for 90 days absent a specific request from the district attorney’s office. The defendant thereafter moved to dismiss the charges, and the trial court granted the motion, concluding that the footage was material and exculpatory and that the State’s failure to provide it flagrantly violated the defendant’s constitutional rights and caused irreparable prejudice to the defense. The State appealed, and the court of appeals, over a dissent, vacated the trial court’s order and remanded for a determination of bad faith. The appellate court reasoned that the dash camera footage was only potentially useful to the defendant since there was no record of what it may have shown. Thus, the defendant was required to establish bad faith on the part of the State to show a constitutional violation. A dissenting judge would have reversed the trial court’s order on the basis that the evidence presented could not support a finding of bad faith. The dissent noted that the defendant cross-examined the trooper, and the trooper’s testimony tended to show that he simply misunderstood the patrol’s video preservation policy.
State v. Hoque, ___ N.C. App. ___, 837 S.E.2d 464 (2020). The defendant in Hoque moved to suppress evidence of the withdrawal of his blood pursuant to a search warrant based in part on the officers’ failure to record the event on their body-worn cameras as required by agency policy. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant appealed, arguing that the failure to record the encounter pursuant to departmental policy denied him due process rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument on two grounds. First, the court held that there was no Brady violation because the State did not fail to disclose the body-camera video. The evidence was not suppressed; it never existed. Second, the court concluded that the defendant could not show that video footage of the blood draw would have been favorable to him. Instead, it may have corroborated the officers’ testimony. In addition, the court noted that the violation of departmental policy did not on these facts amount to a denial of defendant’s due process rights.
Use of force to withdraw blood. An officer who has (1) probable cause to believe a person has committed an offense involving impaired driving, (2) a clear indication that the blood sample will provide evidence of the defendant’s impairment, and (3) either a search warrant or exigent circumstances, may compel a person to submit to a forced extraction of blood. Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966). To satisfy the Fourth Amendment, the forced extraction itself must be performed in a reasonable manner. See Schmerber, 384 U.S. at 771; see also Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989) (claims that a law enforcement officer has used excessive force in the course of an arrest or other seizure should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard). Schmerber determined that the extraction of the defendant’s blood “by a physician in a hospital environment according to accepted medical practices,” was a reasonable search. Id. at 771. But because the petitioner in Schmerber did not forcibly resist the blood draw, the case did not address the degree of force that may be used to obtain a blood sample.
And until this year, North Carolina’s appellate courts likewise had not addressed the extent of the force that may be utilized in association with a lawfully compelled blood draw. That changed in State v. Hoque, ___ N.C. App. ___, 837 S.E.2d 464 (2020).
State v. Hoque, ___ N.C. App. ___, 837 S.E.2d 464 (2020). The defendant in Hoque actively resisted officers’ attempts to gather evidence of impaired driving, beginning with his refusal to provide a roadside breath test. After he was arrested and advised of his implied consent rights, he refused to sign the rights form. He then refused to blow into the Intoximeter. A search warrant for the withdrawal of defendant’s blood was issued, and he was taken to a hospital emergency room for that procedure. There, the defendant told a hospital nurse that she did not have permission to take his blood. Hospital staff told the arresting officer that the defendant would need to be held down for the blood draw. Two officers handcuffed the defendant and put him on his stomach. Two nurses helped the two officers hold the defendant down, and his blood was withdrawn. The defendant moved to suppress the results of the blood test on the basis that his blood was drawn by excessive and unreasonable force. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed. The court of appeals found no error.
The trial court relied on United States v. Bullock, 71 F.3d 171 (5th Cir. 1995) in evaluating whether the State used excessive force. In Bullock, the FBI obtained a search warrant to obtain samples of the defendant’s blood and hair for DNA and other analysis. The defendant refused to comply, and a seven-member team subdued him and obtained the samples. The defendant was cuffed and shackled between two cots. A towel was placed on his face because he was spitting on agents. A nurse took blood from his hand and plucked 20 hair samples from his scalp. The Bullock court concluded that the use of force was caused by the defendant’s refusal to comply with a lawful warrant and was reasonable. The court explained that a defendant cannot resist a lawful warrant and be rewarded with the exclusion of the evidence.
The court of appeals in Hoque noted that the officers had a valid warrant and that the defendant’s blood was drawn by medical personnel in a hospital – methodology deemed reasonable in Schmerber. As for the use of force, the Hoque court was persuaded by the reasoning in Bullock and concluded that the use of force was caused by the defendant’s refusal to comply with a lawful warrant and was reasonable.
Court orders for medical records in DWI cases. I wrote about this issue in detail in January so I’ll keep it brief here. G.S. 8-53 provides that a resident or presiding judge may at or prior to trial compel disclosure of confidential medical information “if in his opinion disclosure is necessary to a proper administration of justice.” Another statute, G.S. 90-21.20B, requires a health care provider to disclose medical information related to a person involved in a vehicle crash as specified in a search warrant or an order issued by a judicial official. The court of appeals in State v. Scott, __ N.C. App. ___, 838 S.E.2d 676 (Jan. 21, 2020), determined that the district court failed to satisfy either provision in ordering that medical records be disclosed and samples of defendant’s blood obtained by a hospital be provided.
State v. Scott, __ N.C. App. ___, 838 S.E.2d 676 (Jan. 21, 2020). The defendant in Scott was involved in a fatal crash in Elon. He was speeding when he crashed into a car turning left across his lane of travel. The driver of the other car was pronounced dead at the scene. The defendant was “in and out of consciousness” after the crash and was transported by ambulance to a Greensboro hospital.
An officer spoke to the defendant later in the day that the accident occurred. He did not detect signs that the defendant was impaired. In his accident report, he determined that the other vehicle was in the defendant’s travel lane at the time of the crash. Five days after the crash, an assistant district attorney petitioned a district court judge for an order directing the hospital to turn over the defendant’s medical records and any blood it had withdrawn from the defendant. The hospital turned over three vials of defendant’s blood, which were analyzed by the State Crime Lab, revealing a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .22. The defendant was subsequently indicted for second degree murder.
The defendant moved to suppress the BAC evidence on the basis that it was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was convicted at trial of second degree murder. He appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress.
The court of appeals determined that the district court improperly ordered that the medical records be disclosed and the blood be provided. The district court’s order was based on nothing more than a bare allegation that a fatality had occurred. The State did not submit an affidavit or other evidence demonstrating reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed and that the records and evidence sought were likely to bear on the investigation of that crime.
The court further determined that the superior court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The district court’s order did not comport with G.S. 8-53 and the disclosure of the evidence was not proper under G.S. 90-21.20B(a1), which requires a valid court order or search warrant.
There was a dissent in Scott. Though the majority found error, they found it was not prejudicial. A dissenting judge agreed that the order for medical records was improper, but thought the error was prejudicial. Thus, the state supreme court will have an opportunity to review these issues.
Other impaired driving cases also raise interesting issues.
State v. Nazzal, __ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (March 3, 2020). The court of appeals in State v. Nazzal held that the State presented insufficient evidence of impairment in an impaired driving prosecution arising from a fatal crash. Applying State v. Eldred, 259 N.C. App. 345 (2018) (discussed here), the court concluded that evidence regarding the nature of the crash, the defendant’s flight from the scene, the defendant’s gross understatement of the collision’s severity, and a trooper’s opinion based on his passive observation of the defendant five hours after the crash did not provide substantial evidence that the defendant was impaired at the time of the crash.
State v. Diaz-Tomas, __ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (April 21, 2020), temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 840 S.E.2d 221 (April 21, 2020). The holding of this case is all about procedure, but the issues that led to those procedural questions are pure motor-vehicle. The defendant failed to appear on impaired driving charges. An order was issued for his arrest, and his driving privileges were revoked. The State dismissed the charges with leave to reinstate. Nearly four years after the initial charges, the defendant asked that the charges be reinstated. The State refused to place the charges on the calendar unless the defendant pled guilty and waived his right to appeal. The defendant attempted to obtain an order directing the reinstatement of charges. The court of appeals did not reach the merits of whether the State can refuse to reinstate charges given the requirement in G.S. 20-24.1 that a defendant must be afforded an opportunity for a trial or hearing within a reasonable time of the defendant’s appearance. The supreme court will review the case, so stay tuned to see if it addresses that issue.
Hope to see you soon. I am used to seeing many of you in person this time of year. I miss you all. I hope that we can connect virtually to talk about these cases and the other legal issues that are on your mind. In the meantime, take good care.
This post summarizes opinions issued by the Court of Appeals of North Carolina on November 19, 2019.
Trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained from a search of the defendant’s purse when officer testified that the defendant voluntarily consented to the search, notwithstanding contradictory testimony from the defendant.
State v. Hall, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (Nov. 19, 2019).
An officer patrolling the parking area of a park just before closing discovered the defendant asleep in her car. Based on the defendant’s positioning, he was concerned there might be a medical emergency, so he knocked on the window of her car. After he knocked several times, the defendant sat up, looked at him, and opened the driver’s side door. She said she was camping in the park with her son and decided to take a nap in her car. Her speech was slurred, her eyes were bloodshot, and she was unsteady on her feet when she got out of her car. The officer also saw track marks on her arms that were consistent with heroin use. The officer asked for the defendant’s license, and, while holding it, asked for consent to search the defendant’s car and her purse, which was sitting in the front seat of the car.
The State and defendant presented conflicting evidence about what happened next. The officer said that defendant responded, “Sure.” The defendant said the officer asked three times for permission to search her car and each time she said, “I would really rather you not.” She said she only consented to the search after the officer threatened to arrest her.
The officer searched the defendant’s purse and found several syringes in its top section. He then asked the defendant whether she was carrying anything illegal. The defendant asked whether she was going to jail. The officer told her that he would not take her to jail if she cooperated. The defendant told him she had a syringe containing heroin in the side compartment of her purse. The officer found the syringe there, along with a burnt spoon and two grams of heroin.
The defendant was not arrested that evening, but subsequently was indicted for possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. She filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search, which the trial court denied. She pled guilty, preserving her right to appeal. On appeal, she argued that she did not voluntarily consent to the search of her purse, and that the trial court’s findings on that issue were insufficient. The court of appeals disagreed. Rejecting the defendant’s argument to the contrary, the court explained that the question of whether consent to search was voluntary is one of fact, not law.
The trial court determined that the defendant freely gave consent to the officer to search her vehicle and her purse. This finding was supported by the officer’s testimony at the suppression hearing that he asked defendant for consent to search her car and purse, and she said, “Sure.” The court of appeals concluded, therefore, that the trial court’s finding that the defendant’s consent was “freely given” was supported by competent evidence and was binding on appeal. Though the trial court failed to make a specific finding that the search did not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, the appellate court reached that conclusion based on the finding of fact that the defendant voluntarily consented to the search. Thus, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress.
(1) Trial court erred in imposing 36 months of probation in misdemeanor case without special findings. (2) Jury instructions on possession of drug paraphernalia departed from indictment but did not constitute plain error
State v. Lu, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (Nov. 19, 2019).
The defendant was a passenger in a car stopped at a traffic checkpoint. An officer smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The defendant told the officer that the marijuana was located in a bag behind the driver’s seat. The officer found a drawstring bag there, which the defendant said was his. Inside the bag, the officer found two plastic bags containing marijuana, a hookah, a snort straw, and a beer can. The beer can was altered to be a container that could be unscrewed. Inside the beer can the officer found two white crystallized substances later identified as Methylone and a Lorazepam tablet.
The defendant was charged with felony possession of a Schedule I controlled substance (Methylone), misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia based on his possession of the altered beer can. He was convicted and sentenced to 6 to 17 months for the felony and 120 days (to run consecutively) for each misdemeanor offense. Each sentence was suspended, and the defendant was placed on probation for 36 months. He also was ordered to serve 12 days of special probation for the felony.
(1) The defendant argued on appeal that the sentences for the misdemeanor offenses were unlawful because the trial court did not make finding that a longer period of probation was necessary. The court of appeals agreed.
G.S. 15A-1343.2(d)(2) provides that “[u]nless the court makes specific findings that longer or shorter periods of probation are necessary,” the probationary period for a misdemeanant sentenced to intermediate punishment (which includes any suspended sentence that requires supervised probation) must be not less than 12 nor more than 24 months. The record supported the defendant’s argument that the trial court made no specific findings; therefore, the court of appeals vacated the misdemeanor judgments and remanded for resentencing.
(2) The defendant also argued that the trial court erred by giving jury instructions that did not identify the item that served as the basis for the defendant’s drug paraphernalia charge (the altered beer can) and that referred to marijuana in addition to Methylone. The defendant was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia under G.S. 90-113.22, not possession of marijuana paraphernalia, a separate crime under G.S. 90-113.22A. The defendant argued that the reference to marijuana may have caused the jury to consider the items associated with the marijuana, including the drawstring bag and the plastic bags containing the marijuana. Because the defendant did not object to the jury instructions at trial, the court of appeals reviewed for plain error.
The court of appeals determined that naming marijuana in the instructions varied from the indictment and was error. However, the appellate court found that the facts presented during trial undercut any perceived probable impact on the jury. The officer gave substantially more testimony about the altered beer can and its contents than the other containers. The other bags were not discussed in detail, while the beer can was the subject of focused and specific questions, and the jury was given a demonstration of how it unscrewed. The marijuana was entered into evidence inside the plastic bags, “indicating that the bag was part and parcel of the marijuana possession.” Slip op. at 11. The beer can, in contrast, was its own exhibit, and the drawstring bag was not entered into evidence at all. In addition, the jury convicted the defendant of possessing Methylone, a drug contained exclusively in the beer can, suggesting that the jury also believed the defendant possessed the can itself, which, unlike the other items, was designed for the specific purpose of containing and concealing drugs. Thus, the court concluded that the defendant failed to show that the trial court’s error had a probable impact on the jury’s finding of guilt and, as such, was not plain error.
(1) State’s appeal of trial court’s order suppressing blood test result on the basis that the evidence was essential to its case did not preclude it from proceeding to trial without the suppressed evidence; thus, trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the State was estopped from adjudicating its case against the defendant because the trial court suppressed the blood test result. (2) Trial court did not err in admitting defendant’s medical records, including results of the blood alcohol test performed by the hospital, and the admission of those records did not prejudice defendant’s case.
State v. Romano, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (Nov. 19, 2019).
The defendant was arrested for impaired driving. Because of his extreme intoxication, he was taken to a hospital for medical treatment. The defendant was belligerent and combative at the hospital, and was medicated in an effort to calm his behavior. After the defendant was medically subdued, a nurse withdrew his blood. She withdrew some blood for medical purposes and additional blood for law enforcement use. No warrant had been issued authorizing the blood draw. The defendant moved to suppress evidence resulting from the warrantless blood draw on constitutional grounds. The trial court granted the motion, suppressing evidence of the blood provided to law enforcement and the subsequent analysis of that blood. The State appealed from that interlocutory order, certifying that the evidence was essential to the prosecution of its case. The North Carolina Supreme Court, in State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678 (2017), affirmed the trial court’s ruling suppressing the State’s blood analysis, and remanded the case for additional proceedings.
While the case was pending before the state supreme court, the State filed a motion for disclosure of the defendant’s medical records on the date of his arrest, which included records of the hospital’s analysis of his blood. The motion was granted, and the medical records were disclosed.
After the case was remanded, the State proceeded to try the defendant on charges of habitual impaired driving and driving while license revoked for impaired driving. The defendant moved to dismiss the charges and to suppress the evidence of his medical records. The trial court denied the motions, and the defendant was convicted.
(1) The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss. Noting that the State appealed the order suppressing evidence from the warrantless blood draw on the basis that the State’s analysis of his blood was essential to its case, the defendant argued that the State should not have been permitted to try the case against him on remand because that evidence was ordered suppressed. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, stating that the supreme court’s decision simply upheld the suppression of the evidence. It did not preclude the State from proceeding to trial without the suppressed evidence on remand. Thus, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to dismiss.
(2) The defendant also argued on appeal that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress and admitted his medical records, which contained the results of a blood alcohol test performed by the hospital. A manager from the hospital’s records department testified regarding the management of hospital records, and a medical technologist testified about the hospital’s methods and procedures for conducting laboratory tests. In addition, an expert witness in blood testing testified for the State that he relied upon the medical records in forming a conclusion about the defendant’s blood alcohol level. The court determined that the records were properly admitted because (1) they were created for medical treatment purposes and kept in the ordinary course of business and thus were nontestimonial for purposes of the Confrontation Clause; (2) even if the records were testimonial, they were admissible as the basis of a testifying expert’s independent opinion; and (3) the admission of the records was not prejudicial in light of the substantial additional evidence that the defendant was driving while impaired.
Trial court erred by dismissing DWI charges for the destruction of dash cam video that was only potentially useful to the defendant without assessing whether the footage was destroyed in bad faith.
State v. Taylor, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (Nov. 19, 2019).
The defendant was cited for misdemeanor driving while impaired on November 27, 2016. His attorney requested discovery in July 2017, specifically asking for dash cam and body camera footage. The defendant was subsequently indicted for habitual impaired driving and other traffic offenses based on the November 27, 2016 incident. In January 2018, the defendant’s attorney again requested dash cam footage. The defendant’s attorney was informed in February 2018 that the dash cam video had been deleted from the local server, and the Highway Patrol was attempting to locate it from other sources. In March 2018, defense counsel was informed that the video had been purged and was not available for release.
The defendant moved to dismiss the charges based on the destruction of the dash cam video. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that the destruction of the dash cam video footage violated the defendant’s right to exculpatory evidence under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and required dismissal of the charges. The State appealed.
The court of appeals noted that suppression of evidence favorable to an accused violates due process when the evidence is material to guilt or punishment, regardless of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. But when the evidence is only potentially useful, the State’s failure to preserve the evidence does not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights unless the defendant shows bad faith on the part of the State.
Though the trial court concluded that the destruction of the dash cam video footage was a Brady violation, it made no findings on what the dash cam video footage would have shown. Indeed, it could not have made such findings because there was no record of what the footage may have shown. The dash cam footage was not material exculpatory evidence; instead, it was only potentially useful. To establish a constitutional violation based on the destruction of potentially useful evidence, the defendant must show bad faith. The trial court erred by concluding that destruction of the footage warranted dismissal, regardless of bad faith on the part of the State. The court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of whether the footage was destroyed in bad faith. A dissenting judge would have reversed the trial court on the basis that the evidence presented could not support a finding of bad faith.
An experienced attorney from another state recently remarked on her surprise at learning that there was no statute of limitations barring the prosecution of felony offenses in North Carolina after the passage of a specified period of time. This attorney’s comment reminded me that while the no-statute-of-limitations-state-of-affairs may be well-known among experienced practitioners of criminal law in NC, it isn’t necessarily known by others. Continue reading →
Shortly after I published last week’s post on State v. Babich, an astute reader asked about the court’s harmless error analysis. How, he inquired, could the improper admission of expert testimony that the defendant had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 be harmless error? Did the jury’s verdict indicate that it found the defendant guilty only under the “under the influence” prong of impairment rather than under the “alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more” prong? To answer these questions, I had to dig into the record on appeal and provide a bit of background on the requirement for jury unanimity in DWI cases. I thought others might be interested in my response.