Court of Appeals Rules That Consent to Search Backpack, Given after Repeated Requests, Was Not Voluntary

Last month, the Court of Appeals ruled that police coerced a suspect into agreeing to let them search his backpack. Many of the traditional hallmarks of coercion, such as threatening language or the brandishing of weapons, were absent in this case, making it noteworthy for officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike. The case is State v. Wright, __ N.C. App. __, 2023 WL 5925671 (N.C. Ct. App. Sept. 12, 2023), and this post discusses it in greater detail than the summary previously posted on the blog.

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When an Officer Threatens to Seek a Search Warrant if a Suspect Doesn’t Consent to a Search, Is the Suspect’s Subsequent Consent Rendered Involuntary?

Suppose an officer is investigating a report of drug sales at a home. The officer sends an informant in to make a controlled buy from the suspected dealer. The informant comes out of the house with drugs and a report that the dealer has a large additional quantity of illicit substances remaining in the house. The officer decides that it would be a good time to bust the dealer, so the officer approaches the home, knocks on the door, and the dealer answers. The officer explains the situation and says, “I’m asking for consent to search your house. If you don’t consent, I’ll go apply for a search warrant because I think I have probable cause. So, can I search?” The dealer says yes, but later argues that his consent was not voluntary and that he merely acquiesced given the threat of the warrant. What’s the law?

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When an Arrestee “Brings” Drugs to the Jail

When a person is arrested while in possession of drugs and is taken to the jail in handcuffs, may the person properly be convicted of possessing drugs in a confinement facility? The question has divided courts across the country. Last week, a majority of the court of appeals concluded that the answer is yes. State … Read more


Overstating Possible Punishment and the (In)voluntary Nature of the Plea — Part II

In a blog post here, I wrote about overstating possible punishment and the voluntary nature of a plea. In that post, I discussed the dangers of overstating the possible maximum sentence with respect to consecutive sentences and recent changes to post-release supervision. That post prompted questions about a related issue. Here’s the set up: At … Read more


Overstating Possible Punishment and the (In)voluntary Nature of the Plea

In a post here discussing application of post-release supervision periods to multiple sentences Jamie raised the question of whether over-advising a defendant as to the maximum possible sentence associated with pending charges can undercut the knowing, voluntary and intelligent nature of a plea. Let’s recap the issue. Suppose a defendant is contemplating pleading guilty to … Read more

The Law of Interrogation

In connection with some teaching that I have coming up, I’ve prepared a short outline summarizing the law of interrogation. It’s available as a PDF here. It covers voluntariness, Miranda, and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, plus the recording requirements of G.S. 15A-211, including the statutory amendments that took effect on December 1. I … Read more

Promises, Promises

An involuntary confession can’t be used against a defendant at trial, not even to impeach him if he testifies. See, e.g., Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978). Whether a confession is voluntary is determined by examining the totality of the circumstances, see, e.g., Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680 (1993), and asking whether “the … Read more

Consent to Search under Threat of Search Warrant

To be valid, consent to search must be voluntary. Is consent voluntary when given after an officer thrreatens to obtain a search warrant if consent is withheld? Generally, yes. See State v. Kuegel, 195 N.C. App. 310 (2009) (consent to search was given voluntarily even though officer said that if consent was denied he “would … Read more

Package Deal Plea Bargains

The court of appeals decided State v. Salvetti this week. The case involves several interesting issues, but I want to focus on the court’s approval of “package deal” plea bargaining. In Salvetti, the defendant and his wife were charged with abusing their son. The defendant entered into a plea bargain, under which he pled guilty … Read more