Witness Intimidation

I am an avid watcher of television legal dramas—although I can’t say whether that is because of or in spite of my profession. Even so, it is easy for me to pick up on the unrealistic portions of those shows: the ease of gathering evidence, the speed with which perpetrators are caught, the overall swiftness of the trial—the entire process usually being completed within 45 minutes. I also tend to pick up on some of the more realistic, practical aspects of the shows: the differing types of offenses, the potential constitutional issues that may arise, and the corollary offenses that attach during the process.

One of the most common and possibly most overlooked corollary offenses is witness intimidation. The perpetrators almost always engage in some sort of interference but are rarely charged in the shows. That may be because there is already so much content to fit within a 45-minute time frame. But in real-world practice, it could also be because witness intimidation is not always as straightforward as one might think. This post analyzes North Carolina’s witness intimidation law as proscribed by G.S. 14-226, as well as other issues and nuances that may arise in this context.

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COVID-19 and the Use of Masks by Testifying Witnesses in Criminal Trials

As jury trials resume across the state, many criminal courts will soon confront the issue of whether to permit State’s witnesses to wear masks while testifying. CDC guidance suggests that there can be substantial health risks to allowing unmasked testimony in the confines of a courtroom, but as I explore below, the allowance of masked testimony presents its own significant constitutional risks.

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State v. Forte and the Competency of Elderly Witnesses

This week, the court of appeals decided State v. Forte, a case in which the defendant was convicted of exploitation of an elder adult in violation of G.S. 14-112.2 and its predecessor. The case provides a helpful interpretation of some of the key terms in the statute, and it is worth reading for that alone. … Read more

Must the State Inform the Defense When a Witness Goes Missing?

I blogged recently about whether the state is obligated to produce its witnesses’ criminal records in discovery. (Recall that the answer is no, in North Carolina, with some exceptions.) Another question that sometimes comes up regarding the state’s witnesses is whether the state must inform the defense if one of its witnesses goes missing, or … Read more

Must the State Produce Its Witnesses’ Criminal Records in Discovery?

I’ve been asked several times whether the state is required to provide the defense with the criminal record of the state’s witnesses. There are two possible justifications for such a requirement. First, one could argue that disclosure is mandated by the discovery statutes, G.S. 15A-901 et seq. Second, one could argue that disclosure is required … Read more