Monday, September 8, 2008

NC Court of Appeals Update (Sept. 2, 2008)

September 2, 2008 Published Criminal Decisions of the North Carolina Court of Appeals

State v. Washington, No. 07-1517 (Sept. 2, 2008) (Judge McCollough). Background. Defendant was arrested and awaited trial for nearly 5 years, while the DA failed to submit and obtain analysis of certain physical evidence. Holding. Conviction overturned for violating the 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial and Art. I, Sec. 18 of the NC Constitution. The Court applied a four part balancing test looking at "(1) the length of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) defendant's assertion of his right to a speedy trial; and (4) prejudice to defendant resulting from the delay." The Court found a presumption of prejudice after 1 year, triggering an examination of factors 2-4. Factor 2 was present as the delays caused by the prosecution could have been avoided by reasonable effort; factor 3 was met because the Defendant formally objected prior to conviction; and factor 4 was met by looking at specific prejudice, such as pretrial incarceration and inability of witnesses to recall testimony.

Full opinion here.

State v. Gabriel, No. 08-59 (Sept. 2, 2008) (Judge Tyson). Background. The Defendant was arrested at a checkpoint car stop for being intoxicated. The Defendant challenged the stop as unconstitutional. Holding. The Court remanded to the trial court for additional findings.

"In order to conform with the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, the checkpoint must be “reasonable.” Id. “A search or seizure is ordinarily unreasonable in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.” Id. (citation and quotation omitted). However, the general requirement of individualized suspicion is not necessary under certain situations, including: (1) checkpoints, which screen for driver's license and vehicle registration violations; (2) “sobriety checkpoints[;]” and (3) checkpoints designed to intercept illegal aliens. Id. (citations omitted). Conversely, “[s]tops justified only by the generalized and ever-present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime[]” are unconstitutional and cannot be sanctioned by this Court. Id. at 289, 612 S.E.2d at 339. Further, a checkpoint with an unlawful primary purpose will not become constitutional when coupled with a lawful secondary purpose."

The Court remanded for a determination if the checkpoint had a legitimate programmattic purpose or simply attempted to ferret out crime.

Full opinion here.

State v. Wilson, No. 07-1077 (Sept. 2, 2008) (Judge McGee). Background. Defendant challenged Judge's unrecorded bench conference with the foreperson of the jury. After the jury ejected their foreperson, believing him to be partial, the Judge gave a seperate instruction to the foreperson, outside the presence of the other jurors, that "[t]his is an issue that I believe you and the other jurors need to handle in the jury room." It also appears other instructions were given only to the foreperson, that were not recorded. Held. COA finds a violation of the right to a unanimous jury under Article I, Section 24. First, the Court found that no objection was necessary at trial to preserve this claim. Second, failing to give identical instructions to all jurors violates the right to a unanimous jury. Third, errors of this kind are so so fundamental that they cannot be considered harmless. New Trial Ordered.

Full Opinion Here.

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