Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Carolina Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming in part and reversing in part the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the omission of pertinent facts in an officer's search warrant application resulted in a lack of probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant for either Defendant's residence or vehicle. The officer in this case possessed information that would suffice to establish probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant but failed to include key portions of this information in his affidavit supporting the warrant. The trial court denied Defendant's motion to suppress, concluding that the affidavit sufficiently established probable cause to support the magistrate's issuance of a warrant authorizing a search of Defendant's residence and vehicle. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that the affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause to search the vehicle but was insufficient to establish probable cause to search the residence. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the motion to suppress should have been allowed as to evidence seized from both Defendant's residence and vehicle. View "State v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing, but only as to Defendant individually, the superior court's determination that North Carolina's satellite-based monitoring (SBM) of sex offenders is constitutional, holding that the court of appeals erred by limiting its holding to the constitutionality of the SBM program as applied only to Defendant. Defendant was statutorily required to enroll in the SBM program and to wear an ankle monitor at all times for his lifetime based on his convictions for sex crimes. Defendant argued that the imposition of the monitoring violated his constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court found that the SBM program was not unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court held that a State conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person's body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual's movements. On remand, the superior court upheld the imposition of lifetime SBM on Defendant. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that lifetime SBM of Defendant was unreasonable. The Supreme Court modified and affirmed, holding that the program is unconstitutional as applied to all individuals who, like Defendant, are subject to mandatory lifetime SBM based solely on their status as a "recidivist." View "State v. Grady" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder and other offenses and sentencing him to life imprisonment without parole, holding that the trial court violated Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him by limiting Defendant's cross-examination of the State's principal witness, and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. At Defendant's murder trial, Lakenda Malachi was the only witness to provide direct evidence of Defendant's presence at the scene. Defendant sought to impeach Malachi's testimony, but the trial court sustained objections to defense counsel's questions. After Defendant was convicted he appealed. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court committed constitutional error by restricting Defendant's cross-examination of Malachi and that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly found that the trial court committed prejudicial error. View "State v. Bowman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that a law enforcement officer's warrantless search of Defendant's USB drive was not permissible under the "private-search doctrine," holding that the State failed to carry its burden of presenting competent evidence establishing that the officer's warrantless search was permissible under the private-search doctrine. The officer conducted a warrantless search of Defendant's USB drive following a prior search of the USB drive by a private individual. The trial court denied Defendant's motion to suppress. The court of appeals reversed the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, concluding that the warrantless search was not authorized under the private-search doctrine but that remand was appropriate to determine whether probable cause existed to issue the search warrant without the evidence obtained from the unlawful search. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the private-search doctrine cannot apply to a thumb drive because, even though some of the thumb drive has been previously opened, an officer cannot proceed with "virtual certainty" that nothing else of significance is in the device. View "State v. Terrell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgments of the trial courts allowing Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the trial courts' findings of fact failed to support their legal conclusion that the investigating officer lacked the probable cause needed to place Defendant under arrest for impaired driving. Defendant was charged with driving while subject to an impairing substance. In granting the motion to suppress, the trial courts concluded that the investigating officer lacked probable cause to place Defendant under arrest for driving while impaired. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the facts supported a conclusion that the officer had probable cause to stop and cite Defendant for driving while impaired. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the undisputed facts supported the officer's decision to place Defendant under arrest for impaired driving. View "State v. Parisi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that Defendant's right to be free from double jeopardy was violated when the State voluntarily dismissed Defendant's charge after his first trial ended in a hung jury mistrial and when Defendant was retried six years later when new evidence emerged, holding that Defendant's second prosecution was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause and that the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss his indictment on double jeopardy grounds. Specifically, the Court held (1) jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and continues following a mistrial until a terminating event occurs; (2) when the State enters a voluntary dismissal after jeopardy has attached, jeopardy is terminated in the defendant's favor, and the State cannot retry the case without violating a defendant's right to be free from double jeopardy; and (3) because Defendant's jeopardy remained attached following the mistrial declaration in his first trial and was terminated when the State subsequently entered a dismissal of the charge under N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-931, Defendant's second prosecution was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause. View "State v. Courtney" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the opinion of the court of appeals granting Defendant a new trial on his abduction of a child and statutory rape charges on the grounds that Defendant was prejudiced by the trial court's decision to allow his affidavit of indigence to be admitted to prove his age, holding that the admission of the affidavit was erroneous, but the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. After Defendant was indicted Defendant completed and signed an affidavit of indigence so that a court-appointed attorney could be assigned to his case. During trial, the trial court allowed into evidence a copy of the affidavit to prove Defendant's age, which was an element of the charges. The court of appeals granted Defendant a new trial, concluding that the trial court erred in admitting the affidavit in violation of Defendant's right against self-incrimination to prove an element of charges against him. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court committed constitutional error by allowing Defendant's affidavit of indigence to be admitted into evidence; and (2) there was no reasonable possibility that the admission of Defendant's affidavit of indigence might have contributed to the conviction. View "State v. Diaz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the trial court imposing lifetime satellite-based monitoring (SBM) upon Defendant without prejudice to the State's ability to file another application for SBM, holding that the trial court committed error relating to a substantial right. The trial court ordered him to enroll in SBM for life upon his release from prison. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in imposing lifetime SBM because it failed to determine whether the monitoring effectuated a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. In response, the State asserted that Defendant waived the ability to challenge this constitutional issue on appeal by failing to preserve it below. The court of appeals concluded that Defendant had properly preserved the Fourth Amendment issue and, alternatively, that Appellate Rule 2 allowed it to review the issue. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) Defendant waived his ability to raise the issue of the imposition of SBM on constitutional grounds; (2) the court of appeals properly invoked Rule 2 to review the unpreserved issue; and (3) where the State conceded that the trial court committed error relating to a substantial right, the court of appeals did not abuse its discretion by invoking Rule 2. View "State v. Bursell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals concluding that Defendant’s inculpatory statements to law enforcement should have been suppressed but that the error was harmless, holding that the trial court correctly concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, Defendant’s inculpatory statements were voluntary. On appeal, the Court of Appeals determined that Defendant’s inculpatory statements were involuntary and inadmissible because they were given under the influence of fear or hope caused by the interrogating officers’ statements and actions but that the admission of the statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt due to the overwhelming additional evidence of Defendant’s guilt. The Supreme Court modified and affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred in merging the Miranda and voluntariness inquiries; (2) Defendant did not preserve his argument that officers employed the “question first, warn later” technique to obtain Defendant’s confession; and (3) the trial court correctly concluded that the Miranda requirements were met and that Defendant’s statements to the officers were voluntarily made. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals reversing and vacating Defendant’s conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm and reversing the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of the firearm, holding that both the search and seizure of Defendant in this case were supported by individualized suspicion and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the search was invalid because it was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the rule announced in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), justified the seizure because Defendant posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of the search; and (2) the warrantless detention and search of Defendant did not violate the Fourth Amendment. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law