Justia North Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The case involves a defamation lawsuit filed by Louis M. Bouvier, Jr., Karen Andrea Niehans, Samuel R. Niehans, and Joseph D. Golden against William Clark Porter, IV, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC, Steve Roberts, Erin Clark, Gabriela Fallon, Steven Saxe, and the Pat McCrory Committee Legal Defense Fund. The plaintiffs were accused of voting in two states in an election protest filed by the defendants. The plaintiffs claimed that these accusations, which were later proven to be false, defamed them and damaged their reputations.The case was initially heard in the Superior Court, Guilford County, where the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment was granted as to the defendants' affirmative defenses, and the defendants' motion for summary judgment was denied. The case was then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed in part and reversed in part the lower court's decision. The Court of Appeals held that the absolute privilege, which protects individuals from defamation claims for statements made in the course of a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, applied to the election protests. However, the court also introduced a "participation" requirement, stating that the privilege only applied to those who participated as a party, counsel, or witness in the proceeding.The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The court held that the absolute privilege broadly protects all individuals involved in any aspect of election protests from defamation claims. The court rejected the "participation" requirement introduced by the Court of Appeals, stating that the privilege applies to the occasion, not the individual. The court concluded that the defendants were protected by the absolute privilege and were therefore entitled to summary judgment. The court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the lower court for dismissal with prejudice. View "Bouvier v. Porter" on Justia Law

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In the case of the State of North Carolina v. Russell William Tucker, the defendant argued that his conviction for first-degree murder and sentence of death should be overturned due to alleged discrimination in jury selection. He asserted that newly discovered evidence, a continuing legal education handout and a statistical study, supported his claim of purposeful discrimination. However, the defendant had failed to raise a Batson claim (a claim of discrimination in jury selection) during his original trial or in previous post-conviction proceedings. The Supreme Court of North Carolina found that the defendant’s claim was procedurally barred and affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.The defendant killed a security guard and shot two police officers in 1994. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. During jury selection, the defendant raised objections to the State’s peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors. The trial court found that the defendant failed to establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination, and the defendant did not raise a Batson claim on direct appeal or in previous post-conviction proceedings.In this appeal, the defendant argued that the handout and study constituted newly discovered evidence that would support a Batson claim. The defense argued that these materials showed a pattern of racial discrimination in jury selection in North Carolina. However, the Court held that the defendant's claim was procedurally barred because he could have raised a Batson claim during his original trial or in previous post-conviction proceedings but failed to do so. The Court also found that the handout and study did not constitute newly discovered evidence and did not show that the defendant was prejudiced by the alleged discrimination. Therefore, the Court concluded that the defendant’s Batson claim was procedurally barred and affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. View "State v. Tucker" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Plaintiff, Paul Steven Wynn, had sued Rex Frederick, in his official capacity as a magistrate, and Great American Insurance Company for negligence. The Plaintiff claimed that Frederick was negligent in sending a custody order to UNC Hospitals, instead of the Sheriff's Office, resulting in a delay in the involuntary commitment of the Plaintiff's nephew, who subsequently assaulted and paralyzed the Plaintiff.The Supreme Court of North Carolina held that magistrates, as state officials, are not included in the phrase "other officers" under North Carolina General Statute § 58-76-5, which speaks to the waiving of sovereign immunity for certain officials covered by a statutory bond. The court came to this conclusion by examining the structure and history of the statute, which revealed that the statute only encompasses county officers and not state officers. As such, the court found that the statute does not waive the magistrate's sovereign immunity.Furthermore, the court held that judicial immunity applies to both official and individual capacity claims, contrary to the ruling of the Court of Appeals, which had limited the defense of judicial immunity to individual capacity claims only. The court, however, did not decide whether the magistrate's conduct in this case constituted a judicial act, as it found that the claim was independently barred by sovereign immunity. The decision of the Court of Appeals was therefore reversed. View "Wynn v. Frederick" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress and finding no error in her criminal trial, holding that the search for evidence in this case violated the Fourth Amendment and that remand was required.Defendant was convicted of trafficking in methamphetamine, possession with intent o manufacture, sell, or deliver methamphetamine, and possession of methamphetamine. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the search and subsequent seizure of contraband did not comport with the Fourth Amendment; and (2) remand was required for the trial court to determine if the evidence should be suppressed pursuant to the exclusionary rule. View "State v. Julius" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's second-degree murder conviction, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support a jury finding that Defendant was the aggressor when she shot and killed the victim, and therefore, the trial court did not err in giving an instruction on the aggressor doctrine.At issue was the proper application of North Carolina's castle doctrine statute. See N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-51.2(b). Defendant and the victim in this case had a tumultuous relationship, and on the day of the murder Defendant had warned the victim not to come to her residence. The victim came anyway and was shot and killed. Defendant was convicted of second-degree murder. The court of appeals remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the aggressor doctrine. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court properly instructed the jury that if it found that Defendant was the aggressor, the presumption in section 14-51.2 was no longer available for her. View "State v. Hicks" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict that Defendant was guilty of the first-degree murder of a young child as well as of first-degree kidnapping, sexual offense with a child and felony child abuse inflicting serious injury, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to disqualify the trial judge; (2) the trial court erroneously admitted at trial a full-body photograph of the victim during certain testimony, but the error was not prejudicial; (3) the trial court may have improperly allowed certain witnesses to testify about their emotional reactions to seeing the victim's injuries, but the evidence was not prejudicial; (4) the trial court erred in denying Defendant's second motion to suppress a statement he made to law enforcement officers at a hospital, but there was no prejudice; (5) there was no cumulative prejudice; (6) there was no error in the trial court's rulings related to Defendant's attempt to establish a prima facie case of racial or gender-based discrimination; (7) North Carolina's death sentence system is constitutional; and (8) Defendant received a fair trial and capital sentencing proceeding. View "State v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that, within the particular facts and overall context of this criminal case, the trial court did not violate either the United States Constitution or the North Carolina General Statutes by declining to conduct further inquiry into Defendant's capacity to proceed following his apparent suicide attempt on the morning of the sixth day of trial.Defendant's suicide attempt occurred before the jury was given its instructions but after the jury had heard closing arguments from both sides. To determine whether Defendant had forfeited his right to be present for the trial's ongoing proceedings the trial court received evidence concerning his medical history and state of mind at the time of his apparent suicide attempt. The court ultimately concluded that Defendant's injuries were entirely caused by his own voluntary actions, and therefore, Defendant had voluntarily absented himself from the trial proceedings. The trial was continued in his absence, and the trial court entered judgments against Defendant. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not erroneously decline to make further inquiry into Defendant's capacity to proceed during the trial proceedings. View "State v. Flow" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the final order and judgment of the trial court in this case involving challenges to N.C. Gen. Stat. 13-1, the statute setting forth the criteria that felons must satisfy to be eligible for re-enfranchisement, holding that the trial court erred in entering an order allowing all felons not in jail or prison to register and vote.Nearly fifty years after the legislature rewrote section 13-1 to make re-enfranchisement automatic for all eligible felons Plaintiffs brought this action challenging the requirement that felons complete their probation, parole, or post-release supervision before they regain their voting rights. Plaintiffs alleged that this requirement was intended to discriminate African Americans. The trial court ruled for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) there was insufficient evidence to prove that legislators intended their reforms to section 13-1 to disadvantage African Americans; and (2) Plaintiffs were not entitled to relief on their other constitutional claims. View "Community Success Initiative v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that S.B. 824 violates N.C. Const. art. I, 19 and permanently enjoining that law, holding that S.B. 824 does not violate the protections set forth in Article I, Section 19.Pursuant to S.B. 824, registered voters are required to present one of several acceptable forms of identification prior to casting a ballot and require the State to provide free voters identification cards to any registered voter. At issue was whether North Carolina's photo identification statute is constitutional. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin implementation and enforcement of S.B. 824. The trial court denied the injunction. The court of appeals reversed, holding that S.B. 824 violates Article I, Section 19 because it was enacted with discriminatory intent. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that S.B. 824 was enacted with discriminatory intent or actually produces a "meaningful disparate impact along racial lines." View "Holmes v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that the trial court complied with the procedure implemented in N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-1201(d)(1) by the legislature for the trial court to consent to Defendant's waiver of his right to a jury trial for the status offense of habitual felon, holding that the court of appeals did not err.After a colloquy on the record, in which Defendant gave notice in open court of his waiver of a jury trial, the trial court proceeded with a bench trial and found Defendant guilty of multiple drug-related offenses. Before the court proceeded with the phase of the trial addressing the habitual felon status offense, Defendant signed and acknowledged under oath another waiver of jury trial form. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion in how it personally addressed him and in determining that he fully understood and appreciated the consequences of his decision to waive the right to trial by jury. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that that the court of appeals did not err by concluding that the trial court complied with the procedure set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-1201(d)(1) for the court to consent to Defendant's waiver of his right to a jury trial for the habitual felon offense. View "State v. Rollinson" on Justia Law