Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing an order denying Defendant’s motion to suppress and vacating Defendant’s guilty plea. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence derived from a search of the car he was driving after he was pulled over for traffic violations, arguing that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the traffic stop had been unlawfully prolonged under the standard that the United States Supreme Court set out in Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. __ (2015). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the stop was not unlawfully prolonged under the standard set forth in Rodriguez. View "State v. Bullock" on Justia Law

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Defendant was subjected to a custodial interrogation as defined in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), when police questioned him while he was confined under a civil commitment order, and therefore, the failure of police to advise him of his Miranda rights rendered inadmissible the incriminating statements he made during the interrogation. The trial court concluded otherwise and denied Defendant’s motion to suppress. Defendant was subsequently convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress and vacated his conviction, holding that the trial court’s order denying Defendant’s motion to suppress was an erroneous application of the law and that the error was prejudicial. View "State v. Hammonds" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the prosecutor’s comments in his closing argument were improper but did not amount to prejudicial error in light of the evidence against Defendant, and therefore, the trial judge did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu in the prosecutor’s closing arguments. The court of appeals vacated Defendant’s conviction and ordered a new trial, concluding that the prosecutor’s statements had the cumulative effect of resulting in unfair prejudice to Defendant, and therefore, the trial court erred by failing to intervene ex mero motu. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the prosecutor’s statements were improper; but (2) the statements were not so grossly improper as to prejudice Defendant’s due process rights. View "State v. Huey" on Justia Law

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N.C. Gen. Stat. 20-16.2(b) alone does not create a per se exception to the warrant requirement. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether section 20-16.2(b), which authorizes law enforcement to obtain a blood sample from an unconscious defendant who is suspected of driving while impaired without first obtaining a search warrant, was unconstitutionally applied to Defendant. Defendant in this case filed a pretrial motion to suppress testing performed by law enforcement on his seized blood. The trial court granted the motion, concluding as a matter of law that the seizure of Defendant’s blood was a search subject to Fourth Amendment protection and, under a totality of the circumstances test, no exigency justified a warrantless search. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding that section 20-16.2(b) is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment as applied to Defendant in this case because (1) there was no dispute that there were no exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless blood draw; (2) section 20-16.2(b) does not create a per se exception to the warrant requirement; and (3) the State did not carry its burden of proving voluntary consent. View "State v. Romano" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with violating N.C. Gen. Stat. 90-95(d1)(1)(c). Defendant filed a motion requesting the trial court to declare section 90-95(d1)(1)(c) unconstitutional on the grounds that punishing him for violating a newly enacted statutory provision contravened his federal due process rights. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion. Thereafter, a jury convicted Defendant as charged. Defendant appealed, arguing that the statute, as applied to him, violated his due process rights. Specifically, Defendant argued that when a state has rendered otherwise innocent and lawful behavior subject to significant criminal penalties, due process considerations require either that scienter or mens rea be shown in order to prove guilt or, alternatively, that the State establish that Defendant had fair warning that a previously lawful act was now subject to a criminal sanction. The Court of Appeals held that section 90-95(d1)(1)(c) was unconstitutional as applied to Defendant on notice-related grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant’s conviction did not result in a violation of his federal constitutional right to due process of law because the conviction rested upon Defendant's own active conduct rather than a “wholly passive” failure to act. View "State v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In two separate jury trials, Defendant was convicted of assault on a female, second-degree rape, second-degree sexual offense, and first-degree kidnapping. Defendant appealed, arguing that the second trial judge erred when she denied Defendant’s motion to suppress his custodial statements. The Court of Appeals ruled that Defendant did not understand his Miranda rights and therefore did not knowingly and intelligently waive them but that the trial judge’s error in admitting the custodial statements was not prejudicial. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) the Court of Appeals erred in finding that the admission of Defendant’s interrogation violated his Miranda rights; but (2) the Court of Appeals correctly upheld Defendant’s convictions and the judgment entered on those convictions. View "State v. Knight" on Justia Law

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The record should be further developed in this case before a reviewing court can adequately address Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Defendant was convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon. The court of appeals affirmed. Defendant later filed a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise this claim on appeal. Without conducting an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied Defendant’s MAR. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Defendant received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel in his first appeal and that Defendant’s conviction would have been reversed had his counsel raised the sufficiency of the evidence issue in his first appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the record before the court was insufficient to determine whether Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel. View "State v. Todd" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with six offenses pertaining to the manufacture, possession and sale or delivery of illegal drugs. Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence seized during the search of her home, asserting that the warrant obtained to conduct the search was not supported by probable cause. The trial court granted the motion to suppress. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the totality of the circumstances, the magistrate in this case had a substantial basis to find that probable cause existed to issue the challenged search warrant to search Defendant’s home. View "State v. Allman" on Justia Law

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After his employment with Scenera Research LLC ended, Robert Morris (Plaintiff) sued Scenera and its CEO (collectively, Defendants), alleging Defendants owed him $210,000 in bonuses and that he was fired in retaliation for threatening to bring a lawsuit. Defendants filed a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment that Scenera owned all inventions Plaintiff developed during his employment and that Plaintiff was not entitled to bonuses for patent applications filed or patents issued after a certain date. The trial court court granted Defendants’ motion for a directed verdict with respect to the issue of patent ownership. The jury then awarded patent bonuses under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (WHA) and damages for violations of the North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA). The trial court awarded attorneys’ fees and liquidated damages for patents that have already issued. The Court of Appeals largely affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court properly submitted to the jury the issue of whether Plaintiff was entitled to issuance bonuses and properly denied Defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict; (2) calculability of wages under the WHA is a question of fact to be submitted to the jury; (3) Plaintiff was not entitled to liquidated damages based on the WHA or treble damages based on REDA; and (4) Plaintiff may pursue rescission. View "Morris v. Scenera Research LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff’s employment as a deputy sheriff was terminated following the reelection of Defendant to the office of Sheriff of Mecklenburg County. Plaintiff filed suit alleging wrongful termination in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. 153A-99 and N.C. Const. art. I, 14 and 36. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that Plaintiff could not establish a claim for wrongful termination in violation of section 153A-99 and that Plaintiff’s state constitutional claims lacked merit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff was not a county employee as defined in section 153A-99, and therefore, Plaintiff was not entitled to the protections provided in that statute; and (2) Defendant’s actions did not violate Plaintiff’s right to freedom of speech. View "Young v. Bailey" on Justia Law