Thursday, September 20, 2007, 1:56 PM

Criminal Happenings

We usually don't say much about criminal cases, given the mission of this blog, but Tuesday's stack of decisions from the Court of Appeals was light, so we mention these three cases below, at least one of which has garnered some press.

1. Armed robbery accomplice scores a win: State v. Cooper involved a criminal, Russell Cooper, who confessed his involvement in an armed robbery of a Raleigh convenience store. Before the robbery Cooper met with another man in the woods by the store and gave the man his (Cooper's) gun to rob the store; Cooper waited for the man to return, which he did, bringing Cooper the gun and a portion of the robbery proceeds. After police were alerted to the robbery, they saw Cooper, and they stopped and frisked him, at which point they discovered the concealed handgun. He then confessed to his role. On appeal, Cooper argued that the evidence should've been suppressed on the basis that the police had no reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk him (a so-called Terry stop) near the convenience store after the police were alerted to the robbery. The trial court had rejected this argument, finding that the police officer had a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity when he stopped and frisked Cooper. The COA, in an opinion by Judge Geer, sided with Cooper, holding the trial court erred. It remains to be seen whether this ruling will enable Cooper to go free.

2. Officer's mistaken belief of speed limit results in suppression of evidence: In State v. McLamb, a police officer pulled over the defendant for speeding for going 30 mph. Trouble was, unbeknownst to the officer, the speed limit was 55 mph. After stopping the defendant, the officer determined he had been drinking. Defendant was charged with DUI. The COA, in an opinion by Judge Steelman, held that the fruits of the stop (the evidence of DUI) had to be suppressed, because the officer didn't have an objectively reasonable belief that a speeding violation had occurred when he stopped defendant's car. The holding: a mistaken belief by a law enforcement officer that a defendant has violated the speed limit can't constitutionally support probable cause to stop a vehicle (probable cause being required for a seizure under the Fourth Amendment).

3. "Hands and water" are deadly weapons: In State v. Smith the COA held that "hands and water" are deadly weapons, and therefore the defendant was properly charged with assault with a deadly weapon on a gov't official. The defendant, Smith, was arrested by a Haywood County officer in connection with other matters. The belligerent Smith escaped from his handcuffs and pushed the officer into the Pigeon River, where defendant jumped on the officer and plunged him under water for 30-45 seconds, and then again for another 15-20 seconds, applying force to keep him submerged. Fortunately, the officer was able to knock defendant down and, after being hit in the head twice with the handcuffs, the officer was able to get him with pepper spray and apprehend him. Defendant argued that he couldn't be charged with assault with a deadly weapon on the basis that "hands and water" are not a deadly weapon. The COA, in an opinion by Judge Stroud, disagreed, because a reasonable juror could find that defendant's submerging of the officer in the river was likely to produce death or great bodily harm.


Anonymous Ann said...

I don't always agree with you, but I see that you are objective in your
postings. Despite the differences I still enjoy reading your posts and I
often learn even when our viewpoints are different. :-)

3:04 AM  

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