Court of Appeals publishes cases, four boring, one useful

by James Norman in

This week, the Court of Appeals decided (and published) the following cases:


State v. Harwood

The police recieve an anomymous tip that Harwood would be at the convenience store selling marijuana. With only the tip, a photograph, and a criminal history, the police follow the defendant to an address that is other than the defendant's, pull in behind him, and performs a search. They find marijuana on him. He volunteers that there is more at the house, where they find more drugs and guns. 

The Court held that an uncorroborated tip is insufficient to establish reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant.


Patel v. Scottsdale Insurance Co.

Following a hotel fire, the insured (Patel) made a claim on his insurance company (Scottsdale). Scottsdale tried to pay him less than he felt the damages were and sued. The Court determined that it was inapproriate to sue as the policy required an appraisal process be requested and remanded to determine whether, in fact, an appraisal would be possible under the language of the policy.

The lesson here is to review your policy when you make a claim on it (and hopefully when you sign). An insurance company has the sole motivation of making money. A policy often contains several seemingly extraneous steps that you must do, or else, lose your rights under the policy. Here, the appraisal requirement is not all that unreasonable, and failing to do it may cost Mr. Patel quite a bit of money (not to mention attorney's fees). 

There was no decision regarding Patel's mother, who lives in a Victorian mansion overlooking the site of the motel.


Mostetler v. Stiltner

A social worker who was subpoenaed has no standing to challenge the Trial Court's Order compelling her to testify and produce patient records if she is not a party to the action and the patient failed to object to such privileged information.


State v. Huerta

The Court holds in part that it's perfectly fine for SBI to mix samples for testing and weight in a drug trafficking case. 

So make sure that you store your cocaine in a different place from your popcorn salt.


State v. Morston

When a trial court fails to consider a mitigating factor, there is no right to a new sentencing hearing, only further consideration of whether to consider those factors in revising sentencing (it's a little more complicated than this, mind you).

More importantly, this case taught me that mixing gin with crack cocaine and tylenol is an actual thing people do.

Visual estimates of speed not enough for stop if the arresting officer is sufficiently dumb

by James Norman in

Recently, the Fourth Circuit declared in US v. Sowards that a stop was illegal where based solely on an officer's training and experience. In that case, the Defendant was stopped for driving approximately five miles over the speed limit as estimated by the arresting officer. Following the arrest, the Officer found a quantity of drugs in the vehicle, which the Defendant moved to suppress on the grounds that the officer had no grounds to stop the vehicle.                                                                                                                        
At the trial, the Defendant challenged the officer's ability to estimate speeds. At trial, the officer declared that Sowards' car was approximately 100 yards away. 
On cross-examination, and when questioned directly by the district court about his knowledge of distances, Deputy Elliott gave several inconsistent and incorrect answers regarding measurements: 
Q. [Government counsel] And how many feet are in a hundred yards?
A. [Deputy Elliott] There’s 12 feet in a yard.
Q. So 300 feet?
A. Correct.
Q: And how many feet are in a yard?
A: How many feet? There’s 12 feet in a yard.
THE COURT: Well, do you know what a yardstick is?
[Deputy Elliott]: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: How many inches in a yardstick?
[Deputy Elliott]: Well, on a yardstick there’s 12
inches. Well, it depends on the yard stick that you have.
THE COURT: Use your hands to indicate a yardstick.
[Deputy Elliott]: A yardstick is about that long (indicating).
THE COURT: All right. And how many inches are in it?
THE WITNESS: Four foot in a yard.                                                                                                      
US v. Sowards, No. 10-4133 at 5-6 (June 26, 2012)
The Fourth Circuit, upon reviewing the totality of the officer's basis for the stop, overturned the trial court's ruling stating that "Deputy Elliott lacked probable cause to initiate a traffic stop based exclusively on his uncorroborated and unsupported belief that Sowards was traveling 75 mph in a 70-mph zone."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
So, what does this mean to you? When you are stopped and charged following that stop, you should consider that the officers involved are human and can make very human errors. You should carefully weigh whether it is worth it to question the officer's judgment. In most cases, it will not affect the outcome of your case if you challenge the officer on a preliminary issue like this one. Your attorney should be prepared at a hearing to address these issues as they arise and make sure that when the officer involved doesn't know the length of a yard, the Court is aware of his shortcomings. It may make a vital difference that would affect you for the rest of your life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Remember that making fun of police officers is sensitive business and should only be undertaken by a trained professional like myself.