Monday, August 29, 2016

Does Lower Speed Limit Save Gas or Lives?

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Most tractor-trailers and big buses on U.S. highways ride on tires that weren’t designed to handle speeds above 75 miles per hour. Pat Sullivan AP

Read more here:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cause of High Speed Accidents

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Today I was speaking with another attorney who was trying to convince me that speeding is not an issue, it is bad driving.  The following article from Shea Denning takes a different view.

t is almost time for a new school year to begin, so I’m feeling in the mood for a pop quiz.
What driver behavior is associated with the most vehicle crashes in North Carolina?
  1. Speeding
  2. Driver Distraction
  3. Alcohol Consumption

What driver behavior is associated with the most injuries resulting from vehicle crashes in North Carolina?
  1. Speeding
  2. Driver Distraction
  3. Alcohol Consumption

What driver behavior is associated with the most vehicle crash fatalities in North Carolina?
  1. Speeding
  2. Driver Distraction
  3. Alcohol Consumption

The answer to all three questions is 1. Speeding.
The NC DOT publishes traffic crash facts for the state every year. The latest report, based on 2014 data, is available here.
And the dangers associated with speeding couldn’t be more clear.
More than 33 percent of the more than 200,000 crashes in 2014 were related to vehicle speed.  Nearly 34 percent of the 1,181 fatal crashes were related to vehicle speed as were 37 percent of the more than 70,000 injury crashes.
By way of comparison, alcohol was involved in 5 percent of all crashes, 29 percent of fatal crashes, and 7 percent of injury crashes. Driver distraction was involved in 22 percent of all crashes, 12 percent of fatal crashes, and 24 percent of injury crashes. (NC DOT cautions that the driver distraction numbers may not reflect the severity of the issue since driver distraction is a “self-reporting contributing circumstance.”)
The data related to crashes involving teenagers (regardless of the age of the driver) paints an even starker picture of the risks of speeding. Speed is a factor in 31 percent of crashes involving teenagers and 65 percent of teen fatalities. Alcohol, in contrast, is involved in 3 percent of such crashes and 20 percent of fatalities.
National figures on vehicle fatalities for the same time period are similar, though a higher percentage of traffic fatalities nationally (36 percent) resulted from crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers than speeding (28 percent).
Policy makers understandably spend a lot of time thinking about ways to reduce impaired driving and driver distraction. Should speeding (an offense classified as an infraction or as a Class 3 misdemeanor if the person is driving more than 15 miles per hour over the limit or more than 80 miles per hour) receive similar attention?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Search of Vehicle based soley on ordor of marijuana

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Two states are looking at this issue very differently.  Thanks to NCSOG and Capital Media Services for their articles.

The existence of probable cause to search a vehicle and probable cause to search a vehicle occupant based on an odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle present separate legal issues. The North Carolina Court of Appeals on August 2, 2016, ruled in State v. Pigford that although an officer had probable cause to search a vehicle, he did not have probable cause to search a vehicle occupant based on the marijuana odor. However, another theory mentioned by the court may ultimately support the admission of the illegally-seized evidence at the retrial of the case.
Facts and trial court ruling. The defendant was driving a vehicle with one front seat passenger and was stopped at a motor vehicle checkpoint. The stopping officer detected the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle’s front driver-side window, but he was unable to establish the odor’s exact location. The officer ordered the defendant out of the vehicle and searched him, finding cocaine and a straw located in the defendant’s back pocket. The officer arrested the defendant, placed him in a patrol car, and a search of the vehicle discovered a bag of marijuana under the driver’s seat and a stolen handgun on the back passenger seat. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress, concluding that the odor of marijuana established probable cause to search the defendant. The defendant was convicted of possession of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Court of Appeals ruling. The court first noted that it was not contested that the officer had probable cause to search the defendant’s vehicle, including possessions within it. United States v. Di Re, 332 U.S. 581 (1948), Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295 (1999). [For a list of cases that have ruled the odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle authorizes a warrantless search of the vehicle, see Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina, p. 182, n. 56 (4th ed. 2011).]
The court stated, however, that under State v. Malunda, 230 N.C. App. 355 (2013), probable cause to search the vehicle and its possessions based on the generalized odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle does not include a search of the passengers, absent additional facts linking marijuana to a particular passenger. In Malunda, officers during a lawful traffic stop ordered the defendant-passenger out of the car and detained him on the curb. They went back to the driver side of the vehicle and noticed a strong odor of marijuana that they had not smelled on the passenger side. They removed the driver and searched the vehicle, and they found marijuana in the driver-side door. Officers then searched the defendant-passenger and found crack cocaine on him. The Malunda court ruled that the odor of marijuana provided probable cause to search the vehicle, but not the defendant-passenger. And because there was nothing linking the marijuana to the defendant-passenger beside his presence in the vehicle, the search of his person was not supported by probable cause particularized to him.
The court distinguished the ruling in State v. Yates, 162 N.C. App. 118 (2004), in which the odor of marijuana on the defendant supported probable cause to search his person. There the defendant walked by an officer twice, each time emanating a strong odor of marijuana. The court in Pigford noted that, unlike in Yates, the State did not offer any evidence that the marijuana odor was attributable to the defendant. The officer testified that when he stood next to the driver-side window, he smelled marijuana “inside the car,” though his description of the source of the odor was no more precise. He could not recall whether the other vehicle windows were rolled down, nor did he approach the passenger-side window where the odor could have been just as potent. He did not testify whether he smelled marijuana on the defendant after ordering him out of the car. The court stated that to the extent the odor could have been attributed to the defendant, it could have been equally attributable to the front-seat passenger or somewhere else inside the vehicle. Thus the court concluded that although the officer may have had probable cause to search the vehicle, he did not have probable cause to search the defendant.
Despite the defendant’s winning argument on the search issue and being awarded a new trial, it was not a compete win. The court of appeals on its own raised the issue whether the inevitable discovery exception to the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule applied to make the illegally-seized evidence admissible at the new trial. The inevitable discovery rule, set out in Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984), provides that unlawfully-obtained evidence may nevertheless be admitted at trial if the government proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the evidence ultimately would have been discovered through lawful means. In this case, because the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle, which contained marijuana and a stolen gun, the issue is whether the state can prove that the cocaine on the defendant’s person would have been inevitably discovered through a search of the defendant incident to his arrest for possessing marijuana.
Comments. It is always easy to say in hindsight what could have been done to seize the evidence legally in Pigford. Because the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle based on the odor of marijuana, if that had been done initially instead of searching the defendant, then the officer would have discovered the bag of marijuana under the driver’s seat. And then the officer would have had probable cause to arrest the defendant-driver and search him incident to arrest, resulting in the lawful discovery of the cocaine in the defendant’s back pocket.
So if there is a generalized odor of marijuana from the vehicle and no other incriminating facts (e.g., incriminating evidence in the vehicle or incriminating statements or behavior by a vehicle occupant) to point to an occupant’s connection to the marijuana, then it is unlikely that a court will find probable cause to uphold a search of that occupant. Under these circumstances, an officer may detain the occupant(s), conduct a frisk if justified, and search the vehicle for marijuana. Depending what, if anything, is found will guide the officer concerning what additional actions are justified.

PHOENIX -- Got marijuana? Not legally? Might want to keep the smell down.

A pair of new court rulings Monday allows the police to pursue a search of your place or your vehicle solely based on the odor.

Attorneys for both men who were convicted based on such searches argued that the 2010 voter-approved law which allows some people with certain medical conditions to legally possess or use marijuana means that the smell alone is no longer evidence that a crime is occurring. The fact that neither of them was a medical marijuana cardholder, the lawyers said, is irrelevant.

But Chief Justice Scott Bales, writing for the unanimous court, said that 2010 law did not legalize the drug for the vast majority of Arizonans.

"The odor of marijuana in most circumstances will warrant a reasonable person believing there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime is present,' he wrote.

And Bales specifically rejected the contention that the law -- and the fact some people can possess and use the drug -- means that the smell alone cannot trigger a search.

"Under that view, no person in Arizona would be subject to search or seizure by state or local police officers based only on an officer seeing or smelling marijuana,' the chief justice said. He said the 2010 law "does not broadly alter the legal status of marijuana but instead specifies particular rights, immunities, and obligations for qualifying patients and others, such as designated caregivers.'

And the court specifically rejected arguments that a search based merely on smell runs afoul of state and federal constitutional provisions protecting the right to privacy.

"The right to privacy ... is not a guarantee against (ITALICS) all (ROMAN) government searches and seizures, only unreasonable ones,' Bales explained.

That, in turn, gets back to the fact that marijuana use remains illegal for most of the public, at least for the time being.

The most recent figures from the Arizona Department of Health Services show there are close to 98,000 people who are legally qualified to use the drug. ON top of that there are 853 people certified as "caregivers' plus another 2,625 dispensary agents.

By contrast, the state's population exceeds 6.7 million.

"In this respect, registered qualifying patients are not denied Fourth Amendment rights or privileges based on their medical marijuana use,' Bales wrote. "They are simply treated like the broader public.'

He stressed, though, that police, in deciding whether there is enough evidence for a search, "cannot ignore indicia of AMMA-compliant marijuana possession and use that could dispel probable cause.'

But David Euchner, a deputy Pima County public defender, said that is hardly enough to protect individual rights.

"How would you feel if you were the guy using legally and the police broke into your house and kicked down the door and only later found out that you had a (medical marijuana) card?' he asked. "Now, according to this decision, they basically are allowed to search first, ask questions later.'

Euchner also said the ruling would appear to allow searches based solely on smell -- especially of vehicles where a warrant is unnecessary -- even if voters approve a ballot measure in November to allow Arizonans to possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes.

He noted the initiative only legalizes possession of up to one ounce of the drug by individuals.

"Can the officer search first and determine whether he had the right amount?' Euchner asked.

"We've have situations where the officers know that the person is a (medical marijuana) patient and still say, 'I'm going to search you just to see if you have the right amount,' ' he said.

What's legal right now under the 2010 law is that those with certain medical conditions can obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Those who qualify are issued special cards by the health department.

"Presentation of a valid AMMA registry identification card, therefore, could indicate that marijuana is being lawfully possessed or used,' Bales explained.

"Such information could effectively dispel the probable cause (for a search) resulting from the officer's detection of marijuana by sight or smell, unless of course other facts suggest the use or possession is not pursuant to AMMA,' he continued. "The ultimate inquiry, as in other probable cause determinations, turns on a practical, common-sense consideration of the totality of the circumstances.'

And there's something else.

Bales said the 2010 law does not provide patients with greater protections from searches or increased expectations of privacy than those enjoyed by the public at large. What it does, he said, is protect a legitimate cardholder from arrest, prosecution or any other penalty for their medical use of marijuana.

Monday's ruling most immediately affects two individuals.

One is Ronald J. Sisco II who was represented by Euchner.

His arrest stems from police saying they smelled the "overpowering odor of fresh marijuana' at a storage warehouse on West 35th Street in South Tucson. Based on that, they obtained a search warrant and, according to court records, found discovered 357 plans and 53 pounds of cultivated marijuana. Sisco, who apparently was living in the unit, was convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to concurrent prison terms, the longest of which was 3.5 years.

Monday's ruling affirms the decision of the trial judge to allow the marijuana police found into evidence.

The second case involves Ian Cheatham whose vehicle was stopped by police on the suspicion that the window tinting violated Arizona law.

Officers said they noticed a "pretty strong' odor of burnt marijuana. They then searched the vehicle and found what was described as a marble-sized piece of unburnt drug under the driver's seat.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

New Moped rules

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New laws on Mopeds in North Carolina.  Thank you to NC SOG for their blog post.

Laws governing the operation of mopeds have changed significantly in recent years. Mopeds now must be registered before they may be driven on state roadways, and the owner of the moped must have insurance.  An overview of the current legal requirements for moped operation is set forth below. 
First, what’s a moped?  For years, the term “moped,” has not been separately defined in the motor vehicle statutes. Instead, the term is defined in the State’s tax statutes as “[a] vehicle that has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, and a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface.” G.S. 105-164.3. Effective December 1, 2016, however, Chapter 20 will have its own definition, which will be incorporated into the tax statutes by cross reference.
New G.S. 20-4.01(27)d1 defines a moped as “[a] vehicle, other than a motor-driven bicycle or electric assisted bicycle, that has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface. The motor may be powered by electricity, alternative fuel, motor fuel, or a combination of each.” S.L. 2016-90 (H 959), section 13.(a).
The registration requirement.  G.S. 20-53.4, effective July 1, 2015, requires that mopeds be registered before being driven on the streets or highways of the state. To be registered, the moped must have a manufacturer’s certificate of origin and must be designed and manufactured for use on highways or public vehicular areas.
The fee for registering a moped is the same as for registering a motorcycle: $24.  G.S. 20-87(6).
Driving an unregistered moped on a street or allowing a moped you own to be so driven is a Class 2 misdemeanor. G.S. 20-111(1). The same is true for failing to display a current registration plate on a moped. Id.
The insurance requirement.  G.S. 20-309(a) requires, as of July 1, 2016, that owners of mopeds provide proof of financial responsibility before a moped may be registered and that they maintain such a policy throughout the registration period. Legislation was proposed in 2016 to delay this effective date, but was not enacted. S 821, section 46.(a).
Moped drivers must be at least 16 years old. G.S. 20-10.1 makes it unlawful for a person under the age of 16 to operate a moped upon a street or public vehicular area. Violation of this provision is a Class 2 misdemeanor. G.S. 20-35.
Moped drivers are not required to have a driver’s license. While the North Carolina Department of Transportation has recommended that driver’s licenses be required for the operation of mopeds, the General Assembly has not acted on that recommendation.