Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.


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E.g., 06/25/2024
E.g., 06/25/2024

In a case where the defendant pled guilty to DWI pursuant to a plea agreement and in which the court declined to exercise its discretion to grant the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari, the court noted that the defendant had no right to appeal from an order denying her motion to dismiss, entered prior to her guilty plea. It explained: “This issue is not listed as one of the grounds for appeal of right set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1444. Defendant has no statutory right to plead guilty, while preserving a right to appeal the denial of her motion to dismiss.”

Under G.S. 15A-1444, the defendant did not have a right to appeal whether his guilty plea was knowing and voluntary. The defendant argued that his plea was invalid based on the trial court’s assurance that he could appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. However, considering the defendant's petition for writ of certiorari, the court exercised its discretion to invoke Rule 2 to suspend the Rules and address the merits of the defendant’s appeal.

Over a dissent and with one judge concurring in result only, the court determined that the trial court erred by failing to give the defendant an opportunity to be heard on the issue attorney’s fees prior to entering a civil judgment against him.  Among several procedural issues in this case was whether the defendant had a right to appeal the judgment given that he had pleaded guilty and G.S. 15A-1444 limits appeals from guilty pleas.  Citing State v. Pell, 211 N.C. App. 376 (2011), the court held that the appeal of the civil judgment did “not arise from the underlying convictions” and, therefore, G.S. 15A-1444(a2) did not deprive the court of jurisdiction.  Because of issues caused by the defendant’s filing of the record on appeal prior to the time at which the civil judgment was filed, the court engaged in a lengthy discussion of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, as well as principles of law regarding petitions for writs of certiorari, on its way to determining that it had jurisdiction to address the merits of the appeal, either upon direct appeal or by certiorari.

Judge Berger concurred in result only, stating that “anyone interested in efficiencies and saving taxpayer dollars should hope the Supreme Court of North Carolina takes advantage of this opportunity to return us to the plain language of [G.S.] 15A-1444(a2).”

Judge Tyson dissented, expressing the view that because of the defendant’s various “jurisdictional failures and criminal, civil, and appellate rules violations” he had failed to invoke the jurisdiction of the court, as well as the view that the defendant’s petition for certiorari should have been denied for lacking merit.  Judge Tyson agreed with Judge Berger’s hope that the state supreme court would “return us to the plain language of [G.S.] 15A-1444(a2).”

(1) In this case where the defendant pleaded guilty to felony speeding to elude arrest pursuant to a plea arrangement, he had no statutory right to appeal. 

(2) However, the court considered the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari which argued that he did not receive notice and an opportunity to be heard on the amount of attorney’s fees and costs. The court noted that a criminal defendant may file a petition for a writ of certiorari to appeal a civil judgment for attorney’s fees and costs. Here, after the defendant pleaded guilty to felony speeding to elude arrest he was sentenced and the trial court ordered him to pay court costs in the amount of $1,572.50. Before entering monetary judgments against indigent defendants for fees imposed for court appointed counsel, the trial court should ask defendants personally whether they wish to be heard on the issue. Absent a colloquy directly with the defendant, the requirements of notice and opportunity to be heard will be satisfied only if there is other evidence in the record demonstrating that the defendant received notice, was aware of the opportunity to be heard, and chose not to be heard. Here, nothing in the record indicated that the defendant understood he had a right to be heard on the issue, and the trial court did not inform him of that right. The court thus vacated the civil judgment for attorney’s fees and remanded to the trial court.

In a case where the defendant argued, and the State conceded, that certain indictments were fatally defective, the court held that the defendant had no right under G.S. 15A-1444 to appeal his conviction, entered upon a plea of guilty. Nor had he asserted any grounds under Appellate Rule 21 for the court to issue a writ of certiorari. However, the court exercised its discretionary authority under Appellate Rule 2 to suspend the requirements of the appellate rules and issue a writ of certiorari, finding that manifest injustice would occur if the convictions were allowed to stand on charges for which the trial court lacked jurisdiction to impose sentence.

A drug trafficking defendant who pled guilty and was sentenced pursuant to a plea agreement had no right to appeal the sentence, which was greater than that allowed by the applicable statute at the time. G.S. 15A-1444 allows for appeal after a guilty plea for terms that are unauthorized under provisions of Chapter 15A; the drug trafficking defendant here was sentenced under Chapter 90. However, the court went on to find that the defendant’s plea was invalid.

Where the defendant entered a guilty plea and did not assert an issue identified in G.S. 15A-1444(a2), he did not have a statutory right to appeal.

The defendant had no statutory right to appeal from a guilty plea to DWI where none of the exceptions to G.S. 15A-1444(e) applied.

State v. Jonas [Duplicated], ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-660 (Dec. 7, 2021) temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 865 S.E.2d 886 (Dec 22 2021)

In this Cabarrus County case, the defendant was convicted of possession of a Schedule II controlled substance based on 0.1 grams of methamphetamine found in a backpack in the trunk of a vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that it was seized in connection with a traffic stop that was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The trial court denied the motion. Defendant pled guilty, without a plea arrangement with the State, and appealed.

(1) G.S. 15-979(b) provides that an order finally denying a motion to suppress may be reviewed upon an appeal from a judgment of conviction, including a judgment entered upon a plea of guilty. The North Carolina Supreme Court held in State v. Reynolds, 298 N.C. 380 (1979), that when a defendant intends to appeal from the denial of a motion to suppress pursuant to G.S. 15A-979(b), the defendant must give notice of that intention to the prosecutor and the court before plea negotiations are finalized. Absent such notice, the right to appeal is waived. The Court of Appeals held that the Reynolds notice requirement did not apply in the instant case because the defendant did not plead guilty as part of a plea arrangement. Thus, the defendant had a statutory right to appeal without having provided notice to the State and the trial court before entering his guilty plea.

(2) The officer who stopped the car in which the defendant was traveling testified that he stopped the car because it emerged from the empty parking lot of a closed business, a trailer had recently been stolen in that area, and the car was equipped with transporter plate, which the officer had never seen placed on a vehicle other than a truck. The Court of Appeals noted that, despite the officer’s belief to the contrary, G.S. 20-79.2 “clear[ly] and unambiguous[ly]” permits transporter plates to be used on motor vehicles generally, not just trucks. Though the Fourth Amendment tolerates objectively reasonable mistakes, the Court concluded that the officer’s mistake about the transporter plates was not objectively reasonable because the statute was not ambiguous. Thus, the officer’s belief regarding the transporter plates could not support reasonable suspicion. The Court determined that the additional facts that the business was closed and there was a recent trailer theft in the area were insufficient to support reasonable suspicion. Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. It reversed the trial court’s order and remanded the case to the trial court for entry of an order vacating the defendant’s guilty plea.

Although the defendant failed to object on double jeopardy grounds to being sentenced for both armed robbery and possession of stolen goods taken during the robbery, the court addressed the merits of the defendant’s argument, noting that it may consider whether a sentence is unauthorized even in the absence of an objection at trial.

Although the State had a right to appeal the trial court’s order dismissing charges because of a discovery violation, it had no right to appeal the trial court’s order precluding testimony from two witnesses as a sanction for a discovery violation. 

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 808 S.E.2d 154 (2017), the court held that the State does not have a right to appeal orders granting expunctions under G.S. 15A-145.5. Deciding an issue of first impression, the court noted that the statute governing the State’s right to appeal, G.S. 15A-1445, does not contain language allowing the State to appeal an expunction order. The statute governing the defendant’s expunction, G.S. 15A-145.5, allows for the State to object to a petition for an expunction before the hearing takes place, but does not afford the State the right to appeal an expunction order. The court noted that its decision does not foreclose the opportunity to correct trial court errors because the State can seek review of an expunction order by writ of certiorari.

(1) The defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by sentencing him for both assault on a female and assault by strangulation was preserved for appellate review. The argument was based on mandatory language in G.S. 14-33(c) that prohibited double punishment. When the trial court acts contrary to a statutory mandate, the defendant’s right to appeal is preserved despite failure to object at trial.

(2) Although the defendant failed to raise the issue at sentencing, his argument that the trial court’s findings were insufficient to support its lifetime registration and SBM orders was preserved for appellate review. This issue in question implicated a statutory mandate. 

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