Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 794 S.E.2d 551 (2016) (per curiam), the court reversed, holding that the absence of a procedural rule limits neither the Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction nor its discretionary authority to issue writs of certiorari. After the defendant was charged with DWI, she filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the State violated certain statutory procedures and State v. Knoll. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant pled guilty, retaining the right to appeal the denial of the motion. The defendant gave notice of appeal and petitioned the Court of Appeals for review by writ of certiorari. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal and denied the petition, holding that the defendant did not have a statutory right to appeal from the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss prior to her guilty plea and that the petition did not assert grounds included in or permitted by Rule 21. The Supreme Court then remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of State v. Stubbs, 368 N.C. 40 (2015), and State v. Thomsen, 369 N.C. 22 (2016). Upon reconsideration, the Court of Appeals again denied the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari and dismissed her appeal. The Court of Appeals determined in part that although the statute provides jurisdiction, it was without a procedural process under either Rule 1 or 21 to issue a discretionary writ other than by invoking Rule 2, and the Court of Appeals declined to invoke that rule. The court determined that the Court of Appeals correctly found that it had jurisdiction to issue the writ. However, it mistakenly concluded that the absence of a specific procedural process in the Rules of Appellate Procedure left the court without any authority to invoke that jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals had held that because the defendant’s petition did not assert any of the procedural grounds set forth in Rule 21, it was without a procedural process to issue the writ other than by invoking Rule 2. The court determined that regardless of whether Rule 21 contemplates review of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, if a valid statute gives the Court of Appeals jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari, Rule 21 cannot take that jurisdiction away. The court concluded:

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals had both the jurisdiction and the discretionary authority to issue defendant’s writ of certiorari. Absent specific statutory language limiting the Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction, the court maintains its jurisdiction and discretionary authority to issue the prerogative writs, including certiorari. Rule 21 does not prevent the Court of Appeals from issuing writs of certiorari or have any bearing upon the decision as to whether a writ of certiorari should be issued.
State v. Thomsen, 369 N.C. 22 (Aug. 19, 2016)

The Court of Appeals had subject-matter jurisdiction to review, pursuant to the State’s petition for writ of certiorari, a trial court’s grant of its own motion for appropriate relief (MAR). The defendant pleaded guilty to rape of a child by an adult offender and to sexual offense with a child by an adult offender, both felonies with mandatory minimum sentences of 300 months. Pursuant to a plea arrangement, the trial court consolidated the convictions for judgment and imposed a single active sentence of 300 to 420 months. The trial court then immediately granted its own MAR and vacated the judgment and sentence. It concluded that, as applied to the defendant, the mandatory sentence violated the Eighth Amendment; the court resentenced the defendant to 144 to 233 months. The State petitioned the Court of Appeals for a writ of certiorari to review the trial court’s MAR order. The defendant responded, arguing that under State v. Starkey, 177 N.C. App. 264, the court of appeals lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to review a trial court’s sua sponte grant of a MAR. The Court of Appeals allowed the State’s petition and issued the writ. The Court of Appeals found no Eighth Amendment violation, vacated the defendant’s sentence and the trial court’s order granting appropriate relief, and remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. See State v. Thomsen, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 776 S.E.2d 41, 48 (2015). Before the supreme court, the parties disagreed on whether the trial court’s sua sponte motion was pursuant to G.S. 15A-1415(b) (defendant’s MAR) or G.S. 15A-1420(d) (trial court’s sua sponte MAR). The court found it unnecessary to resolve this dispute, holding first that if the MAR was made under G.S. 15A-1415, State v. Stubbs, 368 N.C. 40, 42-43, authorized review by way of certiorari. Alternatively, if the MAR was made pursuant to G.S. 1420(d), G.S. 7A-32(c) gives the Court of Appeals jurisdiction to review a lower court judgment by writ of certiorari, unless a more specific statute restricts jurisdiction. Here, no such specific statute exists. It went on to hold that to the extent Starkey was inconsistent with this holding it was overruled.

The defendant was convicted at trial of driving while impaired and habitual DWI in Guilford County. (1) In its discretion, the Court of Appeals granted the defendant’s petitions for writ of certiorari to review the criminal judgment and civil judgment for attorney fees. Following his conviction for habitual impaired driving, the defendant filed two pro se notices of appeal. Those notices did not contain a certificate of service indicating service on the State and failed to name the court to which the appeals were taken. Appellate counsel was later appointed, who recognized the pro se notices of appeal were potentially defective and filed two petitions for writ of certiorari seeking appellate review. The pro se notices of appeal were an indication that the defendant intended to preserve his right to appellate review, and the Court of Appeals previously held in an unpublished case that the types of defects in the notices of appeal at issue did not require dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. Where (as happened here) the State does not object, the Court of Appeals may exercise jurisdiction by granting the petitions for writ of certiorari. Thus, the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to consider the defendant’s arguments.

(2) During trial, the defendant moved to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence at the close of the State’s case in chief. The defendant thereafter presented evidence and failed to renew the sufficiency motion at the close of all evidence. Because sufficiency review was therefore not preserved, the defendant requested that the Court of Appeals invoke Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to suspend the preservation rules and review the issue. The court declined to do so and thus affirmed the habitual DWI conviction.

(3) The trial court awarded the defendant’s trial counsel attorney fees as a civil judgment without giving the defendant an opportunity to personally be heard, in violation of G.S. § 7A-455. More than 35 recent cases have reversed the attorney fee award in similar circumstances. Following that line of cases, the majority of the panel vacated the attorney fee order and remanded for a hearing on the matter where the defendant could be personally heard or for “other evidence in the record demonstrating that the defendant received notice, was aware of the opportunity to be heard on the issue, and chose not to be heard.” Slip op. at 11.

Judge Tyson dissented. He would have refused to grant the petitions for writ of certiorari and dismissed all the defendant’s arguments as frivolous.

(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.

Notwithstanding the fact that the court was unable to determine whether the trial court had jurisdiction when it entered judgment in this DWI case, the court held—over a dissent--that it would exercise its discretion to treat the defendant’s appeal as a petition for certiorari in order to reach the merits of her argument.

Although the defendant failed to timely file a written appeal of the trial court’s sex offender registration and SBM order, the court, in its discretion, allowed the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari to obtain review of these orders.

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.

Under G.S. 15A-1444(e) the defendant had a right to seek the issuance of a writ of certiorari to obtain appellate review of a sentencing proceeding conducted upon his entry of a guilty plea and the court had jurisdiction to issue the writ. The court held that Appellate Rule 21 did not require a holding to the contrary, noting that a defendant’s statutory right to seek issuance of a writ is not abridged by Rule 21.

Because the provisions of Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure prevail over G.S. 15A-1444(e), that rule provides the only circumstances where the court can issue a writ of certiorari: when the defendant lost the right to appeal by failing to take timely action; when the appeal is interlocutory; or when the trial court denied the defendant’s motion for appropriate relief. Here, none of those circumstances applied. One judge on the panel concurred only in the result.

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