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., 06/09/2023
E.g., 06/09/2023

In this Rockingham County case, the Supreme Court modified and affirmed the Court of Appeals decision that defendant had waived appellate review of the denial of his request for a self-defense instruction to the jury. 

In March of 2017, defendant and the mother of one of his sons had an altercation at a hotel in Reidsville. Defendant struck and choked the female victim; eventually the victim grabbed a pistol in the hotel room to defend herself. Testimony differed on whether the victim intentionally fired the pistol into the floor of the hotel or if it went off in a struggle, but defendant was struck in the calf by a bullet. After the altercation, the victim left the hotel room and filed a report with police. Defendant was indicted on several assault and firearm charges. At trial, defendant did not give notice that he planned to argue self-defense, and did not testify on his own behalf; during the jury instruction conference defendant’s counsel agreed with the proposed instructions, which did not include self-defense. However, on the morning after the jury instruction conference, defense counsel requested that the court include an instruction on self-defense, a request that the trial court denied. 

The Court of Appeals held that defendant failed to preserve his challenge to the denial of his requested instruction because he did not object during the jury instruction conference or after instructions were given to the jury, representing invited error. The Supreme Court disagreed with this conclusion, explaining that N.C. Rule of Appellate Procedure 10(a)(2) does not require objection specifically during the jury instruction conference, only an objection “before the jury retires to consider its verdict,” meaning defendant’s challenge was sufficient. Slip. Op. at 20-21. Because defendant made his request prior to the jury retiring, and the trial court denied defendant’s request, the court held that “defendant’s challenge . . . was properly preserved for purposes of appellate review even though defendant did not raise the self-defense issue at the jury instruction conference, expressed initial agreement with the trial court’s proposed instructions, and did not lodge any sort of objection to the instructions that the trial court actually gave . . . .” Id. at 21-22. The court also noted that defendant’s failure to provide notice of his intention to argue self-defense as required by G.S § 15A-905(c)(1) did not alter the result, as that requirement is a discovery-related obligation, and the record did not reflect imposition of a discovery sanction precluding the self-defense argument. Id. at 23-24. 

Moving to the substantive issue of whether the trial court erred by denying the self-defense instruction, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the record did not support defendant’s argument of self-defense. Applying the self-defense standard from G.S. § 14-51.3(a), the court found that “the record contains no evidence tending to show that defendant assaulted [the victim] for the purpose of defending himself from the use of unlawful force on the part of [the victim].” Id. at 27. 

Chief Justice Newby, joined by Justices Berger and Barringer, concurred in part and dissented in part, disagreeing with the opinion regarding whether defendant preserved his request on appeal but agreeing with the majority that the trial court properly denied the instruction on self-defense. Id. at 30. 

Justice Earls concurred in part and dissented in part, agreeing with the opinion that defendant preserved the issue of his request for appellate review, but disagreeing with the majority regarding the trial court’s denial of defendant’s request for the self-defense instruction. Id. at 37. 

The defendant was convicted of impaired driving in Macon County and appealed. The defendant was driving a moped and collided with a car. A trooper responded, investigating and preparing a crash report (and later charging the defendant). At trial, the trooper testified during cross-examination by the defense about his investigation into the accident, recounting his impression of when and how the crash occurred without objection. The defendant complained on appeal that this testimony amounted to improper lay opinion since the trooper did not see the accident occur and was not tendered as an expert. Because no objection was made at trial, the defendant claimed plain error. The State argued that the defendant invited any error, and the Court of Appeals agreed. “Statements elicited by a defendant on cross-examination are, even if error, invited error, by which a defendant cannot be prejudiced as a matter of law.” Because this testimony was elicited by the defendant, any appellate review of the issue (including plain error review) was waived. The trial court was therefore unanimously affirmed.

The defendant failed to preserve for appellate review his assertion of error regarding testimony by the State’s expert in firearms and tool mark examination. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court committed plain error in allowing the expert’s testimony, asserting that unqualified tool mark identification is too unreliable to comply with Daubert. The court declined to reach the issue, finding that the defendant invited the error by eliciting the expert’s unqualified opinion. At no point in the State’s questioning did the expert state any particular degree of certainty, posit that her finding was absolutely conclusive, claim that her opinion was free from error, or expressly discount the possibility that the casings could have been fired from different guns. That testimony came instead on cross-examination by defense counsel.

In this drug case the defendant was not entitled to appellate review of whether the trial court erroneously admitted hearsay evidence. The defendant failed to demonstrate that any “judicial action” by the trial court amounted to error where he not only failed to object to admission of the statement, but also expressly consented to its admission. Even if error occurred, G.S. 15A-1443(c) (a defendant is not prejudiced by an error resulting from his own conduct) precludes a finding of prejudice. Here, by asking about the statement during cross-examination of the State’s witness, defense counsel opened the door to the State’s subsequent questions concerning the statement and its introduction.

In this attempted murder and assault case, any error with respect to admission of testimony regarding gangs was invited. In his motion in limine, the defendant expressly requested that the trial court either exclude all evidence pertaining to gangs or in the alternative allow cross-examination on the subject. The trial court granted the alternative relief sought and the defendant himself cross-examined and elicited testimony with respect to gangs.

State v. Clonts, 254 N.C.App. 95, 802 S.E.2d 531 (June 20, 2017) aff'd on other grounds, 371 N.C. 191, 813 S.E.2d 796 (Jun 8 2018)

The trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on imperfect self-defense and imperfect defense of others where the defendant did not request that the trial court give any instruction on imperfect self-defense or imperfect defense of others. In fact, when the State indicated that it believed that these defenses were not legally available to the defendant, defense counsel agreed with the State. The defendant cannot show prejudice from invited error.

State v. Langley, 254 N.C.App. 186, 803 S.E.2d 166 (June 20, 2017) rev’d on other grounds, 371 N.C. 389, 817 S.E.2d 191 (Aug 17 2018)

Although juror misconduct occurred, the defendant’s challenge failed because the error was invited. After it was reported to the judge that a juror did an internet search of a term used in jury instructions, the judge called the jurors into court and instructed them to disregard any other information and to follow the judge’s instructions. When the defendant moved for mistrial, the trial court offered to continue the inquiry, offering to interview each juror. The defendant did not respond to the trial judge’s offer. The court held: “Defendant is not in a position to repudiate the action and argue that it is grounds for a new trial since he did not accept the trial court’s offer to continue the inquiry when the judge offered to do so. Therefore, if any error took place, Defendant invited it.”

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