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., 11/27/2021
E.g., 11/27/2021
State v. Stokes, 367 N.C. 474 (Apr. 11, 2014)

The court reversed and remanded the decision below, State v. Stokes, 227 N.C. App. 649 (Jun. 4, 2013) (vacating the defendant’s conviction for second-degree kidnapping on grounds that the evidence was insufficient to establish removal when during a robbery the defendant ordered the clerk to the back of the store but the clerk refused). The court held that the court of appeals erred by failing to consider whether the State presented sufficient evidence to support a conviction of attempted second-degree kidnapping. The court went on to find that the evidence supported conviction of the lesser offense. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that it could not consider whether the evidence was sufficient to establish the lesser offense because the State had not argued for that result on appeal, stating: “While we agree it would be better practice for the State to present such an alternative argument, we have not, however, historically imposed this requirement.” It continued:

When acting as an appellee, the State should bring alternative arguments to the appellate court’s attention, and we strongly encourage the State to do so. Nonetheless, we are bound to follow our long-standing, consistent precedent of acting ex mero motu to recognize a verdict of guilty of a crime based upon insufficient evidence as a verdict of guilty of a lesser included offense. Hence, the Court of Appeals incorrectly refused to consider whether defendant’s actions constituted attempted second-degree kidnapping.

In this child sexual abuse case, the court clarified that when analyzing Rule 404(b) and 403 rulings, it “conduct[s] distinct inquiries with different standards of review.” It stated:

When the trial court has made findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its 404(b) ruling . . . we look to whether the evidence supports the findings and whether the findings support the conclusions. We review de novo the legal conclusion that the evidence is, or is not, within the coverage of Rule 404(b). We then review the trial court’s Rule 403 determination for abuse of discretion.

The Court of Appeals previously published an opinion in this case on October 6, 2020, and a summary of that opinion is available here. As noted in the earlier summary, the defendant was convicted of several charges including two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses – one count based on a theory of acting in concert, and another count based on aiding and abetting. Since the same evidence supported both false pretenses counts, raising double jeopardy concerns, the trial court arrested judgment on the acting in concert count and only entered judgment on the aiding and abetting count. In this revised opinion, the appellate court added a discussion of the defendant’s ability to appeal from that arrested judgment. Citing to State v. Pulaski, 326 N.C. 434 (1990), the court explained that an arrest of judgment can have the effect of vacating the verdict in some cases, such as when a judgment is arrested due to a fatal flaw in the indictment. But when a judgment is arrested only to avoid double jeopardy concerns, it remains on the docket and can be revisited on remand. In this case, since judgment on the acting in concert count was arrested only because of double jeopardy concerns, the defendant’s appeal as to that count was from a “final judgment” and therefore properly before the appellate court.

This Davidson County case involved the sexual abuse of a girl at ages 10 and 13. The defendant was the child’s grandfather. In addition to assaulting the child, the defendant also abused the child’s mother, his daughter. The child’s mother reportedly traded sex with her daughter for drugs from the defendant. The child’s mother cooperated with the investigation. She pled guilty pursuant to Alford to attempted felony child abuse on the condition that she truthfully testify against the defendant at his trial. Defense counsel thoroughly questioned the child’s mother regarding her plea arrangement, but the trial court sustained an objection to questions relating to the Alford aspect of the plea. It ruled that the evidence that the child’s mother took an Alford plea was not relevant and, if it was relevant, that it “did not survive the [Rule 403] balancing test.” Slip op. at 4. The defendant was convicted of all counts at trial and sentenced to a minimum term of 1200 months. The trial court also ordered lifetime sex offender registration and satellite-based monitoring without objection from the defendant. He appealed, challenging the trial court’s decision to exclude evidence of the Alford nature of the plea. He also sought certiorari review of the SBM order, as he failed to preserve his direct appeal of that issue.

(1) The defendant’s objection to the evidentiary ruling was preserved. While the defendant failed to make an offer of proof by conducting voir dire of the witness, the plea transcript with the agreement between the State and the child’s mother was made a part of the record. Trial counsel’s extensive questioning about the plea deal also made the objection obvious from context, thus preserving the issue for appellate review.

(2) The defendant claimed that the Alford plea was relevant to the credibility of the witness and that the trial court erred in sustaining the objection to that line of questioning, causing prejudicial error. The court assumed that the Alford nature of the plea was relevant evidence, but found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s exclusion of the evidence under Rule 403 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence as potentially confusing to the jury:

Under the circumstances of this case, we agree with the trial court that evidence [the] mother entered an Alford plea would serve to confuse the jury regarding the legal details of her plea. In particular, someone would have to explain the meaning of an Alford plea, and [the] mother’s own understanding of the exact meaning of an Alford plea may have been different that the technical legal meaning or the intent Defendant assumes she had. Slip. op. at 14.

(3) The defendant failed to object on any basis to the order imposing SBM at the time of its entry and failed to give written notice of appeal of the order (as required for civil matters such as SBM orders). He sought review via petition for writ of certiorari and asked the court to invoke Rule 2 of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure to reach the merits of his unpreserved argument. The court declined both requests and dismissed the argument, finding the circumstances did not warrant the “extraordinary steps” of both granting certiorari and invoking Rule 2.  

Judge Murphy wrote separately to concur. According to him, the trial court erred in finding the Alford plea evidence irrelevant. The trial court further erred in conducting a Rule 403 balancing test after it found the evidence irrelevant and excluding the evidence on the basis of Rule 403 was an abuse of discretion. However, these errors were not prejudicial under the circumstances of the case.

In 2000, the defendant was convicted of felony possession of cocaine, possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a weapon on school property, misdemeanor resisting a public officer, second-degree trespass, and carrying a concealed weapon. The defendant gave notice of appeal in open court and a lawyer was notified that he was responsible for the defendant’s appeal. That lawyer withdrew in 2002 and a new lawyer, Mr. Hinton, was appointed. Nothing was done to process the appeal until 2019 when the Appellate Defender was appointed to represent the defendant. Mr. Hinton had mistakenly allowed time to lapse for preparing the appeal. The defendant argued that he was deprived of his right to a speedy appeal and effective assistance of counsel during the nineteen years it took to process his appeal. The Court considered the following factors, derived from State v. China, 150 N.C. App. 469 (2002), in its analysis: the length of the delay; the reason for the delay; defendant’s assertion of his right to a speedy appeal; and any prejudice to defendant. The Court found that the first two factors were relatively well-established on the record because nineteen years was a very lengthy delay and the defendant’s prior appellate counsel acknowledged his mistake. However, analysis of the remaining factors required additional evidentiary development. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal without prejudice so that the Defendant could seek a Motion for Appropriate Relief in the trial court to develop the facts relevant to his claim.

In this case involving a waiver of counsel at a probation revocation hearing and the defendant’s appeal of the trial court’s revocation of her probation, the court declined to dismiss the appeal due to the defendant’s failure to comply with Rule 4 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure and held that the defendant’s waiver of counsel was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.  The defendant timely filed a handwritten notice of appeal that failed to comply with Rule 4 in that it did not indicate that it had been served on the State.  Noting that the State was informed of the appeal and was able to timely respond, and that the violation had not frustrated the adversarial process, the court held that the nonjurisdicitional Rule 4 defect was neither substantial nor gross and proceeded to the merits.  As to the merits, the court found that the trial court’s inquiry of the defendant regarding her waiver of counsel, a waiver which the defendant also executed in writing, was similar to that in State v. Whitfield, 170 N.C. App 618 (2005) and satisfied the requirements of G.S. 15A-1242.

The defendant was convicted of felony breaking or entering in 17 CRS 54550 and felony larceny after breaking or entering in 17 CRS 54551. The trial judge sentenced him to two consecutive 8 to 19 months prison terms, suspended the sentences, and placed him on probation. Violation reports were subsequently filed in both cases, and the defendant’s probation was revoked by the trial judge in both cases. The defendant filed a pro se written notice of appeal. The majority found that the notice failed to comply with North Carolina Rule of Appellate Procedure 4 in that the notice “did not (1) designate the judgment from which he was appealing, (2) designate the court to which he was appealing, and (3) properly certify service.” The majority found that these defects deprived the Court of jurisdiction over a direct appeal, dismissed the appeal, and declined to exercise its discretion to hear the defendant’s arguments by way of petition for writ of certiorari. A dissenting judge, noting the technical nature of the defects in the defendant’s notice of appeal, would have heard the defendant’s certiorari petition in one of the cases, 17 CRS 54551. In that case, the trial judge revoked the defendant’s probation based on absconding, but the violation report did not allege absconding. Only in the other case, 17 CRS 54550, did the violation report allege absconding. The dissent observed that the allegations in that case were insufficient to put the defendant on notice of that violation in the other case. The dissenting judge stated that it was an abuse of discretion to overlook this due process violation and deny the defendant’s certiorari petition.

The plaintiff brought a facial constitutional challenge to a state law concerning automated red-light traffic cameras in the City of Greenville. She alleged the law violated the North Carolina Constitution prohibiting local laws relating to health and sued the City of Greenville, Pitt County Board of Education, and State of North Carolina through official capacity claims against Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate, and Tim Moore, Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. The case was transferred to a three-judge panel of superior court judges appointed by the Chief Justice because the complaint is a facial constitutional challenge to a state law. The panel heard cross-motions for summary judgment and entered summary judgment in favor of the City of Greenville and Pitt County Board of Education. The plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeals found that the record on appeal contained no indication that the three-judge panel ruled on an earlier motion to dismiss the claim against the State of North Carolina. The Court dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction because the challenged order entered judgment as to some, but not all, parties, and the appeal is interlocutory. The Court concluded: “Before this Court hears the matter and addresses the constitutionality of that law on the merits, the appeal should include a judgment entered as to the State, so that the State, if it chooses, can appear and advocate for its position on that constitutional question.”

State v. Diaz-Tomas, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Apr. 21, 2020)

In 2015, the defendant was charged with impaired driving and driving without an operator’s license. He failed to appear on the charges in 2016, which prompted the district court to issue an order for arrest and the State to dismiss the case with leave. In 2018 the defendant was arrested on the OFA, ordered to appear, and then arrested again for once more failing to appear. In January 2019 he filed a motion in district court seeking to reinstate the charges that had been dismissed with leave, which the district court denied. In July 2019, the defendant filed a petition for writ of certiorari in superior court, seeking review of the district court’s denial of his motion to reinstate the charges. The superior court denied the petition, leading the defendant to file a petition for writ of certiorari in the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals concluded that the superior court did not err by denying the petition. Certiorari is a discretionary writ, and the defendant did not show that the superior court’s decision was unsupported by reason or otherwise entirely arbitrary.

(2) The defendant also filed two other petitions in the Court of Appeals: a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the district court to grant his motion to reinstate the charges, and a motion asking the court to take judicial notice of the Wake County Local Judicial Rules. As to the writ of mandamus, the Court of Appeals concluded over a dissent that it was improper for two reasons—first, that it was being used as a substitute for an appeal or certiorari, and second that it should have been filed in superior court, not the appellate division. As to the motion to take judicial notice, the court did not need to resolve it to decide the case. Finally, the Court of Appeals declined to consider the defendant’s argument that the district court erred by denying his motion to reinstate charges, unanimously concluding that the issue was not properly before the court.

A judge dissenting in part included additional facts about the procedural history of the case. After the defendant’s initial failures to appear, he did appear when his case was calendared as an “add-on” case in December 2018, but the State declined to reinstate the charges. The dissenting judge agreed with the majority that mandamus was not the proper remedy, but she would have concluded that the superior abused its discretion by denying the petition for writ of certiorari. In the absence of an order from superior court revealing the basis for its rationale in denying the petition, and in light of the defendant’s allegations, which she described as “cogent” and “well-supported,” she would have remanded the case for a hearing and decision on the merits.

During cross-examination of the complaining witness in a case involving a charge of assault on a female, the defendant began a line of questions to which the State objected. The trial judge excused the jury and conducted a voir dire, during which the defendant’s counsel demonstrated the proposed cross- examination of the witness, including questions about her mental health and treatment. The trial judge ruled that those questions were not relevant and that to the extent they were relevant they were more prejudicial than probative. When cross-examination resumed in front of the jury, the defendant did not attempt to elicit testimony about the witness’s mental health. (1) The Court of Appeals rejected the State’s argument that the defendant failed to preserve for appellate review the issue of the judge’s refusal to allow the testimony. The defendant was not required to elicit the testimony before the jury where, as here, the defendant elicited the testimony in voir dire and secured a ruling from the trial judge. The Court distinguished State v. Coffey, 326 N.C. 268 (1990), where the trial judge conducted a voir dire, ruled that most of the proposed testimony was inadmissible, but indicated that counsel could ask other questions, which the judge would rule on when the questions were asked. When the jurors returned, however, the defendant did not ask any questions, including questions not yet ruled on by the judge. (2) The Court recognized that North Carolina allows cross-examination of a key witness regarding the witness’s past mental problems or defects to challenge the witness’s credibility, citing State v. Williams, 330 N.C. 711 (1992). The Court found in this case that the excluded testimony concerned prior instances of the witness’s mental health and treatment and that one instance involved treatment the witness had sought for childhood trauma; however, the Court stated that the defendant did not ask or attempt to introduce evidence about a mental health diagnosis or mental state. The Court held that the defendant failed to show that the trial judge abused his discretion in finding that the excluded testimony was not relevant or to the extent it was relevant that it was more prejudicial than probative. (3) The defendant argued that the trial judge committed plain error by charging the jury that the alleged assault involved “grabbing, pushing, dragging, kicking, slapping, and/or punching” when the criminal summons alleged “striking her neck and ear.” The Court rejected the defendant’s variance argument because the defendant failed to object to the instruction at trial, did not request that the trial judge including the “striking” language from the summons, and contributed to the variance by proposing that the judge add the words slapping and punching to the instruction.

In 1999, the defendant was found guilty of assault on a female, and the trial judge entered a prayer for judgment continued (PJC) with a condition that the defendant pay costs of court. In 2017, the defendant was denied a concealed carry permit in West Virginia on the ground that his 1999 case resulted in a conviction for domestic violence and that he misstated in his permit application that he had never been convicted of an act of violence or act of domestic violence. In 2018, the defendant filed a motion in North Carolina to enter judgment in the 1999 case, which he then would be able to appeal to superior court for a trial de novo. The district court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court found that the defendant did not have a right to appeal and refused to treat the defendant’s brief as a petition for a writ of certiorari. The Court therefore dismissed the defendant’s appeal. In addition to its holding, the Court made several other observations. (1) The District Attorney’s office that handled the defendant’s 1999 assault on a female case advised West Virginia that the case involved domestic violence even though the remaining records in ACIS indicated that the case did not involve domestic violence. (2) The Court recognized that it could be argued that the defendant’s representation on his permit application was not a misrepresentation about whether he had a conviction because the question is ambiguous and he could have believed in good faith that a PJC was not a conviction. (3) The Court observed that although a PJC with a condition that the defendant pay costs is not a condition that converts a PJC into a final judgment, a trial judge may not impose that condition without the defendant’s consent. When a defendant consents to a PJC, the defendant waives any right to appeal. (4) In support of its refusal to treat the defendant’s brief as a petition for a writ of certiorari, the Court stated that it would be unfair to the State to allow the defendant to renege on a twenty-year-old deal for a PJC with costs, ask the trial court to enter judgment, and appeal the judgment to superior court, which would most certainly result in dismissal of the charges because the State no longer has the evidence to proceed. (5) The court observed that G.S. 15A-1416(b)(1) gives the State the right to move for appropriate relief to enter a final judgment on a PJC, presumably when a defendant has not satisfied the conditions of a PJC, but the defendant does not have the same statutory right. (6) The court noted that the defendant can petition the superior court for a writ of certiorari under Rule 19 of the North Carolina Rules of Superior and District Court.

The defendant was convicted by a jury of two counts of statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult and one count of first-degree kidnapping based on his repeated sexual assaults of his seven-year-old niece. The trial court sentenced the defendant to prison and ordered him to enroll in satellite-based monitoring (SBM) for life. (1) Based on the defendant’s failure to file a written notice of appeal as required by Rule 3 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, the court of appeals concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear his SBM appeal. The defendant also failed to argue in the trial court that SBM was an unconstitutional search under the Fourth Amendment. The court of appeals declined grant his petition for writ of certiorari and, in the absence of evidence of a manifest injustice, to invoke Appellate Rule 2 to address his unpreserved constitutional argument. (2) A pediatrician that the State tendered as an expert testified without objection that children don’t tend to make up stories about sexual abuse, and that the victim “gave excellent detail” and that her story was “very consistent.” The court of appeals found no error, noting that while it would be improper for an expert witness to opine based on an interview with a victim as to whether the child had been sexually abused, statements regarding the child’s consistency in recounting the alleged abuse are nevertheless admissible. (3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that witnesses’ repeated use of the words “disclose” and “disclosure” to describe what the victim told them in private amounted to impermissible vouching. Citing State v. Betts, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Sept. 3, 2019), and declining to follow unpublished State v. Jamison, ___ N.C. App. ___, 821 S.E.2d 665 (2018) (unpublished), the court agreed that nothing about the term “disclose” conveys believability or credibility. (4) Some statements admitted by a marriage and family therapist who treated the victim were improper vouching. Her general statement about “this incident that happened” was not improper, but her statement that the victim would need therapy “because of the sexual abuse that she experienced” and “I believe [the victim]” were improper as an opinion of the victim’s veracity. However, in the absence of an objection at trial and in light of the substantial evidence against the defendant (medical evidence and testimony from corroborating witnesses), the court concluded that the admission of the improper evidence did not rise to the level of plain error warranting a new trial. (5) Finally, defense counsel’s failure to object to the improper vouching evidence was not ineffective assistance of counsel where there was no reasonable probability that the errors prejudiced the defendant.

The defendant’s failure to submit his motions to suppress to the trial court with supporting affidavits as required by G.S. 15A-977(a), constituted a waiver on appeal of the right to contest the admission of the evidence in question.

Because SBM hearings are civil proceedings, the defendant’s oral notice of appeal from an order requiring him to enroll in lifetime SBM was insufficient to give the court jurisdiction to hear his appeal. The court declined to grant the defendant’s request for writ of certiorari to review the issue, or to suspend the Rules of Appellate Procedure to reach the merits.

State v. Campbell, ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E.2d 803 (Feb. 6, 2018) review granted, ___ N.C. ___, 813 S.E.2d 849 (Jun 7 2018)

Invoking its discretion under Rule 2 to reach the merit of the defendant’s argument, the court held, over a dissent, that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss a larceny charge due to a fatal variance between the indictment and the evidence regarding ownership of the property. The indictment alleged that the property belonged to “Andy [Stevens] and Manna Baptist Church.” Andy Stevens was the church’s Pastor. In a prior opinion in the case, the court had held that a fatal variance existed because the evidence showed that the stolen property belonged only to the church. The Supreme Court however granted discretionary review as to whether the Court of Appeals erred in invoking Rule 2 to address that issue. That court remanded to the Court of Appeals for an express determination as to whether the court would exercise its discretion to invoke Rule 2 and consider the merits of the fatal variance claim. Following these instructions, the court determined that in this “unusual and extraordinary case” it would exercise its discretion to employ Rule 2 and consider the merits of the defendant’s fatal variance claim. Turning to the merits, the court adopted its analysis in its earlier decision in the case and held—again—that a fatal variance occurred. Specifically, although the indictment alleged that the property was owned by both Andy Stevens and the church, the evidence established that the property was owned only by the church. The court reiterated the principle that if the State fails to present evidence of a property interest of some sort in both owners alleged in the indictment, a fatal variance occurs. Here, the evidence did not show that Pastor Stevens held title or had any type of ownership interest in the stolen property.

On appeal from the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s suppression motion, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State failed to meet the certification requirements of G.S. 15A-979(c) by addressing its certificate to “the court” rather than the trial court judge. The defendant argued that because G.S. 15A-979(c) requires that the certificate be presented to the judge who granted the motion, any deviation from this statutory language renders the State’s certificate void. The court concluded that the word “judge” is synonymous with “the court.”

Because the State failed to file a certificate as required by G.S. 15A-1432(e), the appellate court lacked jurisdiction over the appeal. In district court the defendant moved to dismiss his DWI charge on speedy trial grounds. When the district court issued an order indicating its preliminary approval of the defendant’s motion, the State appealed to superior court. The superior court remanded to the district court for additional factual findings. Once the superior court received further findings of fact, it affirmed the district court’s preliminary order and remanded the case to district court with orders to affirm the dismissal. After the district court issued its final judgment, the State again appealed and the superior court affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court determined that G.S. 15A-1432(e), not G.S. 15A-1445(a)(1), applied to the State’s appeal to the appellate division. Because the State failed to comply with G.S. 15A-1432(e)’s certificate requirement, the court had no jurisdiction over the appeal.

Relying on language in G.S. 15A-979, the court held that a defendant may appeal an order denying a motion to suppress made pursuant to G.S. 15A-980 (right to suppress use of certain prior convictions obtained in violation of right to counsel) where the defendant reserved the right to appeal in his guilty plea.

Because a civil no contact order entered under G.S. 15A-1340.50 (permanent no contact order prohibiting future contact by convicted sex offender with crime victim) imposes a civil remedy, notice of appeal from such an order must comply with N.C. R. Appellate Procedure 3(a).

In an appeal from an order requiring the defendant to enroll in lifetime SBM in which defense counsel filed an Anders brief, the court noted that SBM proceedings are civil in nature and that Anders protections do not extend to civil cases. The court however exercised discretion to review the record and found no error.

(COA11-526). Gaps in the verbatim trial transcript were sufficiently addressed by other materials so that appellate review was possible. However, the complete lack of a verbatim transcript of the habitual felon phase of his trial precluded appellate review and warranted a new determination on this issue.

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