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

The defendant in this Davidson County case was tried for common law robbery, habitual misdemeanor assault, and habitual felon. The charges stemmed from an incident between the defendant and his then-girlfriend at her residence, resulting in him assaulting her, damaging her car, and ultimately taking her car after she fled inside the home. The defendant had recently purchased the car for the woman and had been reimbursed by her family for its value, and this was apparently part of the argument. At trial, evidence was also presented that the defendant provided the victim heroin during their relationship. The defendant was convicted on all counts and appealed.

(1) The defendant argued there was insufficient evidence that he used force to take the car or that he took property from the victim’s presence. The court rejected the arguments, observing that “even when there is some attenuation between the use of force and the taking, the action can still amount to a continuous transaction.” Slip op. at 7. Here, the defendant’s acts of assaulting the victim and stealing her car occurred within a 20-minute time period in the victim’s front yard, and evidence showed that the argument and assault were related to the car. Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the victim fled in response to the defendant’s assault, and the defendant took her car immediately afterwards. This was sufficient to show a continuous transaction linking the defendant’s use of force to the taking of property. The same facts showed that the taking occurred “in the presence of” the victim. In the words of the court:

If the force . . . for the purpose of taking personal property has been used and caused the victim in possession or control to flee the premises and this is followed by the taking of the property in one continuous course of conduct, the taking is from the “presence” of the victim.” Id. at 8 (citation omitted).

The trial court did not therefore err in denying the motion to dismiss the common law robbery charge for insufficient evidence.

(2) The defendant argued that the testimony about him giving the victim heroin during their relationship was unduly prejudicial and violated N.C. Evid. R. 404(b). Assuming without deciding that the admission of this testimony violated Rule 404(b), any error was harmless in light of “overwhelming evidence” of the defendant’s guilt.

(3) The trial court erred by failing to give the defendant notice and an opportunity to be heard on attorney fees. The record contained no colloquy between the trial judge and the defendant on the issue and no other evidence showed that the defendant was given a chance to be heard. Thus, the civil judgement on attorney fees was vacated and the matter remanded for hearing on that issue only. The convictions were otherwise unanimously affirmed.

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.

The trial court did not err by assigning attorney’s fees to the judgment against the defendant for possession of a firearm by a felon, the payment of which was a condition of the defendant’s probation for that conviction. The defendant argued that the fees should have been assigned to the judgment for discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling, for which the defendant received a jail sentence and the fees would have been docketed as a civil lien.

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