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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

The defendant was tried for possession of a firearm by a felon, first-degree kidnapping, burglary, DVPO violations with a deadly weapon, first-degree rape and first-degree forcible sexual offense arising from the violent kidnapping and rape of his former girlfriend.

(1) The morning before the sixth day of the trial, the defendant jumped feet first from a second-floor mezzanine in the jail, injuring his left leg and ribs. The defendant was taken to the hospital for surgery. After a hearing, the trial court determined that the defendant’s absence from trial was voluntary and announced that the trial would proceed without him. The trial court considered and denied defense counsel’s motion that the court inquire into defendant’s capacity to proceed. The trial continued, and the defendant was convicted. He appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by denying defense counsel’s motion for an inquiry into capacity.

The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument. Nothing in the defendant’s prior record, conduct or actions provided the trial court with notice or evidence that the defendant may have been incompetent. For that reason, the court did not err by declining to conduct a more intensive hearing on the defendant’s capacity. The trial court had the opportunity to personally observe the defendant’s conduct and demeanor, heard arguments from the State and defense counsel, and took evidence concerning the defendant’s competency, including watching recorded footage of the defendant jumping 16 feet from the second-floor mezzanine.

(2) The trial court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant guilty of a first-degree sexual offense, if, in addition to the other required elements, it found the defendant had engaged in fellatio or anal intercourse. The defendant argued that this instruction deprived him of a unanimous jury verdict. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument, citing precedent that a jury verdict does not need to make a specific finding regarding precisely which sexual acts proscribed by G.S. 14-27.26 the defendant committed.

The defendant was charged with assault of a detention officer causing physical injury in Bertie County. Defense counsel obtained a capacity evaluation of the defendant. It showed that the defendant was not capable to stand trial but indicated his capacity could be restored. At a hearing on the defendant’s capacity, the trial court failed to make findings regarding the defendant’s capacity but instead found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity (“NGRI”) and ordered him involuntarily committed.

The defendant failed to give notice of appeal in a timely manner and the Court of Appeals consequently lacked jurisdiction to consider it. In recognition of his defective notice of appeal, the defendant filed a petition for writ of certiorari. That petition was also flawed in that it failed to identify the order from which review was sought. The defendant subsequently filed a second petition for certiorari to remedy that defect. In its discretion, the court granted the second petition to reach the merits of the defendant’s arguments.

(1) G.S. 15A-1002 requires a hearing when the defendant’s capacity to proceed is at issue and requires the court to make findings supporting the trial court’s conclusions. In failing to determine the defendant’s capacity and make findings in support, the trial court violated a statutory mandate. In addition, the defendant’s due process rights were violated when the NGRI plea was entered without a finding that the defendant was capable of proceeding. There was also no evidence that the defendant agreed to the entry of the plea. Although this was a question of first impression in North Carolina, the court agreed with other jurisdictions that a NGRI plea from a person lacking capacity is a due process violation. The court observed that this error was prejudicial, in that one acquitted by reason of insanity bears the burden of proof to show that the person is no longer mentally ill. See G.S. 122C-276.1(c). The NGRI order was therefore vacated, and the matter remanded for a capacity hearing.

(2) Under G.S. 15A-1008, a defendant who lacks capacity is entitled to dismissal once he or she has been confined for the maximum period of time authorized for a prior record level VI offender. Here, because the offense was a class I felony punishable by 21 months at most and the defendant had been confined for at least 23 months, in the event the trial court determines that the defendant lacks capacity on remand, the charge must be dismissed.

When assessing whether a defendant is charged with a violent crime pursuant to G.S. 15A-1003(a) and in connection with an involuntary commitment determination, courts may consider the elements of the charged offense and the underlying facts giving rise to the charge. However, the fact-based analysis applies only with respect to determining whether the crime involved assault with a deadly weapon. The court held:

[F]or purposes of [G.S.] 15A-1003(a), a “violent crime” can be either one which has as an element “the use, attempted use, threatened use, or substantial risk of use of physical force against the person or property of another[,]” or a crime which does not have violence as an element, but assault with a deadly weapon was involved in its commission.

Slip Op. at 10 (citation omitted). Here, the defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and resisting an officer. Because violence is not an element of either offense, neither qualifies as a violent crime under the elements-based test. However, applying the fact-based analysis, the commission of the offenses involved an assault with a deadly weapon. The fact that the defendant stated that he wasn’t going with the officers, that he ran into a bedroom and stood within reach of a loaded revolver, and that he resisted while being handcuffed and removed showed an unequivocal appearance of an attempt, with force and violence, to do some immediate physical injury to the officers.

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