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., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

In this armed robbery case involving a jewelry store heist, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that collateral estoppel precluded the admission of a receipt, identified at trial by witness Kristy Riojas of Got Gold pawn shop. The receipt, issued on the date of the offense, contained an itemized list of the items the defendant pawned, a copy of the defendant’s driver’s license, and the defendant’s signature. It was introduced to establish that the defendant was in possession of the stolen property shortly after it was taken, under the doctrine of recent possession. The defendant argued that the ticket was not admissible because the defendant previously had been acquitted on the charge of obtaining property by false pretenses, based on pawning jewelry at Got Gold. The defendant argued that based on his prior acquittal, the State was collaterally estopped from introducing the pawn shop receipt at his later trial for armed robbery to establish recent possession. The defendant did not dispute that he could be prosecuted for the robbery, notwithstanding his prior acquittal. Instead, he focused on the admissibility of evidence that was admitted in the prior trial. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, concluding that he could not establish that his acquittal of obtaining property by false pretenses represented a determination by the jury that he was not in possession of stolen property shortly after it was taken. The court noted, in part, that the doctrine of recent possession, which allows the jury to infer guilt based upon possession of stolen goods shortly after a theft, includes no requirement that the defendant made a false representation about the goods, attempt to obtain something of value, or deceive another party about ownership of the items.

The trial court properly applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel when it denied the defendant’s second motion to suppress. The defendant was in possession of a bag containing two separate Schedule I substances, Methylone and 4-Methylethcathinone. He was charged with possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver Methylone (Charge 1) and with possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver Methylethcathinone (Charge 2). Before trial he filed a motion to suppress, which was denied. He was convicted on both counts. On appeal, the court affirmed his conviction on the first charge but vacated the second because of a defective indictment. The State then re-indicted on the second charge. The then defendant filed a motion to suppress that was functionally identical to the motion to suppress filed before his first trial. The trial court denied the second motion based on the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The defendant was tried and found guilty. The trial court properly applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel when it denied the defendant’s second motion where the parties and the issues raised by the motions were the same; the issues were raised and fully litigated during the hearing on the first motion; the issue was material and relevant to the disposition of the prior action; and the trial court’s determination was necessary and essential to the final judgment.

State v Todd, ___ N.C. App. ___, 790 S.E.2d 349 (Aug. 16, 2016) rev’d on other grounds, 369 N.C. 707 (Jun 9 2017)

The law of the case doctrine did not prevent the trial court from considering the defendant’s motion for appropriate relief where the issue in question had not been raised or determined in the prior proceeding.

State v. Knight, 245 N.C. App. 532 (Feb. 16, 2016) modified and affirmed on other grounds, 369 N.C. 640 (Jun 9 2017)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that on a second trial after a mistrial the second trial judge was bound by the first trial judge’s suppression ruling under the doctrine of law of the case. The court concluded that doctrine only applies to an appellate ruling. However, the court noted that another version of the doctrine provides that when a party fails to appeal from the tribunal’s decision that is not interlocutory, the decision below becomes law of the case and cannot be challenged in subsequent proceedings in the same case. However, the court held that this version of the doctrine did not apply here because the suppression ruling was entered during the first trial and thus the State had no right to appeal it. Moreover, when a defendant is retried after a mistrial, prior evidentiary rulings are not binding. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the second judge’s ruling was improper because one superior court judge cannot overrule another, noting that once a mistrial was declared, the first trial court’s ruling no longer had any legal effect. (3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that collateral estoppel barred the State from relitigating the suppression issue, noting that doctrine applies only to an issue of ultimate fact determined by a final judgment.

The trial court did not err when during a retrial in a DWI case it instructed the jury that it could consider the defendant’s refusal to take a breath test as evidence of her guilt even though during the first trial a different trial judge had ruled that the instruction was not supported by the evidence. Citing State v. Harris, 198 N.C. App. 371 (2009), the court held that neither collateral estoppel nor the rule prohibiting one superior court judge from overruling another applies to legal rulings in a retrial following a mistrial. It concluded that on retrial de novo, the second judge was not bound by rulings made during the first trial. Moreover, it concluded, collateral estoppel applies only to an issue of ultimate fact determined by a final judgment. Here, the first judge’s ruling involved a question of law, not fact, and there was no final judgment because of the mistrial.

The trial court did not err by allowing offensive collateral estoppel to establish the underlying felony for the defendant's felony murder conviction. The defendant was charged with felony-murder and an underlying felony of burglary. At the first trial the jury found the defendant guilty of burglary but hung on felony murder. The trial court entered a PJC on the burglary and declared a mistrial as to felony murder. At the retrial, the trial judge instructed the jury with respect to felony murder that "because it has previously been determined beyond a reasonable doubt in a prior criminal proceeding that [the defendant] committed first degree burglary . . . . you should consider that this element [of felony murder (that defendant committed the felony of first degree burglary)] has been proven to you beyond a reasonable doubt." Citing State v. Dial, 122 N.C. App. 298 (1996), the trial court’s instruction was proper.

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