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., 07/19/2024
E.g., 07/19/2024

The trial court did not err by denying defense counsel’s motions to withdraw and for the appointment of substitute counsel. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that he and his trial counsel experienced “a complete breakdown in their communications” resulting in ineffective assistance of counsel. The court noted that in the absence of a constitutional violation, the decision about whether to replace appointed counsel is a discretionary one. Although the defendant expressed dissatisfaction with counsel’s performance on several occasions, he did not establish the requisite “good cause” for appointment of substitute counsel or that assigned counsel could not provide him with constitutionally adequate representation. The court concluded that any breakdown in communication “stemmed largely from Defendant’s own behavior” and that the defendant failed to show that the alleged communication problems resulted in a deprivation of his right to the effective assistance of counsel. 

In a capital case, the trial court did not err by removing second-chair counsel, who was re-appointed by Indigent Defense Services, after having been allowed to withdraw by the trial court. Nor did the trial court err by failing to ex mero motu conduct a hearing on an unspecified conflict of interest between the defendant and counsel that was never raised by the defendant.

In this Johnston County case, defendant appealed his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery, arguing error in the denial of defense counsel’s motion to withdraw, and ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals found no error and dismissed the ineffective assistance of counsel claim without prejudice. 

In October of 2018, defendant went to a car lot in Garner with another man and a woman. While the woman discussed purchasing a car with the manager, defendant and his accomplice entered with handguns and asked for the manager’s money. The manager was subsequently shot through the neck, and the group fled the lot. When the matter came for trial, the woman testified for the State that defendant was the shooter. Prior to the witness’s testimony, defense counsel encountered her in the hallway crying, and had a conversation with her where she allegedly told him that she was not present at the scene of the crime. Defense counsel alerted the trial court, and an inquiry was held outside the presence of the jury. The State was also permitted to meet with the witness during lunch recess. After all these events, defense counsel made a motion to withdraw and a motion for a mistrial, arguing that he had a conflict of interest based upon the discussion with the witness, and he had become a necessary witness in defendant’s case. The trial court denied this motion, and defendant was subsequently convicted. 

The Court of Appeals first looked at defendant’s argument that defense counsel became a necessary witness for defendant, depriving him of his Sixth Amendment right to conflict-free and effective counsel. The court explained that a trial court must conduct an adequate inquiry when it is aware of a possible conflict with defense counsel; to be adequate, the inquiry must determine whether the conflict will deprive the defendant of his constitutional rights. Here, the trial court discussed the conflict and its implications with the parties at length before denying defense counsel’s motion to withdraw. The court also noted that defendant made a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of any conflict, as he “explicitly stated, after witnessing the entirety of [the witness’s] testimony, including his counsel’s cross-examination of her, that he did not wish for his counsel to withdraw.” Slip Op. at 13. The court concluded that no error occurred based on the adequate inquiry and defendant’s waiver. 

Taking up defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the court explained that normally these issues are not taken up on direct appeal, and the appropriate remedy is a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) so that the trial court can conduct further investigation as necessary. Here, the court dismissed defendant’s claim without prejudice to allow him to file an MAR. 

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