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., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021
State v. Lane, 365 N.C. 7 (Mar. 11, 2011)

In a capital murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding expert testimony by a neuropharmacologist and research scientist who studies the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain, proffered by the defense as relevant to the jury’s determination of the reliability of the defendant’s confession. The trial court barred the expert’s testimony on grounds that the expert’s report provided to the State was insufficient to satisfy the discovery rules; repeated requests were made by the State for the report and the trial court had ordered production. Relevant to the court’s finding of no abuse of discretion was its separate conclusion that the expert’s testimony was not relevant.

State v. Bacon, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 402 (July 18, 2017) temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 802 S.E.2d 460 (Aug 4 2017)

In this felony larceny case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the defendant’s witness as a sanction for the defendant’s violation of discovery rules, specifically, the defendant’s failure to timely file notice that he intended to call the witness as an alibi witness under G.S. 15A-905(c)(1). A voir dire of the witness revealed that his testimony was vague and certain inconsistencies in it made it unreliable and thus of minimal value. The court concluded: “Considering the materiality of [the witness’s] proposed testimony, which we find minimal, and the totality of the circumstances surrounding Defendant’s failure to comply with his discovery obligations, we cannot find that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding this testimony.” The court went on to hold that even if it was error to exclude this testimony, the defendant failed to show prejudice.

(1) In this murder case, the trial court did not err by excluding the testimony of a defense psychiatrist on the basis that the witness’s proffered testimony constituted expert opinion testimony that had not been disclosed pursuant to a reciprocal discovery order. The witness, Dr. Badri Hamra, was a psychiatrist with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety who treated the defendant fifteen months after his arrest. On appeal, the defendant argued that Hamra was proffered as a fact witness regarding the issue of premeditation and deliberation. Defendant further argued that as a fact witness, she was outside of the scope of the reciprocal discovery order, which applied only to expert witnesses. The court agreed with the trial court that Hamra intended to offer expert opinion testimony. Hamra testified that the defendant had a psychiatric condition for which the doctor had prescribed medication. He clarified that his decision to prescribe medication was based not merely on his review of the defendant’s medical history but on his own evaluation of the defendant. Finally he confirmed he would only have prescribed medication for a legitimate medical reason, dismissing the notion that he would write a prescription simply because the defendant asked him to do so. His testimony was tantamount to a diagnosis, which constitutes expert testimony. 

(1) In this murder case, the trial court abused its discretion by excluding, as a discovery sanction, testimony by defense expert Masucci. The defendant offered Masucci after the trial court precluded the original defense expert, Ward, from testifying that incriminating computer files had been planted on the defendant’s computer. The State made no pretrial indication that it planned to challenge Ward’s testimony. At trial, the defendant called Ward to testify that based upon his analysis of the data recovered from the defendant's laptop, tampering had occurred with respect to the incriminating computer files. The State successfully moved to exclude this testimony on the basis that Ward was not an expert in computer forensic analysis. The defendant then quickly located Masucci, an expert in computer forensic analysis, to provide the testimony Ward was prevented from giving. The State then successfully moved to exclude Masucci as a sanction for violation of discovery rules. The only evidence directly linking the defendant to the murder was the computer files. Even if the defendant violated the discovery rules, the trial court abused its discretion with respect to the sanction imposed and violated the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense. (2) The trial court erred by failing to conduct an in camera inspection of discovery sought by the defense regarding information related to FBI analysis of the computer files. The trial court found that the FBI information was used in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations and that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. The court held that the trial court’s failure to do an in camera review constituted a violation of due process. It instructed that on remand, the trial court “must determine with a reasonable degree of specificity how national security or some other legitimate interest would be compromised by discovery of particular data or materials, and memorialize its ruling in some form allowing for informed appellate review.”

In a case in which the State conceded that a translator testified as an expert, the trial court erred by failing to recognize the State’s violation of the discovery rules in G.S. 15A-903(a)(2). However, on the facts presented, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to exclude the evidence. The translator had translated a conversation occurring in a van and pertaining to a drug transaction. Among other things, the translator testified to where a speaker was sitting based on “tonal quality of the voice.”

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to bar the State from introducing forensic evidence related to his vehicle where the police impounded his vehicle during the investigation, but subsequently lost it. The State’s evidence suggested that soil from the defendant’s car matched soil where the victims were found. The State preserved the soil samples, the defendant had access to them and presented expert testimony that the soil was not a unique match, the defense informed the jury that the police lost the vehicle, and there was no evidence of bad faith by the police.

In this child sexual assault case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by permitting certain testimony by the State’s experts because of a discovery violation. The experts included Blair Cobb, a licensed clinical social worker and pediatric therapist who testified as an expert in child counseling, and Cynthia Stewart, a social worker who testified as an expert in interviewing children in cases of suspected abuse or neglect. The defendant argued that the State violated G.S. 15A-903(a)(2) by not timely providing Stewart’s report and Cobb’s records and that as a result, he was prejudiced by lack of time to adequately prepare for cross-examination. The State served notice of expert witnesses on November 24, 2014, listing Stewart and Cobb, and indicating that the State would make the expert’s reports available during discovery and that their CVs would be forthcoming. The State provided initial discovery on December 2, 2014, including Stewart’s report, prepared after her interview with the child and stating her impressions and recommendations as well as a 30-page report by Cobb regarding her visits with the child and comprehensive clinical assessment. On January 29, 2015, the defendant filed a motion for additional materials, requesting that each expert prepare a meaningful and detailed report. At a hearing on February 2, 2015, the trial court instructed the State to have Stewart and Cobb couch their diagnoses in the form of opinions. In mid-February 2015, the State provided further discovery, including additional therapy notes from Cobb and a revised letter from Cobb outlining the basis of her opinion, as well as a DVD recording of Stewart’s interview with the child. The defendant then asked the trial court to either exclude the expert opinions or give the defense additional time to prepare. The trial court continued the matter until April 13, 2015. On these facts, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he did not have time to adequately prepare to effectively cross-examine the experts.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to continue because of the State’s alleged discovery violation. Although the State provided the defendant with a copy the robbery victim’s pre-trial written statement and a composite sketch of the perpetrator based on the victim’s description, the defendant argued that the State violated its continuing duty to disclose by failing to inform the defense of the victim’s statement, made on the morning of trial, that she recognized the defendant as the robber when he entered in the courtroom. After the victim identified the defendant as the perpetrator, the defense moved to continue to obtain an eyewitness identification expert. Finding no abuse of discretion, the court relied, in part, on the timing of the events and that the defendant could have anticipated that the victim would be able to identify the defendant.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion for a mistrial on grounds that the State failed to provide the defendant with additional discovery after a meeting with co-defendant William Brown gleaned new information. After recognizing potential discovery violations by the State, the trial court instructed defense counsel to uncover any discrepancies in Brown’s testimony through cross-examination. After doing so, the defense renewed its mistrial motion. Although the trial court denied that motion, it granted the defense a recess “to delve into that particular matter” and ordered the State to memorialize all future discussions with Brown. All of the trial court’s remedies were permissible and were not an abuse of discretion. Additionally, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s mistrial motion; that remedy is appropriate only where the improprieties make it impossible to attain a fair and impartial verdict. 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by granting a recess instead of dismissing the charges or barring admission of the defendant’s statement to the police, when that statement was not provided to the defense until the second day of trial in violation of the criminal discovery rules. When making its ruling, the trial court said that it would “consider anything else that may be requested,” short of dismissal or exclusion of the evidence, but the defense did not request other sanctions or remedies.

The defendant met his former girlfriend and new boyfriend, the victim in the case, at a bar. The defendant asked the victim to step outside to talk. During the exchange, the victim told the defendant to hit him. (According to the concurrence, the victim said, “If you want to hit me, hit me, but this is not the way we need to solve this issue.”). The defendant hit the victim and broke his jaw in two places, requiring surgery to repair the damage. (1) The defendant argued that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on consent concerning AISBI. The majority stated that consent is not a defense to assault in North Carolina and held that the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct on consent for AISBI. The concurring judge found it unnecessary to decide whether consent is an element of or defense to assault, finding that the trial judge did not err in refusing to instruct on consent because the evidence did not show the victim consented to an assault inflicting serious bodily injury and arguably did not consent to an assault all.


(2) At sentencing, the State advised the trial judge that it had failed to disclose the fee paid to an expert to testify about the victim’s injuries. The trial judge found the failure to disclose was an “honest mistake.” The Court stated that it was not clear whether the trial judge found that a discovery violation had occurred, but assuming a violation occurred, the defendant was not prejudiced.

In this Union County case, the defendant appealed convictions for methamphetamine trafficking and maintaining a vehicle for keeping or selling drugs (among others). An officer in Wadesboro observed the defendant’s car at a “known drug house” and alerted a county deputy about the suspect vehicle, who in turn notified an officer with the Town of Wingate. The Wingate officer stopped the defendant for minor traffic violations. The officer ultimately searched the vehicle and found meth in a tire-sealant can with a hidden cavity. The defendant argued at suppression that the Wingate officer failed to disclose the source of his tip in discovery. That deputy testified at suppression that the Wadesboro officer was the source of the tip to the Wingate officer, but acknowledged his failure to disclose this information in his report. The defendant complained to the trial court of this last-minute disclosure. The prosecutor acknowledged “difficulty” in obtaining complete information but pointed out that she had sought information from the deputy about the source of the tip, learned it was a Wadesboro officer, and requested a supplemental report. Further, the prosecutor informed defense counsel about these steps. The motion to suppress was denied and the defendant was convicted at trial.

The trial court did not err in declining to impose sanctions on the State for discovery violations. Where a party fails to comply with statutory discovery obligations, G.S. 15A-910 authorizes the court to sanction the offending party. “Whether a party has complied with discovery and what sanctions, if any, should be imposed are questions address to the sound discretion of the trial court.” Slip op. at 8 (citation omitted). Under that standard, the trial court will only be reversed if its decision was “manifestly unsupported by reason.” Id. at 9. While the defendant was not made aware of the Wadesboro officer’s identity until the suppression hearing, the State ultimately provided the deputy’s supplemental report and there was no record evidence that the defendant specifically sought the unknown officer’s identity. On these facts, the trial court did not err in declining to impose sanctions on the State for the alleged discovery violation.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion for sanctions for failure to preserve and disclose a blank recording of an arranged call between an informant and the defendant. Under the discovery statutes, officer Moody should have documented his efforts to preserve the conversation by audio recording and provided the blank audio file to the District Attorney’s Office to be turned over to the defendant in discovery. The court noted that when human error occurs with respect to technology used in investigations “[th]e solution in these cases is to document the attempt and turn over the item with that documentation, even if it appears to the officer to lack any evidentiary value.” However, failure to do so does not always require dismissal or lesser sanctions. Here, the trial court considered the materiality of the blank file and the circumstances surrounding Moody’s failure to comply with his discovery obligations. In denying sanctions, it considered the evidence presented and the arguments of counsel concerning the recording. The trial court found Moody’s explanation of the events surrounding the recording to be credible. On this record, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying sanctions.

In this methamphetamine case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion for discovery sanctions after the State destroyed evidence seized from the defendant’s home, without an order authorizing destruction, and despite a court order that the evidence be preserved. In its order denying the motion, the trial court found that the SBI destroyed the evidence under the belief that a destruction order was in place, that the defendant’s preservation motion was filed some 30 days after the evidence had been destroyed, and that the item in question—an HCL generator used to manufacture meth—is not regularly preserved. The court concluded that the record contained “ample evidence” to support the trial court’s conclusion that law enforcement had a good faith belief that the items were to be destroyed and did not act in bad faith when they initiated destruction. 

State v. Williams, 362 N.C. 628 (Dec. 12, 2008)

The trial judge properly dismissed a charge of felony assault on a government officer under G.S. 15A-954(a)(4) where the defendant established that the state flagrantly violated his constitutional rights and irreparably prejudiced preparation of the defense. The state willfully destroyed material evidence favorable to the defense. The destroyed evidence consisted of two photographs of the defendant that were displayed in the prosecutor’s office, one taken of the defendant before the events in question, another taken after the events in question. The defendant was uninjured in the first photograph, which was captioned “Before he sued the D.A.’s office;” the defendant was injured in the second photograph, which was “After he sued the D.A.’s office.”

The defendant was cited for misdemeanor driving while impaired on November 27, 2016. His attorney requested discovery in July 2017, specifically asking for dash cam and body camera footage. The defendant was subsequently indicted for habitual impaired driving and other traffic offenses based on the November 27, 2016 incident. In January 2018, the defendant's attorney again requested dash cam footage. The defendant’s attorney was informed in February 2018 that the dash cam video had been deleted from the local server, and the Highway Patrol was attempting to locate it from other sources. In March 2018, defense counsel was informed that the video had been purged and was not available for release.

The defendant moved to dismiss the charges based on the destruction of the dash cam video. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that the destruction of the dash cam video footage violated the defendant’s right to exculpatory evidence under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and required dismissal of the charges. The State appealed.

The court of appeals noted that suppression of evidence favorable to an accused violates due process when the evidence is material to guilt or punishment, regardless of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. But when the evidence is only potentially useful, the State’s failure to preserve the evidence does not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights unless the defendant shows bad faith on the part of the State.

Though the trial court concluded that the destruction of the dash cam video footage was a Brady violation, it made no findings on what the dash cam video footage would have shown. Indeed, it could not have made such findings because there was no record of what the footage may have shown. The dash cam footage was not material exculpatory evidence; instead, it was only potentially useful. To establish a constitutional violation based on the destruction of potentially useful evidence, the defendant must show bad faith. The trial court erred by concluding that destruction of the footage warranted dismissal, regardless of bad faith on the part of the State. The court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of whether the footage was destroyed in bad faith. A dissenting judge would have reversed the trial court on the basis that the evidence presented could not support a finding of bad faith.

In this drug trafficking case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss all charges due to the State’s failure to preserve and disclose a blank audio recording of a conversation between an accomplice and the defendant. After the accomplice Stanley was discovered with more than 2 pounds of methamphetamine in his vehicle, he told officers that the defendant paid him and a passenger to pick up the drugs in Atlanta. Stanley agreed to help officers establish that the defendant was involved by arranging a control delivery of artificial methamphetamine. With Lt. Moody present, Stanley used a cell phone to call the defendant to arrange a pick up at a specified location. The defendant’s associates were arrested when they arrived at the site and testified as witnesses for the State against the defendant. During trial, defense counsel asked Moody on cross-examination if he attempted to record the telephone conversations between Stanley and the defendant. Moody said that he tried to do so with appropriate equipment but realized later that he had failed to record the call. Defense counsel told the trial court that no information had been provided in discovery about Moody’s attempt to record the call. After questioning Moody outside of the presence of the jury, the defendant filed a motion for sanctions seeking dismissal of the charges for a willful violation of the discovery statutes and his constitutional rights. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The defendant argued that the State violated his Brady rights by not preserving and disclosing the blank audio recording of the conversation. The court disagreed. The defendant had the opportunity to question Stanley about the phone call, cross-examine Moody about destruction of the blank recording, and argue the significance of the blank recording to the jury. Although the blank recording could have been potentially useful, the defendant failed to show bad faith by Moody. Moreover, while the evidence may have had the potential to be favorable, the defendant failed to show that it was material. In this respect, the court rejected the notion that the blank recording implicated Stanley’s credibility.

The trial court erred by dismissing with prejudice murder charges as a sanction for discovery violations where the record did not reveal a basis for the determination that dismissal was an appropriate sanction. Additionally, because the defendant actually received before trial the evidence the State initially failed to disclose, any harm was either speculative or moot. 

(1) The trial court erred by entering a pretrial order dismissing, under G.S. 15A-954(a)(4), murder, child abuse, and sexual assault charges against the defendant. The statute allows a trial court to dismiss charges if it finds that the defendant's constitutional rights have been flagrantly violated causing irreparable prejudice so that there is no remedy but to dismiss the prosecution. The court held that the trial court erred by finding that the State violated the defendant’s Brady rights with respect to: a polygraph test of a woman connected to the incident; a SBI report regarding testing for the presence of blood on the victim’s underwear and sleepwear; and information about crime lab practices and procedures. It reasoned, in part, that the State was not constitutionally required to disclose the evidence prior to the defendant’s plea. Additionally, because the defendant’s guilty plea was subsequently vacated and the defendant had the evidence by the time of the pretrial motion, he received it in time to make use of it at trial. The court also found that the trial court erred by concluding that the prosecutor intentionally presented false evidence at the plea hearing by stating that there was blood on the victim’s underwear. The court determined that whether such blood existed was not material under the circumstances, which included, in part, substantial independent evidence that the victim was bleeding and the fact that no one else involved was so injured. Also, because the defendant’s guilty plea was vacated, he already received any relief that would be ordered in the event of a violation. Next, the court held that the trial court erred by concluding that the State improperly used a threat of the death penalty to coerce a plea while withholding critical information to which the defendant was entitled and thus flagrantly violating the defendant’s constitutional rights. The court reasoned that the State was entitled to pursue the case capitally and no Brady violation occurred. (2) The trial court erred by concluding that the State’s case should be dismissed because of statutory discovery violations. With regard to the trial court’s conclusion that the State’s disclosure was deficient with respect to the SBI lab report, the court rejected the notion that the law requires either an affirmative explanation of the extent and import of each test and test result. It reasoned: this “would amount to requiring the creation of an otherwise nonexistent narrative explaining the nature, extent, and import of what the analyst did.” Instead it concluded that the State need only provide information that the analyst generated during the course of his or her work, as was done in this case. With regard to polygraph evidence, the court concluded that it was not discoverable.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion for a mistrial on grounds that the State failed to provide the defendant with additional discovery after a meeting with co-defendant William Brown gleaned new information. After recognizing potential discovery violations by the State, the trial court instructed defense counsel to uncover any discrepancies in Brown’s testimony through cross-examination. After doing so, the defense renewed its mistrial motion. Although the trial court denied that motion, it granted the defense a recess “to delve into that particular matter” and ordered the State to memorialize all future discussions with Brown. All of the trial court’s remedies were permissible and were not an abuse of discretion. Additionally, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s mistrial motion; that remedy is appropriate only where the improprieties make it impossible to attain a fair and impartial verdict. 

The trial court erred by ordering suppression as a sanction for the State’s failure to document and disclose various communications between agencies and individuals involved in the investigation. The court began by noting that G.S. 15A-903 requires production of already existing documents; it imposes no duty on the State to create or continue to develop additional documentation regarding an investigation. To the extent the trial court concluded that the State violated statutory discovery provisions because it failed to document the conversations, this was error. The trial court also erred by concluding that the State violated the discovery statutes by failing to provide other documented conversations. In addition to failing to make findings justifying the sanction on this basis, the defendant received the documentation prior to trial.

In a delivery of cocaine case the trial court abused its discretion by denying the defendant’s request for an entrapment instruction as a sanction under G.S. 15A-910(a) for failure to provide "specific information as to the nature and extent of the defense" as required by G.S. 15A-905(c)(1)(b). The trial court made no findings of fact to justify the sanction and the State did not show prejudice from the lack of detail in the notice filed eight months prior to trial. The court held:

[I]n considering the totality of the circumstances prior to imposing sanctions on a defendant, relevant factors for the trial court to consider include without limitation: (1) the defendant's explanation for the discovery violation including whether the discovery violation constituted willful misconduct on the part of the defendant or whether the defendant sought to gain a tactical advantage by committing the discovery violation, (2) the State's role, if any, in bringing about the violation, (3) the prejudice to the State resulting from the defendant's discovery violation, (4) the prejudice to the defendant resulting from the sanction, including whether the sanction could interfere with any fundamental rights of the defendant, and (5) the possibility of imposing a less severe sanction on the defendant.

Slip op. at pp. 29-30. The court continued, holding that assuming that the defendant’s notice constituted a discovery violation, the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to instruct on entrapment as a sanction.

(1) In this murder case, the trial court abused its discretion by excluding, as a discovery sanction, testimony by defense expert Masucci. The defendant offered Masucci after the trial court precluded the original defense expert, Ward, from testifying that incriminating computer files had been planted on the defendant’s computer. The State made no pretrial indication that it planned to challenge Ward’s testimony. At trial, the defendant called Ward to testify that based upon his analysis of the data recovered from the defendant's laptop, tampering had occurred with respect to the incriminating computer files. The State successfully moved to exclude this testimony on the basis that Ward was not an expert in computer forensic analysis. The defendant then quickly located Masucci, an expert in computer forensic analysis, to provide the testimony Ward was prevented from giving. The State then successfully moved to exclude Masucci as a sanction for violation of discovery rules. The only evidence directly linking the defendant to the murder was the computer files. Even if the defendant violated the discovery rules, the trial court abused its discretion with respect to the sanction imposed and violated the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense. (2) The trial court erred by failing to conduct an in camera inspection of discovery sought by the defense regarding information related to FBI analysis of the computer files. The trial court found that the FBI information was used in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations and that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. The court held that the trial court’s failure to do an in camera review constituted a violation of due process. It instructed that on remand, the trial court “must determine with a reasonable degree of specificity how national security or some other legitimate interest would be compromised by discovery of particular data or materials, and memorialize its ruling in some form allowing for informed appellate review.”

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter based on imperfect self-defense where, among other things, the State filed a motion requesting that the defendant provide voluntary discovery outlining the defenses he intended to assert at trial but the defendant failed to provide the State with the defenses or the requisite notice required to assert a theory of self-defense under G.S. 15A-905(c)(1).

The trial court did not err by failing to provide a jury instruction with respect to the audio recording. The court noted that in State v. Nance, 157 N.C. App. 434 (2003), it held that the trial court did not err by declining to give a special instruction requested by the defendant concerning lost evidence when the defendant failed to establish that the police destroyed the evidence in bad faith and that the missing evidence possessed an exculpatory value that was apparent before it was lost. As in this case, the defendant failed to make the requisite showing and the trial court did not err by declining to give the requested instruction.

The trial court did not err by failing to grant the defendant a new trial on his MAR where the State failed to disclose in discovery more than 1,800 pages of material to which the defendant was entitled. The court was unable to conclude that but for the nondisclosure a different result would have occurred at trial.

Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335 (Jan. 26, 2009)

Supervisory prosecutors were entitled to absolute immunity in connection with the plaintiff’s claims that prosecutors failed to disclose impeachment material due to the failure to train prosecutors, failure to supervise prosecutors, or failure to establish an information system in the district attorney’s office containing potential impeachment material about informants. The plaintiff, whose murder conviction was later reversed, had sued prosecutors under § 1983 for the alleged suppression of potential impeachment information that could have been used against a state’s witness in the defendant’s murder trial. The conviction was allegedly based in critical part on the testimony of this witness, who was a jailhouse informant and had previously received reduced sentences for providing prosecutors with favorable testimony in other cases.

Although the State had a right to appeal the trial court’s order dismissing charges because of a discovery violation, it had no right to appeal the trial court’s order precluding testimony from two witnesses as a sanction for a discovery violation. 

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