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
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.

(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. 

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 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.

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