Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 06/17/2024
E.g., 06/17/2024

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 Guilford County case, defendant appealed his convictions for communicating threats and assault charges, arguing abuse of discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial based on the late disclosure of discoverable material, and ineffective assistance of counsel by implicitly conceding guilt. The Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion or error. 

Defendant came to trial in February of 2020 for charges related to a dispute with his girlfriend regarding access to her phone. On the Thursday before the trial, the state provided a set of body camera videos. On the first day of trial, the state provided additional photographs of the crime scene and injuries after they were mislabeled with the wrong case number. And on the second day of trial, the state provided a set of 29 phone call recordings from defendant while he was in jail. Defense counsel only raised a discovery objection to the phone call recordings produced on the second day of trial. The trial court denied the motion and allowed the state to play one of the recorded calls for the jury. At the close of state’s evidence, defendant moved for a mistrial based on the discovery violations. The trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals first noted that the right to a mistrial was not automatic, and that a mistrial was one of several sanctions permitted under G.S. 15A-910 for failure to comply with required disclosures, all of which are discretionary. Because defense counsel only objected to the phone call recordings, that was the only evidence considered by the court when reviewing the motion for mistrial. The court noted that defense counsel could not identify any element of the calls which would have been exculpatory for defendant. Additionally, the court noted that G.S. 15A-910 did not establish any other basis for granting the mistrial or finding an abuse of discretion. 

Turning to defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the court noted that the standards from State v. Harbison, 315 N.C. 175 (1985), applied to defendant’s claim regarding admission of guilt, and that State v. McAllister, 375 N.C. 455 (2020), showed implied concessions of guilt may rise to the level of a Harbison error. However, the court explained that implied concessions of guilt must be based on statements that “cannot logically be interpreted as anything other than an implied concession of guilt.” Slip Op. at 16-17, quoting McAllister. The court did not find that logical conclusion from either of the statements pointed to by defendant as indicative of error. Instead, the court distinguished the statements from the McAllister examples, finding no Harbison error. 

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. 

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