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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021
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. 

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