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

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2018), the court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision vacating the defendant’s conviction on double jeopardy grounds. In this murder case, the defendant’s first trial ended in a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury. After two status hearings, the State entered a dismissal on form AOC-CR-307, checking the “dismissal” box and writing “hung jury, state has elected not to re-try case” on the form. Several years later, the discovery of additional evidence led to the defendant being re-indicted. The defendant’s motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds was denied and the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder. 

On appeal, the Supreme Court applied a two-pronged analysis to evaluate the defendant’s double jeopardy claim: (1) did jeopardy attach, and (2) if so, did the proceeding end in such a manner that the Double Jeopardy Clause bars his retrial. As to the first prong, the court said jeopardy clearly attached when the first jury was empaneled and sworn. Further, under Richardson v. United States, 468 U.S. 317 (1984), jeopardy continued following the mistrial. The court rejected the State’s argument that mistrial created a legal fiction under which jeopardy is deemed never to have attached at the first trial, and that there was thus no jeopardy to terminate at the time the State dismissed the initial charge. To the contrary, the court read Richardson as contemplating a “continuing jeopardy doctrine,” where jeopardy continued from its initial attachment in the first trial through the end of the case. As to the second prong of the analysis, the court concluded that the State’s dismissal of the charge under G.S. 15A-931 was binding on the State and tantamount to an acquittal, and that it was thus a jeopardy-terminating event for double jeopardy purposes. As a result, the defendant’s second trial was barred by double jeopardy, and the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision vacating it.

Justice Newby authored a dissent, joined by Justice Ervin, which would have concluded under State v. Tyson, 138 N.C. 627, 629 (1905), that the mistrial returned the case to pretrial status where the State could dismiss the charge without prejudice. The majority’s rule, the dissent argued, “places the State in the impossible position of choosing to proceed to a new trial with what one jury deemed insufficient evidence or lose any opportunity to hold the defendant accountable for the crime.”

State v. Joe, 365 N.C. 538 (Apr. 13, 2012)

Disagreeing with the court of appeals’ holding in State v. Joe, 213 N.C. App. 148 (2011), that the prosecutor’s statements amounted to a dismissal in open court, the court also held that the trial court had no authority to enter an order dismissing the case on its own motion. The defendant was charged with resisting a public officer, felony possession of cocaine with intent to sell or deliver, and attaining habitual felon status. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the resisting charge and a motion to suppress all evidence seized during the search incident to arrest. The trial court granted both motions. The State then announced that it “would be unable to proceed with the case in chief” on the remaining charges and the other charges were dismissed. The State appealed and the court of appeals affirmed, reasoning that the prosecutor’s statements constituted a dismissal in open court under G.S. 15A-931. The court disagreed with this conclusion and further held that the trial court had no authority to enter an order dismissing the case on its own motion. It remanded to the court of appeals for consideration of the State’s argument regarding the motion to suppress.

The trial court erred by dismissing murder charges pursuant to G.S. 15A-954(a)(4) (flagrant violation of constitutional rights causing irreparable prejudice). The court first held that the trial court erred by finding that destruction of the victim’s bones resulted in a flagrant violation of constitutional rights under Brady. An autopsy by the Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victim and found that cause of death was blunt head trauma consistent with a shotgun wound. After the autopsy was complete, that office released most of the victim’s remains to the family and they were cremated. A partial fragment of the victim’s skull was retained by the office. Even if there was bad faith on the State’s part, that alone cannot support a dismissal under G.S. 15A-954(a)(4); there also must be irreparable prejudice such that there is no remedy other than dismissal. In this respect, the court held that the trial court’s ruling was premature given that no trial had occurred. It explained:

The defense has yet to engage any expert, and has failed to attempt to conduct any tests, whether for DNA or to attempt to replicate the photographic identification of the decedent using the radiographs of her teeth. It may well be that upon the hiring of an expert and analyzing the partial skull remains which still are being held by the [Medical Examiner’s Office], Defendant’s expert may concur in the [autopsy results] that the jaw bone is indeed that of [the victim]. Until it can be established that the partial remains are untestable or that the identification of the deceased is somehow flawed or incapable of repetition, we fail to see how the defense has been irreparably prejudiced. 

The court also disagreed with the trial court’s conclusion that dismissal was the only appropriate remedy. Second, the court held that the trial court erred by determining that the State’s failure to disclose “the role its agents took in assisting, facilitating, and paying for the permanent destruction” of the remains and the failure of Medical Examiner’s Office staff to produce email records subject to subpoena supported dismissal. Because the defendant was provided with that information prior to trial, no Brady violation occurred. Third, trial court erred by concluding that three instances in which the State “fail[ed] to correct misrepresentations of material fact . . . flagrantly violated [the defendant’s] constitutional rights[.]” Although the trial court cited Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), in support of its ruling, the court found that case inapplicable given that no trial had occurred and no conviction had been obtained in the case at hand. Fourth, with respect to the trial court’s conclusion that a flagrant violation of Eighth Amendment rights occurred, the court rejected this basis for dismissal, reasoning that it could not determine the precise factual or legal basis for the trial court’s ruling.

The trial court erred by dismissing a misdemeanor DWI charge under G.S. 15A-954. The trial court erroneously dismissed the charges under G.S. 15A-954(a)(1) (statute alleged to have been violated is unconstitutional on its face or as applied to the defendant) without making a finding that the DWI statute, G.S. 20-138.1, was unconstitutional as applied to the defendant. The fact that G.S. 20-139.1(d1) was violated was not a basis for dismissal under G.S. 15A-954. Nor did G.S. 15A-954(a)(4) (flagrant violation of constitutional rights causing irreparable prejudice) support dismissal of the charges where there was no finding that the defendant suffered irreparable prejudice. The court noted that the proper vehicle for the defendant to have asserted his arguments was a motion to suppress; since the State had stipulated that it would not seek to introduce the challenged blood evidence at trial, the trial court was required to summarily grant the defendant’s suppression motion.

(1) The State’s dismissal of an impaired driving charge following the district court’s denial of its motion to continue did not violate separation of powers. The defendant had argued that the district attorney is an executive branch official who was obligated to proceed with the trial when the trial court denied the State’s motion to continue. He further argued that to allow the State to voluntarily dismiss the charge allowed the executive branch to subvert the court’s authority. (2) No violation of due process occurred when the State refiled charges against the defendant after having taken a dismissal of them in response to the trial court’s denial of its motion to continue. 

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