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., 10/21/2021
E.g., 10/21/2021
State v. Cannon, ___ N.C. App. ___, 804 S.E.2d 199 (Aug. 1, 2017) aff’d, 370 N.C. 487 (Mar 2 2018)

The State conceded, and the court held, that the trial court should not have sentenced the defendant as a habitual felon where the issue was not submitted to the jury and no formal guilty plea was made. Here, the defendant only stipulated to habitual felon status.

The trial court erred in sentencing the defendant as a habitual felon because the issue was neither submitted to the jury nor addressed by a guilty plea. A mere stipulation to the prior felonies is insufficient; there must be a jury verdict or a record of a guilty plea.

After violating his probation, the defendant was indicted on charges of interfering with an electronic monitoring device and attaining the status of a habitual felon. The habitual felon indictment charged defendant with attaining habitual felon status based on three prior felony convictions in McDowell County: (1) a June 4, 2001 conviction for felonious breaking and entering; (2) a February 18, 2010 conviction for felonious breaking and entering; and (3) a July 22, 2014 conviction for safecracking. At trial, the State admitted into evidence certified copies of the judgments for the latter two convictions to prove their existence.

Although the State could not obtain the original judgment associated with the June 4, 2001 conviction, the State introduced as an exhibit a computer printout from the Automated Criminal/Infraction System (ACIS). The Clerk of Court for McDowell County testified that ACIS is a statewide computer system relied on by courts and law enforcement agencies for accessing information regarding a defendant’s criminal judgments, offense dates, and conviction dates, manually entered into the database by an employee in the Clerk of Court’s office. The ACIS printout offered by the State showed that the defendant had been convicted of felonious breaking and entering on June 4, 2001, and the Clerk testified that the printout was a “certified true copy of the ACIS system.” The trial court admitted the printout into evidence over the defendant’s objection, and the jury found that the defendant had attained the status of a habitual felon.

On appeal, the defendant unsuccessfully argues that the trial court improperly allowed the ACIS printout because G.S. 14-7.4 contained the exclusive methods for proving prior convictions in a proceeding to determine habitual felon status. The Court of Appeals concluded that the statute was permissive and did not exclude methods of proof not specifically delineated in the Habitual Felons Act. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Court relied on the presence of the word “may” in the statute, as well as its prior interpretation of the Fair Sentencing Act, which contained similar language.

The dissenting Court of Appeals judge concluded that the introduction of the printout violated the best evidence rule because the printout was introduced as evidence of the defendant’s prior convictions and was not the original judgment. The majority rejected this argument, noting that the best evidence rule applies only when the contents of a document are at issue. The Court reasoned that here, the issue was not the contents of the conviction but rather the existence of the conviction. However, in a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Beasley noted that the nature of the Habitual Felons Act requires that the State prove that the defendant did, in fact, commit three prior felony offenses, and to do so requires the court to consider the contents of the record to be introduced for the purpose of confirming “that said person has been convicted of former felony offenses.” While the Chief concluded that the best evidence rule did apply to the introduction of the printout, the Chief noted that the State complied with the rule through the printout coupled with the Clerk’s testimony.

In this habitual larceny case where the defendant was sentenced as a habitual felon, the use of an ACIS printout to prove one of the defendant’s prior convictions during the habitual felon phase of trial was competent evidence that did not violate the best evidence rule.  Citing State v. Waycaster, ___ N.C. App. ___, 818 S.E.2d 189 (2018), the court explained that G.S. 14-7.4 permits an original or certified copy of the court record of a prior conviction to be admitted into evidence to prove the prior conviction but does not mandate that manner of proof.  The same case held that a certified copy of an ACIS printout is sufficient evidence of a prior conviction under the habitual felon statute.  

The trial court committed reversible error by failing to instruct the jury to disregard evidence about the defendant’s habitual felon indictment when that evidence was elicited during the trial on the underlying charges. Although the trial court sustained defense counsel’s objection and instructed the jury to strike a portion of the testimony given by an officer, it was required to give a curative instruction as to additional testimony offered by the officer.

During the habitual felon trial stage, the jury may consider evidence of a prior felony presented during the trial for the principal offense. Evidence of one prior conviction was presented during the trial for the principal offense; evidence of two prior convictions was introduced in the habitual felon phase. The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient because the State did not introduce evidence of all three priors at the habitual phase. There is no need to reintroduce evidence presented during the trial for the principal offense at the habitual felon hearing; evidence presented during the trial for the principal offense can be used to prove the habitual felon charge.

Habitual misdemeanor assault cannot serve as a prior felony for purposes of habitual felon.

State v. Holloway, 216 N.C. App. 412 (Oct. 18, 2011)

A conviction for habitual misdemeanor assault can be used as a predicate felony for habitual felon status.

The court remanded for resentencing where the trial court imposed consecutive sentences based on a misapprehension of G.S. 14-7. The jury found the defendant guilty of multiple counts of robbery and attaining habitual felon status. The trial court sentenced the defendant as a habitual felon to three consecutive terms of imprisonment for his three common law robbery convictions, stating that “the law requires consecutive sentences on habitual felon judgments.” However, under G.S. 14-7.6, a trial court only is required to impose a sentence consecutively to “any sentence being served by” the defendant. Thus, if the defendant is not currently serving a term of imprisonment, the trial court may exercise its discretion in determining whether to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences.

The trial court did not err by ordering the defendant to serve a habitual felon sentence consecutive to sentences already being served. The defendant argued that the trial court “misapprehend[ed]” the law “when it determined that it did not have the discretion to decide” to run the defendant’s sentence concurrently with his earlier convictions. The court noted that G.S. 14-7.6 “has long provided” that habitual felon sentences “shall run consecutively with and shall commence at the expiration of any sentence being served by the person sentenced under this section.” 

A defendant may be sentenced as a habitual felon for an underlying felony of drug trafficking.

Rejecting the defendant’s argument that his sentence of 84-110 months in prison for possession of cocaine as a habitual felon constituted cruel and unusual punishment. 

Trial judge could have could have consolidated into a single judgment multiple offenses, all of which were elevated to a Class C because of habitual felon status. 

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