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., 04/12/2024
E.g., 04/12/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Craven County case, defendant appealed her guilty plea to habitual felon status, arguing the reclassification of the offense she was convicted of in Colorado from a felony to a misdemeanor removed the factual basis for her plea. The Court of Appeals majority disagreed, finding no error. 

Defendant was convicted by a jury of nine counts of embezzlement and one count of obtaining property by false pretenses in August of 2022. After her conviction, she pleaded guilty to attaining habitual felon status, based in part on a Colorado conviction for second-degree forgery in 1991. In 1993, Colorado reclassified second-degree forgery as a misdemeanor. During the colloquy required by G.S. 15A-1022(c), the trial court examined evidence showing the felony conviction from 1991, and defense counsel did not object to the factual basis of the conviction, even incorrectly stating that second-degree forgery was still a felony in Colorado. 

Taking up defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals first established that it had jurisdiction to review her guilty plea under G.S. 15A-1444(a2), even though habitual felon status is not a crime. Because defendant was challenging “whether her term of imprisonment was authorized by statute[,]” the court concluded that G.S. 15A-1444(a2)(3) granted it jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The court then moved to the substance of defendant’s argument and reviewed the text of the habitual felon statute under G.S. 14-7.1. Rejecting defendant’s argument that the reclassification removed the factual basis for her plea, the court concluded “there was sufficient evidence for the trial court to properly determine a factual basis existed showing Defendant had committed three prior felonies, including the second-degree forgery felony.” Slip Op. at 8. 

Judge Arrowood dissented by separate opinion, and would have held that defendant had no right of appeal under G.S. 15A-1444(a2), but would have granted a petition for certiorari and concluded that the reclassification of the felony offense justified remand for resentencing. Id. at 11. 

(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Jackson County case, defendant appealed his sentence as a habitual felon, arguing that his South Carolina conviction for larceny could not serve as a predicate conviction for habitual felon purposes as the statute in question no longer classifies the crime as a felony. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no error. 

Defendant came to trial for stealing a TV from Wal-Mart in May of 2021. After being found guilty of felony larceny and possession of stolen goods, the trial proceeded to the habitual felon phase. The prosecution offered evidence of defendant’s 2005 conviction in South Carolina for grand larceny. Defense counsel objected during the charge conference that the South Carolina code did not refer to the crime as a felony but was overruled; the trial court instructed the jury with the habitual felon status pattern jury instruction, using “crime” to refer to the 2005 conviction instead of “felony” at the request of the prosecutor. Defendant was convicted of habitual felon status and appealed.

The Court of Appeals first noted that the South Carolina larceny statute in question was changed in June of 2010 and the offense is no longer a felony, but the relevant consideration was the status of the offense at the time defendant was convicted. The court then explained that G.S. 14-7.1(b)(3) provides a mechanism for classifying crimes as felonies in states that do not explicitly refer to crimes as felonies or misdemeanors. To incorporate this mechanism, the pattern jury instruction in question was changed to permit the use of “felony” or “crime.” Slip Op. at 8-9. Even if the use of “crime” in the present case was erroneous, the court held that the jury had ample evidence to determine the South Carolina conviction was a felony due to the evidence of defendant’s conviction and the 2005 version of the statute in effect when he was convicted. The court likewise dismissed defendant’s arguments that no substantial evidence of his felony conviction was admitted and that the indictment for habitual felon status was fatally flawed. 

 

(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Harnett County case, defendant appealed the denial of his motion for appropriate relief (MAR). The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of defendant’s MAR and the imposition of life without parole.

Defendant first pleaded guilty to second degree kidnapping, a class E felony, in 1984, when he was sixteen years old. Four years later in 1988, defendant pleaded no contest to second-degree sexual offense (class H felony), common law robbery (class D felony), and armed robbery (class D felony). In 2001, a jury found defendant guilty of second-degree kidnapping, and subsequently of violent habitual felon status due to his prior felonies. The sentence imposed was mandatory life without parole. Defendant appealed that judgment, but the Court of Appeals found no error in State v. McDougald, 190 N.C. App. 675 (2008) (unpublished).

The current MAR at issue was filed in 2017. Defendant asserted two grounds for relief: (1) that defendant’s trial counsel was ineffective during plea negotiations because defendant was not adequately advised that he would receive mandatory life without parole if convicted, and (2) that applying violent habitual felon status due to defendant’s 1984 felony, which was committed when defendant was a juvenile, violated the Eighth Amendment. 

The Court of Appeals first examined the ineffective assistance of counsel ground, and found that, although defense counsel’s records were incomplete, and counsel could not recall if he informed defendant that life without parole was mandatory if he was convicted, the evidence showed that counsel did apprise defendant of the desirability of the plea deal, and the possible risk of life without parole if he went to trial. The court found that defense counsel’s performance was not objectionably unreasonable and was not prejudicial to defendant.  

Examining the second ground for relief, the court found that applying a felony committed while defendant was a juvenile did not violate the Eighth Amendment, because defendant was receiving a stiffer punishment for the felony committed as an adult, not a life without parole sentence for the initial felony committed while he was a juvenile. The court reviewed and applied “United States Supreme Court precedent, North Carolina Supreme Court precedent, and in the persuasive precedent from other jurisdictions” to determine that “the application of the violent habitual felon statute to Defendant’s conviction of second-degree kidnapping, committed when Defendant was thirty-three years old, did not increase or enhance the sentence Defendant received for his prior second-degree kidnapping conviction, committed when Defendant was sixteen.” Slip Op. at ¶ 27. Because the punishment of life without parole was not imposed for the juvenile conviction, the court found that it did not run afoul of United States Supreme Court precedent forbidding life sentences for juvenile convictions.

The court also established that the punishment of life without parole was not disproportionate for defendant’s second-degree kidnapping conviction, applying State v. Mason, 126 N.C. App. 318 (1997) to affirm the constitutionality of the habitual violent offender statute. 

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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

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