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., 10/04/2022
E.g., 10/04/2022

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appealed that judgment, but the Court of Appeals found no error in State v. McDougald, 190 N.C. App. 675 (2008) (unpublished).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. 

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.

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