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., 02/04/2023
E.g., 02/04/2023

In this Mecklenburg County case, defendant appealed his convictions for breaking and entering, larceny, and attaining habitual breaking and entering offender status, arguing error in (1) the trial court’s comments about the existence of defendant’s previous convictions during the habitual offender phase, (2) admission of expert testimony without the necessary foundation, and (3) the felony class of habitual breaking and entering on the written judgment. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error.

In 2018, defendant was indicted for breaking and entering and larceny after DNA and fingerprint evidence linked defendant to a break-in at a Charlotte residence. The trial proceeded first on the charges related to the break in, then after the jury convicted defendant of the initial charges, proceeded to habitual breaking and entering offender status. During this second phase, the trial court told the jury “[the state] will present evidence relating to previous convictions of breaking and/or entering at this time.” Slip Op. at 5. The jury convicted defendant of habitual offender status, and defendant subsequently appealed.

Reviewing issue (1), the Court of Appeals disagreed with defendant’s characterization of the trial court’s remarks, explaining that “the trial court did not offer to the jury the court’s opinion as to whether [d]efendant did in fact have previous convictions . . . [r]ather, the trial court notified the jury and the parties of its plan for the outset of the second phase of trial.” Id. at 12.

Turning to issue (2), the court noted that defendant did not object at trial to the testimony, meaning the review was under a plain error standard. The court examined the testimony of two experts under Rule of Evidence 702, finding that the fingerprint expert testimony “[did] not clearly indicate that [state’s expert] used the comparison process he described in his earlier testimony when he compared [d]efendant’s ink print card to the latent fingerprints recovered at the crime scene.” Id. at 28. However, the court found no prejudicial error in admitting the testimony, as properly admitted DNA evidence also tied defendant to the crime.

Finally, the court reviewed (3), defendant’s argument that the trial court incorrectly recorded his habitual breaking and entering offense as a Class E felony. The court disagreed, explaining that the form filled out by the trial court identifies the breaking and entering charge as a Class H felony (with punishment Class E), and the habitual breaking and entering offender charge as a Class E felony. Based on relevant precedent, defendant’s habitual offender status represented a status offense enhancing the punishment for the underlying substantive offense. The court concluded that the “trial court’s identification of habitual breaking and entering as a Class E status offense, as compared to a Class E substantive offense, was not error.” Id. at 37.

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. 

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