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., 09/25/2022
E.g., 09/25/2022
State v. Capps, 374 N.C. 621 (June 5, 2020)

The defendant was charged by arrest warrant with misdemeanor injury to personal property, misdemeanor larceny, and reckless driving after he cut off the end of a truck stop’s air hose, attempted to strike his passenger with it, and then quickly fled with it when confronted by an undercover officer. He was convicted in district court and appealed to superior court. Before trial in superior court, the State moved to amend the charging language to correct the name of the corporate property owner for the injury to personal property and larceny charges. The prosecutor made the amendment on a misdemeanor statement of charges form with no objection from the defendant. The defendant was convicted and appealed. A divided Court of Appeals held that the superior court lacked jurisdiction to try the charges amended through the statement of charges, reasoning that under the language of G.S. 15A-922(e), a statement of charges may be filed after arraignment only if the defendant objects to the State’s original pleading. State v. Capps, ___ N.C. App. ___, 828 S.E.2d 733 (2019). The State appealed and the Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the convictions. The Court held that warrants may be amended at any time when doing so does not materially affect the nature of the charged offense or is otherwise authorized by law. And the State may make the amendment though a statement of charges, because the General Assembly intended statements of charges to be generally treated like amendments. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the defendant’s objection to the sufficiency of a warrant is a necessary prerequisite to a post-arraignment statement of charges.

In this Durham County case, defendant appealed his conviction for felony animal cruelty, arguing that (1) the removal of the name of a horse from the indictment rendered it invalid, and (2) the prosecutor’s recitation of caselaw during closing argument represented gross impropriety. The Court of Appeals found no error and affirmed the conviction. 

In July of 2016, Durham County Animal Services responded to a report of several deceased horses on the property where defendant kept his horses. On the scene, Animal Services discovered the skeletal remains of three horses and one still-living horse, a chestnut mare, in severely emaciated condition. This horse was initially identified as “Diamond” in the indictment, but the prosecution successfully moved to strike the name from the indictment prior to trial. Defendant was found guilty of felony animal cruelty under N.C.G.S. § 14-360(b) in January 2021.

Reviewing defendant’s first argument on appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that under N.C.G.S. § 15A-923(e) an indictment may not be amended, but “surplus language which ‘in no way change[s] the nature or the degree of the offense charged’ may be stricken from an indictment.” Slip Op. at ¶20, quoting State v. Peele, 16 N.C. App. 227 (1972). The court explained that under N.C.G.S. § 14-360(b), the name of an animal is not considered an essential element of the crime, and applicable precedent established that it was acceptable to identify animals by general descriptions in indictments. Slip Op. at ¶24, citing State v. Credle, 91 N.C. 640 (1884). Because there was only one horse at issue in this case, and striking its name “Diamond” caused no confusion or difficulty for defendant when presenting his defense, the court found no error in striking the horse’s name from the indictment. 

The court next considered the prosecutor’s recitation of case law during closing argument. Noting that defense counsel did not object during trial, the court explained that defendant must show the remarks were “so grossly improper that the trial court committed reversible error by failing to intervene ex mero motu,” a heightened standard of review. Slip Op. at ¶27, quoting State v. Jones, 355 N.C. 117 (2002). The court emphasized that “the prosecutor’s statements must have been so improper that they ‘so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.’” Slip Op. at ¶29, quoting Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1983). Based upon this high standard for relief, and the substantial evidence admitted at trial supporting defendant’s conviction, the court could not establish that defendant was deprived of a fair trial. 

The defendant in this case was charged with sexual activity by a substitute parent under G.S. 14-27.31. The defendant lived at the home of the victim and her mother, and he was the father of the victim’s sister. In 2016, while the victim’s mother was out of the house, the defendant engaged in three different sexual acts with the victim. The victim told her mother, who notified law enforcement, and the defendant was arrested and indicted. The defendant’s first trial ended in a mistrial on two counts, but he was retried and convicted on both. On appeal, the defendant raised two issues.

First, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the state to amend the indictments by including the words “[a]t the time of the offense, the defendant
was residing in the home with” the victim, contending that this was a substantial alteration of the charge. The appellate court disagreed. The original language used in the indictment adequately alleged that the defendant had assumed the position of a parent in the home of the victim, who was less than 18 years old, and engaged in a sexual act with that person, thereby satisfying all the essential elements of the offense. Since the indictment was already facially valid, and it was not necessary under the statute to allege that the defendant also resided at the home, the amendment did not add an essential element and was not a substantial alteration of the charge.

The defendant also argued that it was error for him to receive two consecutive sentences because the predicate acts for both charges occurred during the same incident. The appellate court viewed this argument as “recasting a double jeopardy argument that has not been preserved for appellate review as a hybrid challenge to the unanimity of the verdict and sufficiency of the indictment,” and held there was no error. The two charges were supported by separate and distinct sexual acts, and the jury instructions and verdict sheets clearly indicated the jury was unanimous as to each of those charges; therefore, the trial court did not err in imposing consecutive sentences for the two offenses.

Defendant was charged by citation with misdemeanor larceny under G.S. 14-72. The prosecutor amended the citation by striking through the charging language and handwriting the word “shoplifting” on the citation, along with the prosecutor’s initials and the date. The defendant entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of shoplifting under G.S. 14-72.1, but later filed an MAR in district court arguing that the amendment was improper and the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enter judgment. The district court denied the MAR, and the superior court denied defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari to review the denial. The Court of Appeals granted the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari, and held that the lower courts erred and the MAR should have been granted. The purported amendment to the citation impermissibly changed the nature of the offense because larceny and shoplifting are separate crimes with different elements. “Thus, the amendment was not legally permissible and deprived the district court of jurisdiction to enter judgment against Defendant.” The Court of Appeals reversed the superior court’s denial of the petition for writ of certiorari and vacated the shoplifting judgment.

There was no fatal variance in an indictment where the State successfully moved to amend the indictment to change the date of the offense from May 10, 2013 to July 14, 2013 but then neglected to actually amend the charging instrument. Time was not of essence to any of the charged crimes and the defendant did not argue prejudice. Rather, he asserted that the very existence of the variance was fatal to the indictment.

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