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., 06/29/2024
E.g., 06/29/2024
State v. Jones, 371 N.C. 548 (Oct. 26, 2018)

On appeal from a decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 805 S.E.2d 701 (2017), the court affirmed, holding that the citation charging the offense in question was legally sufficient to properly invoke the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction. The defendant was cited for speeding and charged with operating a motor vehicle when having an open container of alcohol while alcohol remained in his system. With respect to the open container charge, the citation stated that the defendant “did unlawfully and willfully WITH AN OPEN CONTAINER OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE AFTER DRINKING (G.S. 20-138.7(A))[.]” The defendant moved to dismiss the open container charge on grounds that the citation was fatally defective. The District Court denied the motion and found the defendant guilty of both offenses. The defendant appealed to Superior Court and a jury found him guilty of the open container offense. Before the Court of Appeals, the defendant argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to try him for the open container offense because the citation failed to allege all of the essential elements of the crime. The Court of Appeals found no error and the Supreme Court affirmed. Relying in part on the Official Commentary to the statutes, the Supreme Court held that a citation need only identify the crime at issue; it need not provide a more exhaustive statement of the crime as is required for other criminal pleadings. If the defendant had concerns about the level of detail contained in the citation, G.S. 15A-922(c) expressly allowed him to move that the offense be charged in a new pleading. The court further determined that because the defendant did not move in District Court to have the State charge him in a new pleading while the matter was pending in the court of original jurisdiction, the defendant was precluded from challenging the citation in another tribunal on those grounds. The court concluded: “A citation that identifies the charged offense in compliance with N.C.G.S. § 15A-302(c) sufficiently satisfies the legal requirements applicable to the contents of this category of criminal pleadings and establishes the exercise of the trial court’s jurisdiction. Under the facts and circumstances of the present case, the citation at issue included sufficient criminal pleading contents in order to properly charge defendant with the misdemeanor offense for which he was found guilty, and the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction to enter judgment in this criminal proceeding.”

A citation charging transporting an open container of spirituous liquor was not defective. The defendant argued that the citation failed to state that he transported the fortified wine or spirituous liquor in the passenger area of his motor vehicle. The court declined the defendant’s invitation to hold citations to the same standard as indictments, noting that under G.S. 15A-302, a citation need only identify the crime charged, as it did here, putting the defendant on notice of the charge. The court concluded: “Defendant was tried on the citation at issue without objection in the district court, and by a jury in the superior court on a trial de novo. Thus, once jurisdiction was established and defendant was tried in the district court, he was no longer in a position to assert his statutory right to object to trial on citation.” (quotation omitted).

In this DWI case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion to quash a citation on grounds that he did not sign that document and the charging officer did not certify delivery of the citation. Specifically, the defendant argued that the officer’s failure to follow the statutory procedure for service of a citation divested the court of jurisdiction to enter judgment. The court found that the citation, which was signed by the charging officer, was sufficient. [Author’s note: The court’s opinion indicates that the citation was converted to a Magistrate’s Order and that Order was served on the defendant. Thus, the Magistrate’s Order, not the citation, was the relevant charging document and it is not clear why any defect with respect to the defendant’s and officer’s signatures on the citation was material.]

In this Union County case, defendant appealed his convictions for attempted first degree murder, going armed to the terror of the people, possession of a handgun by a minor, and discharge of a firearm within city limits, arguing error by insufficient findings to justify closure of the courtroom and by denial of his motion to dismiss the discharge of a firearm charge. The Court of Appeals agreed, remanding the case and vacating the discharge of a firearm conviction.

In August of 2018, defendant was armed and riding in a car with other armed occupants near a neighborhood basketball court. Defendant was seated in the front passenger seat, and when the vehicle passed a group of pedestrians walking to the basketball court, defendant leaned out the window and began shooting. One bullet hit a pedestrian but did not kill him. During the trial, the prosecution moved to close the courtroom during the testimony of two witnesses, the victim and another witness who was present during the shooting, arguing this was necessary to prevent intimidation. The trial court granted this motion over defendant’s objection, but allowed direct relatives of defendant and the lead investigator to be present during the testimony. 

The Court of Appeals found that the trial court failed to utilize the four-part test from Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984), and failed to make findings sufficient for review to support closing the courtroom. The Waller test required the trial court to determine whether “’the party seeking closure has advanced an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced, order closure no broader than necessary to protect that interest, consider reasonable alternatives to closing the procedure, and make findings adequate to support the closure.’” Slip Op. at 4, quoting State v. Jenkins, 115 N.C. App. 520, 525 (1994). In the current case, the trial court did not use this test and made no written findings of fact at all. As a result, the Court of Appeals remanded for a hearing on the propriety of the closure using the Waller test.

Turning to defendant’s motion to dismiss, the court found that the arrest warrant and indictment were both defective as they did not contain the caption of the relevant ordinance. Under G.S. 160A-79(a), “a city ordinance . . . must be pleaded by both section number and caption.” Id. at 8. Here, the charging documents only reference the Monroe city ordinance by number, and failed to include the caption “Firearms and other weapons.” The court found the state failed to prove the ordinance at trial, and vacated defendant’s conviction for the discharge of a firearm within city limits charge. 

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