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., 10/18/2021
E.g., 10/18/2021
State v. McDaris, 367 N.C. 115 (Oct. 4, 2013)

The court per curiam affirmed the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the court of appeals in State v. McDaris, 224 N.C. App. 399 (Dec. 18, 2012) (No. COA12-476). The court of appeals had held that a variance between the indictments and the jury instructions did not deprive the defendant of a defense. The indictments charged the defendant with statutory rape of a 13, 14, or 15 year old but specified that the victim was 15 years old at the time. Based on the evidence, the trial court instructed the jury that it could convict the defendant if the jury found that the victim was 14 or 15 years old. The jury found the defendant guilty. On appeal the defendant argued that the trial court committed reversible error by instructing the jury that it could convict if it found that the acts occurred when the victim was 14 or 15 years old, because the indictments alleged that she was 15 years old. At trial the defendant attempted to prove that the incidents occurred when the victim was 16, which would have been a complete defense. The jury rejected this defense. In light of this, the court of appeals determined that any error was not so prejudicial as to require a new trial.

On review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the court of appeals in State v. Pizano-Trejo, ___ N.C. App. ___, 723 S.E.2d 583 (2012), the members of the Supreme Court equally divided, leaving the decision below undisturbed and without precedential value. The court of appeals had held that the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury and accepting its guilty verdict for the crimes of “sexual offense with a child,” a crime for which the defendant was not indicted. The defendant was indicted for one count of first degree statutory sexual offense under G.S. 14–27.4(a)(1), and two counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. However, the trial court instructed the jury on the crime of sexual offense with a child by an adult offender under G.S. 14–27.4A. The defendant was found guilty of both counts of taking indecent liberties with a child and one count of first degree statutory sex offense pursuant to G.S. 14–27.4(a)(1). 

In this Cabarrus County case, the defendant was convicted of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree rape. After developing a friendship with the victim, he drugged her without her knowledge, took her to a friend’s house and raped her. The defendant appealed, raising numerous challenges.

(1) The defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions and that his motion to dismiss should have been granted. He did not raise an argument about the rape conviction on appeal. Any argument as to the sufficiency of evidence for that offense was therefore deemed abandoned and waived. As to the kidnapping conviction, the defendant argued he could not be sentenced for both kidnapping and the rape as a matter of double jeopardy, since the rape was used to elevate the kidnapping to first degree. “The proper remedy in the event of conviction of first-degree kidnapping and the sexual assault that constitutes an element of first-degree kidnapping is to arrest judgement on the first-degree kidnapping and resentence the defendant for second-degree kidnapping.” Slip op. at 10-11 (citation omitted). While the defendant correctly noted this rule, the court found it inapplicable to the defendant’s case. The State’s evidence showed at least two distinct sexual assaults. In addition to the rape, the defendant also committed a separate sexual battery, and that offense was used to elevate the kidnapping offense to first-degree (and not the rape). Following the sexual battery in one room, the defendant moved the victim to another room to commit the rape. This showed separate and distinct offenses. The trial court also correctly instructed the jury on these principles and its instructions required the jury to find a separate and distinct sexual battery in support of the first-degree kidnapping. Because the defendant was not convicted of the underlying sexual battery used to support the first-degree kidnapping, double jeopardy did not preclude separate punishments for the distinct rape and kidnapping.

(2) The was also sufficient evidence to support the aggravating factor that the defendant took advantage of a position of trust to accomplish the crimes. The Court of Appeals noted it “has upheld a finding of the ‘trust or confidence’ factor in very limited factual circumstances.” Id. at 18 (citation omitted). Here, the State presented sufficient evidence of the factor in aggravation. The defendant was a family friend and was close with the victim. Evidence showed the defendant gave the victim’s family Christmas gifts, checked on family members, frequently spent time with the victim and advised her on various matters, among other connections. This was sufficient to demonstrate a position of trust over the victim which the defendant exploited in order to commit the crimes.

(3) The two sisters of the victim testified to prior instances of sexual assault by the defendant towards each of them. The trial court admitted this evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b) of the Rules of Evidence as proof of a common plan or scheme by the defendant. The defendant raped one of the sisters in a nearly identical manner as the victim and committed sexual battery upon the other sister “in a manner indicating an intent to go further.” Id. at 21. Like with the victim, the defendant developed a position of trust with each of the sisters before committing sexual assaults on them. The trial court therefore correctly determined the prior bad acts were substantially similar to the circumstances of the current offense. The assaults occurred 10 and 8 years before the events of the current case. The court agreed with the trial judge that this evidence was not too remote in time to satisfy the requirements of Rule 404(b):

Our Supreme Court has held that ‘[w]hen similar acts have been performed continuously over a period of years, the passage of time serves to prove, rather than disprove, the existence of a plan’ rendering the prior bad acts ‘not too remote to be considered as evidence of defendant’s common scheme to abuse the victim sexually.’ Id. at 22 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original).

 The evidence showed the defendant’s acts were continuous over the course of time and therefore not too remote in time to be admitted under Rule 404(b). The trial court also conducted the necessary balancing under Rule 403 of the Rules of Evidence to determine the testimony was not more prejudicial than probative and instructed the jury about the limited purpose of the evidence. The admission of this evidence was therefore not error or an abuse of discretion.

(4) The defendant argued that the admission of toxicology results by way of a substitute analyst violated his Sixth Amendment rights to confrontation. The court disagreed, noting the rule on substitute analyst testimony:

[A]n expert witness may testify as to the testing or analysis conducted by another expert if: (i) that information is reasonably relied on by experts in the field in forming their opinions; and (ii) the testifying expert witness independently reviewed the information and reached his or her own conclusion in this case. Id. at 26 (citation omitted).

The evidence showed that the substitute analyst reviewed the results of the testing done by the non-testifying analysts and formed his own opinion about the results. “Thus, [the analyst’s] opinion was based on his own analysis and not merely surrogate testimony for an otherwise inadmissible lab report . . .” Id. at 31. Under these circumstances, the defendant was not entitled to cross-examine the analysts who actually performed the testing. According to the court, "when an expert gives an opinion, the opinion is the substantive evidence, and the expert is the witness whom the defendant has the right to confront.” Id. Because the expert opinion was properly admitted and the defendant was able to cross-examine that expert, there was no violation of the defendant’s confrontation rights.

(5a) The indictment for second-degree rape identified the victim only by reference to her initials, and the defendant argued this constituted a fatal indictment defect for failure to identify the victim.  He pointed to a recent case holding that “Victim #1” was insufficient to identify the victim. State v. McKoy, 196 N.C. App. 650, 654 (2009), foreclosed this argument. Citing from that case, the court observed: 

[W]here the statutes defining second-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense require the offenses to be against ‘another person,’ the indictments charging these offenses do not need to state the victim’s full name, nor do they need to add periods after each letter in initials in order to accomplish the common sense understanding that initials represent a person. Id.

Unlike the situation where the indictment names only a “victim,” the use of initials sufficed to identify the victim and did not constitute a fatal defect. [Jeff Welty blogged about the use of initials in charging documents here.]

(5b) The first-degree kidnapping indictment was also not defective. The defendant claimed a fatal flaw based on the indictment’s failure to identify the specific crime constituting the sexual assault for purposes of first-degree kidnapping. There is no requirement that an indictment for first-degree kidnapping identify the felony used to enhance the offense to first-degree. The indictment was otherwise sufficient to put the defendant on notice and was valid in all respects. 

(6) The trial court’s instructions to the jury on the existence of the aggravating factor violated G.S. § 15A-1340.16(d). That statute provides in pertinent part that evidence used at trial to support the existence of an element of the offense may not thereafter be used to prove a factor in aggravation. The jury instructions permitted the jury to consider “all of the evidence,” rather than limiting its consideration to evidence not used to support the intent requirements for the two crimes. The defendant did not object to the instructions at the time and alleged plain error on appeal. Plain error requires that the defendant demonstrate “a reasonable possibility that, had the instruction been given, the jury would have failed to find the existence of the aggravating factor.” Id. at 36. The court noted that occupying a position of trust is not an element of either of the crimes at issue and rejected the contention that the same evidence was used to prove both the intent to commit the crimes and the aggravating factor. The defendant could not demonstrate the possibility of a different result absent the instructions on the aggravating factor, and accordingly could not demonstrate prejudice for plain error.

(7) The defendant’s argument that his objections to an order requiring him to enroll in satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) were improperly overruled were abandoned on appeal, because the defendant failed to raise any argument for this issue.

A majority of the court determined there were no reversible error in the trial and the convictions were affirmed.

Judge Murphy dissented in part. He wrote separately to note his disagreement with the majority’s analysis of the Confrontation Clause issue. Judge Murphy would have granted a new trial based on the Sixth Amendment violation and would have held the plain error jury instruction issue in (5) above, as well as the SBM issue in (6), were therefore moot. He otherwise concurred in the majority’s judgment.

(1) A short form indictment under G.S. 15-144.1 was sufficient to charge the defendant with attempted statutory rape of a 13, 14, or 15 year old. The defendant had argued that the statutory short form does not apply to an indictment alleging statutory rape of a 13 year old. (2) The indictment conformed to the requirements of G.S. 15-144.1 even though it failed to allege that the act occurred “by force and against her will” or that the defendant attempted to “ravish and carnally know” the victim. 

(1) An indictment charging statutory rape of a 13, 14, or 15 year old was not defective because it alleged that the defendant did “carnally know” the victim. The court rejected the argument that the indictment was required to allege that “vaginal intercourse” occurred, concluding that the two terms were synonymous. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the same indictment was defective in that it failed to conform to the short form provided in G.S. 15-144.1. The court concluded that the short form did not apply to the crime charged and that the indictment alleged all material elements of the offense.

In this second-degree sex offense case, the court vacated and remanded for entry of judgment on attempted sexual offense where the indictment charged the defendant only with an attempted, not a completed, sex offense. The indictment, labeled “Second Degree Sexual Offense,” alleged that the defendant “did attempt to engage in a sex offense with the victim.” Notwithstanding this, the trial court instructed the jury on the completed offense and provided no instruction on attempt. 

Where the indictment charged the defendant with sexual offense in violation of G.S. 14-27.4(a)(1) (first-degree statutory sex offense with a child under the age of 13), the trial court erred by instructing the jury on sexual offense with a child in violation of G.S. 14-27.4A(a) (statutory sexual offense by an adult). The court noted that the charged offense was a lesser included of the offense of conviction, and that while the charged offense requires the State to prove that the defendant was at least 12 years old and at least 4 years older than the victim, the offense of conviction requires proof that the defendant is at least 18 years old. The court found itself bound by State v. Hicks, 239 N.C. App. 396 (Feb. 17, 2015), vacated the conviction and remanded for resentencing on the lesser included offense.

The trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury on sexual offense with a child by an adult offender under G.S. 14-27.4A when the indictment charged the defendant with first-degree sexual offense in violation of G.S. 14-27.4(a)(1), a lesser-included of the G.S. 14-27.4A crime. The court vacated defendant's conviction under G.S. 14-27.4A and remanded for resentencing and entry of judgment on the lesser-included offense. Additionally, the court appealed to the General Assembly to clarify the relevant law:

This case illustrates a significant ongoing problem with the sexual offense statutes of this State: the various sexual offenses are often confused with one another, leading to defective indictments.

Given the frequency with which these errors arise, we strongly urge the General Assembly to consider reorganizing, renaming, and renumbering the various sexual offenses to make them more easily distinguishable from one another. Currently, there is no uniformity in how the various offenses are referenced, and efforts to distinguish the offenses only lead to more confusion. For example, because "first degree sexual offense" encompasses two different offenses, a violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4(a)(1) is often referred to as "first degree sexual offense with a child" or "first degree statutory sexual offense" to distinguish the offense from "first degree sexual offense by force" under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4(a)(2). "First degree sexual offense with a child," in turn, is easily confused with "statutory sexual offense" which could be a reference to a violation of either N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4A (officially titled "[s]exual offense with a child; adult offender") or N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.7A (2013) (officially titled "[s]tatutory rape or sexual offense of person who is 13, 14, or 15 years old"). Further adding to the confusion is the similarity in the statute numbers of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4(a)(1) and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4A. We do not foresee an end to this confusion until the General Assembly amends the statutory scheme for sexual offenses.

(citations omitted).

In re J.F., 237 N.C. App. 218 (Nov. 18, 2014)

Noting that the sufficiency of a petition alleging a juvenile to be delinquent is evaluated by the same standards that apply to indictments, the court held that petitions alleging two acts of sexual offense and two acts of crime against nature were sufficient. In addition to tracking the statutory language, one sexual offense and one crime against nature petition alleged that the juvenile performed fellatio on the victim; the other sexual offense and crime against nature petitions alleged that the victim performed fellatio on the juvenile. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that any more detail was required, noting that if the juvenile wanted more information about the factual circumstances underlying each charge he should have moved for a bill of particulars.

In re J.F., 237 N.C. App. 218 (Nov. 18, 2014)

Noting that the sufficiency of a petition alleging a juvenile to be delinquent is evaluated by the same standards that apply to indictments, the court held that petitions alleging two acts of sexual offense and two acts of crime against nature were sufficient. In addition to tracking the statutory language, one sexual offense and one crime against nature petition alleged that the juvenile performed fellatio on the victim; the other sexual offense and crime against nature petitions alleged that the victim performed fellatio on the juvenile. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that any more detail was required, noting that if the juvenile wanted more information about the factual circumstances underlying each charge he should have moved for a bill of particulars.

(1) In this Montgomery County case, the defendant was convicted of indecent liberties with a child and attaining the status of habitual felon.  (1) The defendant argued on appeal that the indecent liberties indictment was fatally defective because it identified the alleged victim only by her initials. The Court of Appeals disagreed.  First, the Court noted that State v. McKoy, 196 N.C. App. 650 (2009), held that identifying the victim by initials was sufficient for an indictment charging second-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that McKoy was overruled by State v. White, 372 N.C. 248 (2019), a case in which the North Carolina Supreme Court held that a sex offense indictment identifying the victim only as “Victim #1” was insufficient. Next, the Court considered whether the indictment would inform a person of reasonable understanding that the defendant was charged with indecent liberties with a child and whether the use of the victim’s initials protected the defendant’s constitutional rights to notice and freedom from double jeopardy. The Court found the indictment satisfied both requirements. A person with common understanding would know the intent of the indictment, and the record demonstrated that the defendant had notice of the victim’s identity.  The arrest warrants listed the victim’s full name. The defendant was interviewed by officers regarding his contact with the victim, and he admitted that he knew her. The defendant did not argue that he had difficulty preparing his case because the initials were used rather than the victim’s full name. In addition, the victim testified at trial and identified herself by her full name in open court. The Court concluded there was no possibility that the defendant was confused regarding the victim’s identity; therefore the use of initials in the indictment provided the defendant with sufficient notice to prepare his defense and protect himself against double jeopardy. 

(2) The defendant argued that the trial court plainly erred by admitting testimony and evidence that vouched for the victim’s credibility. The defendant objected on appeal (but not at trial) to the introduction of statements from Randolph County Department of Social Services employee Morgan Halkyer and Andrew, the victim’s uncle. Halkyer’s recorded interview with the victim was played for the jury.  In that interview, Halkyer told the victim:  “No kid should ever be put in that situation by an adult, you know, they’re an adult, they should know better.” The Court held that Halkyer did not impermissibly vouch for the victim’s credibility since her statements were not tantamount to an opinion that the victim was telling the truth. Instead, the statements provided the jury with the context of Halkyer’s interview.  In that interview, Halkyer was not attempting to opine about whether the victim was truthful but was comforting the victim with general statements about adult behavior. 

The defendant also argued that the trial court plainly erred in admitting text messages Andrew sent to the victim, in which stated that the defendant committed a crime. Among the texts was a statement that “they need to understand that a 40 year old man took you too [sic] his house and attempted inappropriate actions. It's [sic] may not be sexual assault but it is illegal.” Considering that the jury was instructed that its role was to judge the believability of the witnesses, the victim’s extensive testimony at trial, and the defendant’s statement that “maybe things did go a little too far,” the Court found that the defendant failed to demonstrate that Andrew’s text messages had a probable impact on the jury’s verdict. Thus, the Court held that any error in the admission of this evidence was not plain error.

Five indecent liberties indictments were sufficient where they were couched in the language of the statute and specified different and non-overlapping time frames. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictments were insufficient because they included “non-specific allegations.”

In an indecent liberties case, the trial judge’s jury instructions were supported by the indictment. The indictment tracked the statute and did not allege an evidentiary basis for the charge. The jury instructions, which identified the defendant’s conduct as placing his penis between the child’s feet, was a clarification of the evidence for the jury.

An indictment charging felony peeping was not defective. Rejecting the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that the defendant’s conduct was done without the victim’s consent, the court concluded that “any charge brought under N.C.G.S. § 14-202 denotes an act by which the defendant has spied upon another without that person’s consent.” Moreover, the charging language, which included the word “surreptitiously” gave the defendant adequate notice. Further, the element of “without consent” is adequately alleged in an indictment that indicates the defendant committed an act unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously.

State v. James, 368 N.C. 728 (Mar. 18, 2016)

In an appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 774 S.E.2d 871 (2015), the court per curiam affirmed for the reasons stated in State v. Williams, 368 N.C. 620 (Jan. 29, 2016) (in a case where the defendant, a sex offender, was charged with violating G.S. 14-208.11 by failing to provide timely written notice of a change of address, the court held that the indictment was not defective; distinguishing State v. Abshire, 363 N.C. 322 (2009), the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it alleged that he failed to register his change of address with the sheriff’s office within three days, rather than within three business days).

State v. Williams, 368 N.C. 620 (Jan. 29, 2016)

In a case where the defendant, a sex offender, was charged with violating G.S. 14-208.11 by failing to provide timely written notice of a change of address, the court held that the indictment was not defective. Distinguishing State v. Abshire, 363 N.C. 322 (2009), the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it alleged that he failed to register his change of address with the sheriff’s office within three days, rather than within three business days. 

Indictments charging the defendant with failing register under G.S. 14-208.11(a)(2) and (a)(7) were not fatally defective where the indictments substantially tracked the language of the statute.

In a failure to register as a sex offender case, the indictment was not defective on grounds that did not allege that the defendant failed to provide “written notice” of his address change “within three business days.” Citing prior case law, the court noted that it has already rejected arguments. The court followed this case law, refusing “to subject the indictment to hyper technical scrutiny.” It further noted that the defendant did not establish that this pleading issue prejudiced his trial preparation. Finally, it noted that the better practice would be for the prosecution to allege that the defendant failed to report his change in address “in writing” and “within three business days.” 

An indictment charging failing to notify the sheriff of a change in address was not defective. The indictment alleged, in relevant part, that the defendant “fail[ed] to register as a sex offender by failing to notify the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office of his change of address.” The defendant argued that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that he was required to provide “written notice” of a change of address. The court held: “we consider the manner of notice, in person or in writing, to be an evidentiary matter necessary to be proven at trial, but not required to be alleged in the indictment.”

(1) In a failing to register case the indictment was not defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant failed to provide 10 days of written notice of his change of address to “the last registering sheriff by failing to report his change of address to the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office.” The defendant allegedly moved from Burke to Wilkes County. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was fatally defective for not alleging that he failed to provide “in-person” notice. It reasoned that the defendant was not prosecuted for failing to make an “in person” notification, but rather for failing to give 10 days of written notice, which by itself is a violation of the statute. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that an error in the indictment indicating that the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office was the “the last registering sheriff” (in fact the last registering sheriff was the Burke County sheriff), invalidated the indictment. (2) The trial court did not err by allowing the State to amend the indictment and expand the dates of offense from 7 November 2012 to June to November 2012. It reasoned that the amendment did not substantially alter the charge “because the specific date that defendant moved to Wilkes County was not an essential element of the crime.”

An indictment charging the defendant with violating G.S. 14-208.18(a) (prohibiting registered sex offenders from being “[w]ithin 300 feet of any location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors when the place is located on premises that are not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors”) was not defective. The charges arose out of the defendant’s presence at a Wilkesboro public park, specifically, sitting on a bench within the premises of the park and in close proximity to the park’s batting cage and ball field. The indictment alleged, in relevant part, that the defendant was “within 300 feet of a location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors, to wit: a batting cage and ball field of Cub Creek Park located in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that the batting cages and ball field were located on a premise not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors.

An indictment charging failing to notify the sheriff’s office of change of address by a registered sex offender under G.S. 14-208.9 was defective where it failed to allege that the defendant was a person required to register. 

Following State v. Harris, 219 N.C. App. 590 (Apr. 3, 2012) (an indictment charging the defendant with being a sex offender unlawfully on the premises of a place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors in violation of G.S. 14-208.18 was defective because it failed to allege that he had been convicted of an offense enumerated in G.S. Ch. 14 Article 7A or an offense involving a victim who was under 16 years of age at the time of the offense), the court held that the indictment at issue was defective.

An indictment charging the defendant with being a sex offender unlawfully on the premises of a place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors in violation of G.S. 14-208.18 was defective. According to the court the “essential elements” of the charged offense are that the defendant (1) knowingly is on the premises of any place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors (2) at a time when he or she was required by North Carolina law to register as a sex offender based upon a conviction for an offense enumerated in G.S. Ch. 14 Article 7A or an offense involving a victim who was under the age of 16. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment, which alleged that the defendant “did unlawfully, willfully and feloniously on the premises of Winget Park Elementary School,” was defective because it omitted any affirmative assertion that he actually went on the school’s premises. The court reasoned that although the indictment contained a grammatical error, it clearly charged the defendant with unlawfully being on the premises of the school. Next, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that he knowingly went on the school’s premises. The court reasoned that the indictment’s allegation that the defendant acted “willfully” sufficed to allege the requisite “knowing” conduct. However, the court found merit in the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that he had been convicted of an offense enumerated in G.S. Ch. 14 Article 7A or an offense involving a victim who was under 16 years of age at the time of the offense.

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