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., 11/27/2021
E.g., 11/27/2021

No fatal variance between indictment and the evidence in a carrying a concealed weapon case. After an officer discovered that the defendant was carrying knives and metallic knuckles, the defendant was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. The indictment identified the weapon as “a Metallic set of Knuckles.” The trial court instructed the jury concerning “one or more knives.” The court, per curiam and without an opinion, summarily affirmed the ruling of the North Carolina Court of Appeals that the charging language, “a Metallic set of Knuckles,” was unnecessary surplusage, and even assuming the trial court erred in instructing on a weapon not alleged in the charge, no prejudicial error required a reversal where there was evidence that the defendant possessed knives.

When charging carrying a concealed gun under G.S. 14-269, the exception in G.S. 14-269(a1)(2) (having a permit) is a defense not an essential element and need not be alleged in the indictment.

An indictment charging the defendant with discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling was not fatally defective. The defendant argued that the indictment was defective because it charged him with discharging a weapon into occupied property causing serious bodily injury, but failed to allege that any injury resulted from the act. The court noted that the defendant’s argument was based on the indictment’s reference to G.S. 14-34.1(c) as the statute violated. However, a statutory reference in an indictment is surplusage and can be disregarded. Moreover, the body of the indictment charges the defendant with the version of the offense for which he was convicted, which does not require serious injury.

The State conceded, and the court held, that the indictment was insufficient to support a conviction for discharging a firearm within an enclosure to incite fear. The indictment improperly alleged that the defendant discharged a firearm “into” an occupied structure; the statute, G.S. 14-34.10, requires that the defendant discharge a firearm “within” an occupied building.

An indictment charging discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling was not defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant “discharge[d] a firearm to wit: a pistol into an apartment 1727 Clemson Court, Kannapolis, NC at the time the apartment was occupied by Michael Fezza” and that the defendant violated G.S. 14-34. The defendant was convicted of discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling in violation of G.S. 14-34.1. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the term “apartment,” as used in the indictment, was not synonymous with the term “dwelling,” the term used in the statute. On this issue the court stated: “We refuse to subject defendant’s … indictment to hyper technical scrutiny with respect to form.” Next, the court held that although the indictment incorrectly referenced G.S. 14-34 instead of G.S. 14-34.1(b), the error was not a fatal defect.

The trial court erred by instructing the jury on the offense of discharging a firearm into a vehicle that is in operation under G.S. 14-34.1(b) where the indictment failed to allege that the vehicle was in operation. However, because the indictment properly charged discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle under G.S. 14-34.1(a), the court vacated the conviction under G.S. 14-34.1(b) and remanded for entry of judgment under G.S. 14-34.1(a). 

Fact that indictment charging discharging a barreled weapon into an occupied dwelling used the term “residence” instead of the statutory term “dwelling” did not result in a lack of notice to the defendant as to the relevant charge.

In this case involving possession of a firearm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon, (1) binding caselaw required that the defendant’s conviction for felon in possession be vacated because the indictment was fatally defective; and (2) the trial court’s ruling on the defendant’s motion to suppress was based on improper findings of fact.

(1) G.S. 14-415.1(c) dictates that an indictment charging a defendant with possession of a firearm by a felon must be separate from any indictment charging other offenses related to or giving rise to the felon in possession charge.  Here, a single indictment charged the defendant with felon in possession, possession of a firearm with an altered/removed serial number, and carrying a concealed weapon.  Finding itself bound by State v. Wilkins, 225 N.C. App. 492 (2013), the court determined that the State’s failure to obtain a separate indictment for the felon in possession offense rendered the indictment fatally defective and invalid as to that offense.

(2) The court determined that the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s Fourth Amendment motion to suppress a firearm seized from the center console of his vehicle did not contain adequate findings of fact pertaining to a material conflict in the evidence of the accessibility of the firearm and consequently the trial court plainly erred in denying the motion. 

An officer initiated a valid traffic stop of the defendant and searched the vehicle for marijuana based on an emanating odor.  During the search, the officer felt and saw the handgrip of a pistol around the center console, arrested the defendant for carrying a concealed weapon, and then removed a plastic panel from the console to retrieve the pistol.  The defendant challenged the trial court’s finding of fact that “no tools were needed” to remove the panel, a finding bearing upon the accessibility of the pistol for purposes of determining whether the officer had probable cause for the independent search of the console premised on the offense of carrying a concealed weapon.  Reviewing the testimony, the court of appeals found that the finding that “no tools were needed” was not supported by the testimony at the suppression hearing and that the trial court otherwise failed to make necessary findings as to the accessibility of the pistol.  Because the accessibility issue was not resolved by adequate findings, the trial court’s conclusion of law regarding probable cause was not supported and it could not properly rule on the defendant’s motion to suppress.  The court remanded the case for the trial court to make further findings on the issue.

An indictment for felon in possession of a firearm was fatally defective because the charge was included as a separate count in a single indictment also charging the defendant with assault with a deadly weapon. G.S. 14-415.1(c) requires that possession of a firearm by a felon be charged in a separate indictment from other related charges.

Felon in possession indictment that listed the wrong date for the prior felony conviction was not defective, nor was there a fatal variance on this basis (indictment alleged prior conviction date of December 8, 1992 but judgment for the prior conviction that was introduced at trial was dated December 18, 1992).

State v. Huckelba, 240 N.C. App. 544 (Apr. 21, 2015) rev’d on other grounds, 368 N.C. 569 (Dec 18 2015)

In a carrying a weapon on educational property case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was a fatal variance between the indictment, which alleged that the defendant possessed weapons at “High Point University, located at 833 Montlieu Avenue” and the evidence, which showed that the conduct occurred at “1911 North Centennial Street.” The court concluded: “The indictment charged all of the essential elements of the crime: that Defendant knowingly possessed a Ruger pistol on educational property—High Point University. We agree with the State that the physical address for High Point University listed in the indictment is surplusage because the indictment already described the ‘educational property’ element as ‘High Point University.’” 

In Re J.C., 205 N.C. App. 301 (July 6, 2010)

A juvenile petition sufficiently alleged that the juvenile was delinquent for possession of a weapon on school grounds in violation of G.S. 14-269.2(d). The petition alleged that the juvenile possessed an “other weapon,” specified as a “steel link from chain.” The evidence showed that the juvenile possessed a 3/8-inch thick steel bar forming a C-shaped “link” about 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. The link closed with a ½-inch thick bolt and the object weighed at least 1 pound. The juvenile could slide his fingers through the link so that 3-4 inches of the bar could be held securely across his knuckles and used as a weapon. Finding the petition sufficient the court stated: “the item . . . is sufficiently equivalent to what the General Assembly intended to be recognized as ‘metallic knuckles’ under [the statute].”

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