Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 06/21/2024
E.g., 06/21/2024

In this Haywood County case, the Supreme Court reversed a unanimous Court of Appeals decision and reinstated defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon. 

In April of 2018, defendant was pulled over for driving with a permanently revoked license. During the stop, the officer smelled marijuana; defendant admitted that he had smoked marijuana earlier but none was in the vehicle. Based on the smell and defendant’s admission, the officer decided to search the vehicle, eventually discovering two firearms. Defendant was charged in a single indictment with possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a firearm with an altered or removed serial number, and carrying a concealed weapon. At trial, defendant did not challenge the indictment, and he was ultimately convicted of all three offenses.

On appeal, defendant argued the indictment was fatally flawed, as G.S. 14-415.1(c) requires a separate indictment for possession of a firearm by a felon. The Court of Appeals agreed, vacating defendant’s conviction based on State v. Wilkins, 225 N.C. App. 492 (2013), and holding that the statute unambiguously mandates a separate indictment for the charge.

After granting discretionary review, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals, explaining that “it is well-established that a court should not quash an indictment due to a defect concerning a ‘mere informality’ that does not ‘affect the merits of the case.’” Slip Op. at 6, quoting State v. Brady, 237 N.C. 675 (1953). The court pointed to its decision in State v. Brice, 370 N.C. 244 (2017), which held that failure to obtain a separate indictment required by a habitual offender statute was not a jurisdictional defect and did not render the indictment fatally defective. Applying the same reasoning to the current case, the court explained that “the statute’s separate indictment requirement is not jurisdictional, and failure to comply with the requirement does not render the indictment fatally defective.” Slip Op. at 9. The court explicitly stated that Wilkins was wrongly decided and specifically overruled. Id.

Justice Morgan dissented, and would have upheld the Court of Appeals opinion and the reasoning in Wilkinsfinding that the lack of a separate indictment required by G.S. 14-415.1(c) was a fatal defect. Id. at 11. 

In this Cleveland County case, defendant appealed his conviction for aiding and abetting possession of a firearm by a felon, arguing a fatally defective indictment and error in dismissing his motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals disagreed on both points and found no error.

Detectives in an unmarked vehicle observed a black pickup truck swerve left of the center line several times while driving, and initiated a traffic stop. Defendant was seated in the passenger seat of the truck when the detectives approached. The driver of the vehicle was known to be a felon by the detectives, and they conducted Terry frisks of defendant and the driver of the truck, finding .32 caliber ammunition in the pocket of the driver. After finding the ammunition, the detectives searched the truck, finding a handgun inside the glovebox and another hidden under the center seat, as well as magazines and ammunition around the vehicle.

Reviewing defendant’s challenge to the indictment, the Court of Appeals first explained the necessary elements of aiding and abetting another person in a crime, and the then the necessary elements of possession of a firearm by a felon. Turning to the text of the indictment, the court found all the necessary elements for the crime, overruling defendant’s argument.

The court next looked to the sufficiency of the evidence, explaining that defendant argued no proof of his intent to commit the crime, even though the elements of the offense do not include an intent requirement, because the indictment referenced his knowledge of the driver’s prior felony conviction. Looking at the evidence in the record, the court found sufficient evidence that defendant provided a firearm to the driver of the vehicle, and that defendant was aware of the driver’s prior felony conviction. This led the court to conclude sufficient evidence existed to support the conviction. 

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).

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