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., 02/28/2024
E.g., 02/28/2024
State v. Land, 366 N.C. 550 (June 13, 2013)

The court, per curiam, affirmed the decision below in State v. Land, 223 N.C. App. 305 (2012), holding that a drug indictment was not fatally defective. Over a dissent, the court of appeals had held that when a defendant is charged with delivering marijuana and the amount involved is less than five grams, the indictment need not allege that the delivery was for no remuneration. Relying on G.S. 90-95(b)(2) (transfer of less than five grams of marijuana for no remuneration does not constitute a delivery in violation of G.S. 90-95(a)(1)), the defendant argued that the statute “creates an additional element for the offense of delivering less than five grams of marijuana -- that the defendant receive remuneration -- and that this additional element must be alleged.” Relying on State v. Pevia, 56 N.C. App. 384, 387 (1982), the court of appeals held that an indictment is valid under G.S. 90-95 even without that allegation.

In this Cabarrus County case, defendant appealed his death by distribution conviction, arguing error in (1) denial of his motion to dismiss, and (2) improperly admitting Rule of Evidence 404(b) evidence. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In March of 2020, defendant sold drugs, purportedly heroin and cocaine, to two women. After taking the drugs, one of the women died, and toxicology determined she had both cocaine and fentanyl in her bloodstream. The level of metabolites for both cocaine and fentanyl were determined to be in the fatal range. When defendant came to trial on charges of death by distribution, the trial court allowed the surviving woman to testify about defendant’s prior sales of drugs to her as Rule 404(b) evidence to show defendant’s “intent, identity, and common scheme or plan.” Slip Op. at 5. 

Considering (1) defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court of Appeals addressed defendant’s arguments in relation to the elements of G.S. 14-18.4(b), the death by distribution statute. The court explained that circumstantial evidence supported the conclusion that defendant sold fentanyl instead of heroin to the victim. The court also noted “[w]hile the evidence does not foreclose the possibility that fentanyl may not have been the sole cause of [the victim’s] death, there is ample evidence to support a conclusion that it was, in fact, fentanyl that killed [the victim].” Id. at 9. Rejecting defendant’s argument that he could not foresee that the victim would consume all the drugs at once, the court found sufficient evidence to submit the question of proximate cause to the jury.   

Moving to (2) the Rule 404(b) evidence, the court noted that the trial court engaged in a lengthy analysis of whether to admit the testimony related to previous drug sales. Here, the testimony “demonstrate[d] not only the common plan or scheme of Defendant’s drug sales, but also his intent when transacting with [the woman],” and also served to confirm his identity. Id. at 13. Because the court could not establish a danger of unfair prejudice outweighing the probative value of the testimony, it found no error. 

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was a fatal variance between a sale and delivery indictment which alleged that the defendant sold the controlled substance to “A. Simpson” and the evidence. Although Mr. Simpson testified at trial that his name was “Cedrick Simpson,” not “A. Simpson,” the court rejected the defendant’s argument, stating:

[N]either during trial nor on appeal did defendant argue that he was confused as to Mr. Simpson’s identity or prejudiced by the fact that the indictment identified “A. Simpson” as the purchaser instead of “Cedric Simpson” or “C. Simpson.” In fact, defendant testified that he had seen Cedric Simpson daily for fifteen years at the gym. The evidence suggests that defendant had no question as to Mr. Simpson’s identity. The mere fact that the indictment named “A. Simpson” as the purchaser of the controlled substances is insufficient to require that defendant’s convictions be vacated when there is no evidence of prejudice, fraud, or misrepresentation. 

No fatal variance where an indictment charging sale and delivery of a controlled substance alleged that the sale was made to “Detective Dunabro.” The evidence at trial showed that the detective had since gotten married and was known by the name Amy Gaulden. Because Detective Dunabro and Amy Gaulden were the same person, known by both married and maiden name, the indictment sufficiently identified the purchaser. The court noted that “[w]here different names are alleged to relate to the same person, the question is one of identity and is exclusively for the jury to decide.”

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