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
State v. Langley, 371 N.C. 389 (Aug. 17, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 166 (2017), the court reversed, holding that a habitual felon indictment was not fatally defective. The statute requires that a habitual felon indictment set forth “the date that prior felony offenses were committed;” “the name of the state or other sovereign against whom said felony offenses were committed;” “the dates that pleas of guilty were entered to or convictions returned in said felony offenses;” and “the identity of the court wherein said pleas or convictions took place.” Here, the indictment alleged that the three prior felony offenses were committed on 11 September 2006, 8 October 2009, and 24 August 2011; that the offenses that led to defendant’s felony convictions were committed against the State of North Carolina; that defendant was convicted of committing these offenses, the identity of which was specified in the body of the habitual felon indictment, on 15 February 2007, 21 September 2010, and 5 May 2014; and that each of these convictions occurred in the Superior Court, Pitt County. As a result, the habitual felon indictment contains all of the information required by G.S. 14-7.3 and provides defendant with adequate notice of the bases for the State’s contention that defendant had attained habitual felon status. The court noted that the indictment alleged that the defendant had committed the offenses of armed robbery and had been convicted of the lesser included offenses of common-law robbery. Because an indictment for an offense includes all lesser offenses, when the defendant allegedly committed the offense of armed robbery 8 October 2009 and 24 August 2011, he also committed the lesser included offense of common law robbery. Thus, the Court of Appeals was incorrect to state that “[i]t would be an impermissible inference to read into the indictment that common law robbery took place on 8 October 2009 or 24 August 2011 because that is not what the grand jury found when it returned its bill of indictment.”

The defendant was charged with three counts of breaking and entering, three counts of larceny after breaking and entering, two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, and one count of felonious possession of stolen goods. The State ostensibly indicted the defendant as an habitual felon, for which the defendant waived arraignment, but the grand jury had returned the indictment marked as “NOT A TRUE BILL.” At the close of the State’s evidence at the trial of the underlying felonies, the trial judge granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the breaking and entering charges, the related larceny charges, and one of the false pretenses counts. The jury convicted the defendant of one false pretense count and of the lesser offense of misdemeanor possession of stolen goods. Those convictions rested on the defendant’s possession of five stolen videogames and the sale of those videogames to a pawn shop for $12. After the jury’s verdict, the trial judge granted the State’s request to continue sentencing to obtain a new habitual felon indictment. The defendant was thereafter tried on the new habitual felon indictment and sentenced to 115 to 150 months in prison.

The defendant argued at trial and on appeal that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to try and sentence the defendant as an habitual felon. A majority of the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument, relying on State v. Oakes, 113 N.C. App. 332 (1994). Quoting from a portion of the Oakes opinion, the majority stated that an habitual felon indictment must be part of a prosecution “for which no judgment” has yet been entered. Oakes, 113 N.C. App. at 340. Accordingly, because judgment had not yet been entered, the State could obtain and prosecute a new habitual felon indictment. The majority also held that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in granting a continuance to allow the State to obtain a new habitual felon indictment, rejecting the defendant’s argument that the continuance was improper because it resulted in an exponential increase in his sentence. The dissenting judge distinguished the current case from Oakes. The dissent observed that Oakes found that the defect in the habitual felon indictment was “technical” and “[a]t the time defendant entered his plea to the underlying substantive felony and proceeded to trial, there was pending against him an habitual felon indictment presumed valid by virtue of its ‘return by the grand jury as a true bill.’” Id., 113 N.C. App. at 339. Here, there was not a true bill of indictment, and allowing the State to obtain a new habitual felon indictment after the defendant entered his plea to the underlying felony was, in the dissent’s view, “beyond the boundaries of due process.” [Note: For a further discussion of case law on when the State may obtain a superseding habitual felon indictment, see Jeff Welty, North Carolina’s Habitual Felon, Violent Habitual Felon, Habitual Breaking and Entering Laws, ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE BULLETIN No. 2013/07, at 14–16 (Aug. 2013) (discussing cases allowing superseding habitual felon indictment for technical defects after trial of underlying felony but not for substantive changes).]

State v. Forte, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 764 (July 3, 2018) review granted, 371 N.C. 779 (Dec 5 2018)

A habitual felon indictment was fatally defective. Citing precedent, the court noted that a habitual felon indictment must state two dates for each prior felony conviction: the date that the defendant committed the felony and the date that the defendant was convicted of the felony. These dates are essential elements. Here, the indictment failed to allege an offense date for one of the defendant’s prior felony convictions.

The trial court erred by instructing the jury that it could find that the defendant attained habitual felon status based on a prior conviction for selling cocaine where the indictment did not allege that conviction. The indictment alleged three predicate felonies to establish habitual felon status. However, the trial court instructed the jury on four felonies, the three identified in the indictment as well as sale of cocaine, which was not alleged in the indictment. Because it was impossible for the court to determine whether the jurors relied on the fourth felony not alleged in the indictment, a new hearing on habitual felon was required.

The trial court lacked jurisdiction over a habitual felon charge where the habitual felon indictment was returned before the principal felonies occurred.

A habitual felon indictment was not defective where it described one of the prior felony convictions as “Possess Stolen Motor Vehicle” instead of Possession of Stolen Motor Vehicle. The defendant’s argument was “hypertechnical;” the indictment sufficiently notified the defendant of the elements of the offense. Moreover, it referenced the case number, date, and county of the prior conviction.

State v. Flint, 199 N.C. App. 709 (Sept. 15, 2009)

Although a habitual felon indictment may be returned before, after, or simultaneously with a substantive felony indictment, it is improper where it is issued before the substantive felony even occurred.

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