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
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In this Jackson County case, defendant appealed his convictions for attempted first-degree kidnapping and additional sexual offenses with two minors, arguing error in (1) joining his attempted kidnapping charge with the sexual offenses for trial, and (2) denying his motion to dismiss the attempted kidnapping charge. The Court of Appeals determined that defendant waived (1) and found no error in (2). 

In 2011, defendant began dating the mother of his two sexual assault victims. Over the next few years, defendant sexually assaulted both children, getting one of them pregnant. Eventually, defendant was arrested for the abuse, and during his pretrial release, he was restricted from contacting any minor under sixteen, and was ordered to reside with his parents in Michigan. Defendant violated these terms by contacting one of the victims; police told the victim to set up a meeting between them in Sylva, NC. Defendant was subsequently arrested at this meeting with duct tape, pepper spray, a firearm, and cable ties. Before defendant came to trial, he moved to sever the attempted kidnapping charge from the sexual abuse charges, but the trial court denied the motion. Defendant did not renew the motion at trial. 

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals explained that defendant waived his argument by failing to renew his motion to sever at trial. The court noted G.S. 15A-927 and State v. Silva, 304 N.C. 122 (1981), as support for this conclusion, while dismissing the conflicting precedent in State v. Wood, 185 N.C. App. 227 (2007), with the explanation that it “cannot overrule our state’s highest court.” Slip Op. at 6. Moving to (2), the court noted the substantial evidence supporting the attempted kidnapping charge, including the circumstances around defendant’s arrest, defendant’s own statements, and the supplies and preparations he made for the attempted kidnapping. 

The defendant was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and other serious felony charges after he shot and killed his former girlfriend and then pistol-whipped and fired a gun at another woman, a registered nurse. On appeal he argued that the that the trial court erred by joining the charges for trial. The defendant had objected to the State’s motion for joinder, but he never filed a motion to sever charges as provided in G.S. 15A-927. The Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant waived the issue, declined to review the issue in its discretion under Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, and further declined to consider whether he received ineffective assistance of counsel for his trial lawyer’s failure to file a motion to sever charges. The Court of Appeals deemed the latter issue more appropriate for a motion for appropriate relief filed in the trial court, and so dismissed that claim without prejudice.

State v. Schalow (“Schalow II”), ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Jan. 7, 2020) rev’d in part on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, 2021-NCSC-166 (Dec 17 2021)

The defendant was charged with attempted first-degree murder and various other assaults against his wife in Henderson County. The State proceeded only on the attempted murder at trial. After the jury was empaneled, the trial court discovered that the indictment failed to allege malice, an essential element for attempted first-degree murder. The trial court ordered a mistrial over the defendant’s objection and dismissed the indictment. At retrial, the defendant’s double jeopardy argument was overruled and the defendant was convicted of attempted murder. On appeal in that case (“Schalow I”), the Court of Appeals determined that the second prosecution violated the Double Jeopardy Clause and vacated the convicted (Phil Dixon blogged about that case, here). Following that ruling, the State sought discretionary review in the Supreme Court and indicted the defendant on 14 counts of felony child abuse relating to the assaults on his wife. In remarks to the media, the District Attorney stated as follows:

If . . . the Supreme Court refuses to take up the case, then I have a plan to address that circumstance and will take additional action to see that [Defendant] is held accountable for his actions. . . . I will do everything that I can do to see that [Defendant] remains in custody for as long as possible.

The N.C. Supreme Court declined to review the Court of Appeals decision in Schalow I, and the DA posted on social media about his intentions to ensure the defendant stayed in custody, that he received a sentence similar to his first, and to prosecute the defendant again. Additional indictments for assaults against his wife were brought. All of the new charges in the third prosecution were based on the same alleged assaults against the defendant’s wife that constituted the basis for the first prosecution.

At trial, the defendant again moved to dismiss. He claimed the prosecution violated double jeopardy, constituted a vindictive prosecution, and was in violation of his rights to joinder of offenses. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant sought certiorari review of that decision pretrial, which was granted. [The defendant had previously sought pretrial review of the denial of his motion to dismiss for double jeopardy in Schalow I and was denied.] The court granted relief on the vindictive prosecution and joinder claims.

(1) Under North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711 (1969), it is a due process violation for the court to impose penalties on the defendant in response to the defendant’s successful appeal or collateral attack. Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21 (1974) later extended the protection from vindictive acts to charging decisions by the prosecution, so that the State could not try the defendant for more serious charges following the defendant’s successful appeal from the original charges of conviction. “The Blackledge court clarified that a defendant need not show that the prosecutor actually acted in bad faith; instead, where the reviewing court determines that ‘a realistic likelihood of ‘vindictiveness’’ exists, a presumption of vindictiveness may be applied.” To demonstrate a vindictive prosecution, the defendant must show that either actual intent to punish the defendant for the lawful exercise of his rights, or that the facts support presuming vindictiveness and the State failed to rebut that presumption. If a prosecution is found to be vindictive, the conviction must be vacated.

Here, the district attorney charged the defendant three different times for the same conduct. Each time, the district attorney increased the seriousness and number of charges, resulting in greater sentencing exposure to the defendant at each prosecution. The first case charged attempted manslaughter (based on the flawed indictment for attempted first-degree murder); the second case involved attempted first-degree murder; the third case involved 14 counts of child abuse, three class C assaults, two class F assaults, and one class H assault, with aggravating factors alleged in each. The defendant was facing over 35 years more time in prison in the third case, compared to the second. “[W]here a defendant is indicted on charges carrying a ‘significantly increased potential period of incarceration’ after the defendant ‘does what the law clearly permits him to do’—here, appealing from the judgment in the Second Prosecution—a reviewing court may presume prejudice.” The presumption here was “particularly appropriate here” due to the involvement of the same prosecutor at each stage. The court rejected the State’s argument that no presumption of vindictiveness should apply, because the State was only attempting to correct pleadings errors. The defendant was exposed to 19 more charges in the third prosecution, carrying significantly increased penalties. This was not rectifying pleading defects and warranted a presumption of vindictiveness.

The State also failed to rebut the presumption of vindictiveness. The only evidence showed that the DA charged in response to the outcome of its appeal of Schalow I and that the DA was determined to ensure the defendant stayed in custody “as long as possible.” Even if this did not amount to actual vindictiveness (which the court did not decide), the defendant showed that his case warranted a presumption of vindictiveness which the State failed to overcome. “[T]o hold such evidence can be sufficient to overcome a presumption of vindictiveness would effectively eviscerate the presumption altogether, and thereby render Pearce and its progeny nugatory.” The new charges were therefore dismissed.

(2) Under G.S. 15A-926, related offenses may be joined for trial. If a defendant is tried on a joinable offense and thereafter is put on trial for another related offense, he may move for dismissal for failure to join offenses, subject to the exceptions in the statute. Under State v. Warren, 313 N.C. 254 (1985), where the prosecution withholds additional charges in an effort to avoid statutory joinder of offenses, the new charges must be dismissed. In the words of the Warren court:

If a defendant can show, for example, that during the first trial the prosecutor was aware of substantial evidence that the defendant committed the crimes for which he was later indicted, this would be some evidence that the delay in bringing the later indictment was for the purpose of circumventing the statute. A showing that the State’s evidence at the second trial would be the same as the evidence presented in the first trial would also tend to show that the prosecutor delayed the indictment on the additional crimes for such purpose. A finding of either or both circumstances would support but not compel a determination by the trial court that the prosecutor withheld the additional indictment in order to circumvent the statute.

Here, the new charges were all based on the same conduct as the original assault charges that were dismissed before trial, and the child abuse allegations were apparently based on the theory that the defendant assaulted his wife in the presence of the child, causing mental injury. The State also represented to the trial court in a pretrial hearing that there had been no new investigation and would be no new substantive evidence at trial. The defendant therefore met both prongs of Warren—the prosecutor knew about substantial evidence of the assaults and child abuse during the earlier prosecutions, and the evidence necessary to prove those offense was no different than the evidence presented in the earlier trial. While these findings “support but do not compel” the conclusion that the State purposefully held back additional charges to circumvent joinder rights (and no prior case has ever reversed the denial of motion to dismiss based on Warren), here, it was appropriate. According to the court:

[B]ecause (1) Defendant has shown that both Warren circumstances are present, (2) the State has had multiple previous opportunities to join the offenses on which it now seeks to try Defendant, (3) the State has neither argued that it was somehow unable to try the offense at an earlier time nor proffered any explanation for why the offenses were not tried along with the earlier charge, we hold that the Warren exception should apply.

The defendant was therefore entitled to dismissal of the new charges for violation of his rights to statutory joinder of offenses. The court did not rule on the defendant’s double jeopardy argument because it granted relief on the other two claims. The matter was reversed and remanded for the motion to dismiss to be granted.

In this gang-related case involving two shootings and charges of first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, attempted first-degree murder, and discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to sever. Here, the transactional connection between the offenses was sufficient for joinder. Each arose from a continuous course of violent criminal conduct related to gang rivalries. The evidence tended to show that the second shooting was in retaliation for the first. The two shootings occurred the same day; the same pistol was used in both; and witnesses testified to evidence that applied to both shootings, or testified that they were present at both crime scenes. Additionally, neither the number of offenses nor the complexity of the evidence offered required severance. The evidence was not unduly complicated or confusing. The jury instructions clearly and carefully separated the offenses, and the verdict forms unmistakably distinguished the offenses by using the victim’s names. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that severance was necessary to protect his constitutional right to choose to testify with respect to some of the charges but not others. The court noted that a trial court does not abuse its discretion by refusing to sever multiple offenses against the same defendant where the defendant’s only assertion of prejudice is that he might have elected to testify in one of the cases and not in the others.

The trial court did not err by joining for trial offenses that occurred on different dates. The first set of offenses occurred on May 15, 2015 and involved assaults and sexual assaults on B.A. The second set of charges arose from a breaking or entering that occurred approximately eight months later, when the defendant entered a neighbor’s home looking for B.A. The defendant argued that certain testimony offered by the neighbor was inadmissible character evidence as to the first set of charges but was essential testimony as to the second set of charges, to establish guilt of another. The court however found that the evidence would not have been admissible for that purpose; to be admissible, guilt of another evidence must do more than create mere conjecture of another’s guilt. Here, the evidence was mere speculation that another person committed the crime. Furthermore the testimony was not inconsistent with the defendant’s guilt.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to sever where the offenses had a transactional connection (he was charged with breaking into three beachfront residences within 2.5 miles of each other and within a three-day span). 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by joining charges for trial. The defendant was indicted for: two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon; first-degree murder of Frink; two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury; two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder; first-degree murder of Jones; first-degree kidnapping; conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping; possession with intent to sell and/or deliver cocaine; and possession of a stolen firearm. Although the charges stemmed from a series of events that occurred over two months, they were factually related. The defendant participated in the shooting of Frick, with two accomplices, Reaves and Jones. The next night the defendant and Reaves were pulled over, and two firearms were recovered from their possession, one of which turned out to have been used in the earlier shooting. This evidence shows a direct link between the possession of a firearm by a felon charges and the charges arising directly out of the shooting. The discovery of the cocaine forming the basis for the drug charge occurred during the traffic stop. The charges related to the Jones murder were connected where the evidence showed that the defendant killed Jones to prevent Jones from implicating him in the earlier Frink murder. 

The trial court did not err by joining for trial offenses committed on two different child victims. The State alleged that on 3 September 2010, the defendant committed indecent exposure by showing his privates to a child victim, M.S., and committed indecent liberties with M.S. It also alleged that on 1 July 2011 he engaged in a sexual act with a child victim, K.C., committed first-degree kidnapping, and committed indecent liberties on K.C. The evidence in the cases was similar with respect to victim, location, motive, and modus operandi. Both victims were prepubescent girls, the acts occurred within months of one another in a donation store while the girls were momentarily alone, and in both cases the defendant immediately fled the scene and engaged in sexual misconduct.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his lawyer failed to object to joinder of the defendant's charges of armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon. The defendant argued that the felon in possession statute was a “civil regulatory measure” that could not be joined with a criminal charge. The court held that felon in possession is a criminal offense that was properly joined for trial.

The trial court did not err by joining charges of impersonating a law enforcement officer and felony forgery that occurred in March 2006 with charges of impersonating a law enforcement officer that occurred in Apr. 2006. The offenses occurred approximately one month apart. Additionally, on both occasions the defendant acted as a law enforcement officer (interrogating individuals and writing citations for underage drinking), notified the minors’ family members that they were in his custody for underage drinking, and identified himself as a law enforcement officer to family members. His actions evidence a scheme or plan to act under the guise of apparent authority as a law enforcement officer to interrogate, belittle, and intimidate minors. 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by joining charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon and possession of stolen firearms. There was a sufficient transactional connection (a firearm that was the basis of the firearm charge was used in the assault) and joinder did not prejudicially hinder the defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial. 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the state’s motion to join ten counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and ten counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor with an appeal for trial de novo of misdemeanor peeping.

State v. Melvin, 377 N.C. 187 (Apr. 16, 2021)

Six defendants were alleged to have committed an armed robbery at Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Amphitheater. The trial judge granted the State’s motion to try three of the defendant’s jointly, including Mr. Melvin. Before and during trial, Melvin repeatedly moved to sever his case from that against one of his co-defendants, Mr. Baker. After all three defendants were convicted, Melvin and Baker appealed, arguing that the trial court should have granted their motions for severance based on antagonistic defenses. The Court of Appeals concluded unanimously that the that their claims were not properly preserved for appeal, because neither had expressly argued before trial that they planned to present antagonistic defenses. State v. Melvin, No. COA18-843, 2019 WL 614204 (N.C. Ct. App. 2019).

Melvin sought and obtained discretionary review by the Supreme Court, asking the court to review the Court of Appeals’ decision as to his objection to joint trial with Mr. Baker. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the Court of Appeals erred by considering only Melvin’s pretrial motion for severance and not considering his subsequent motions made after the close of evidence, after closing argument, and after conviction before sentencing. Under G.S. 15A-927, a trial court must deny joinder or grant severance of defendants whenever (1) the court finds before trial that severance is necessary to protect a defendant’s speedy trial right or to promote a fair determination of guilt or innocence, or (2) the trial court finds during trial that severance is necessary to achieve a fair determination of guilt or innocence. The statute thus contemplates objections both before trial and during trial, and defendants may therefore preserve severance claims for appellate review by objecting at any point during the trial. The Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Melvin’s argument for severance was not preserved was based on that court’s erroneous application of the rule for motions to sever offenses, which, under G.S. 15A-952, must generally be made with specificity before trial. There is no similar statutory requirement for motions to sever defendants. Therefore, on the facts of this case, where Melvin objected to joinder prior to trial, moved to sever during trial based on a co-defendant’s testimony implicating him, and again moved to sever based on a co-defendant’s argument during closing that Melvin was guilty, the Court held that Melvin sufficiently preserved for appellate review his motion to sever defendants on the basis of antagonistic defenses. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the claim on the merits.

Justice Berger, joined by Justices Newby and Barringer, wrote separately, concurring in the result only. He agreed that the Court of Appeals applied the wrong joinder statute, but said that the Supreme Court should have simply remanded the matter for consideration under the proper statute, rather than concluding that the matter was indeed preserved based on the defendant’s motions before the trial court.

In this Haywood County case, three defendants appealed their judgments for various drug-related offenses, arguing error in (1) joining their cases for trial, (2) admission of certain testimony, (3) denying their motions to dismiss. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In October of 2018, the Haywood County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant on three apartments, finding heroin and cocaine along with drug paraphernalia. The three defendants were found together in one of the apartments, along with drugs and a large amount of cash. The defendants came to trial in August of 2021, and the State moved to join the cases for trial; the trial court allowed this motion over their objections. 

For (1), the court noted that G.S. 15A-926 permits joinder in the discretion of the trial court, with the primary consideration being the fair trial for each defendant. Here, no confessions or affirmative defenses were offered by any defendant, and “[b]ecause there were no antagonistic or conflicting defenses that would deprive Defendants of a fair trial,” the court found no error in joining the cases. Slip Op. at 8. 

Looking to (2), the court explained that one defendant objected to the testimony by an officer referencing several complaints about a black car driven by the defendant. The court noted that the officer’s testimony was not hearsay under Rule of Evidence 801, as it was not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Instead, the officer’s testimony explained his subsequent actions in observing the black car, which led to conducting surveillance on the apartments. 

Finally, in (3), the court found that two of the defendants had constructive possession of the drugs sufficient to support their convictions for possession despite not having exclusive possession of the apartments, as sufficient evidence of incriminating circumstances linked the defendants to the drugs and paraphernalia. The court noted this constructive possession, along with a rental application for one of the apartments, supported the finding of a conspiracy between the defendants to traffic the drugs. As a result, the trial court did commit error by denying the defendants’ motions to dismiss. 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by joining charges against two defendants for trial, where joinder did not impede the defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial. 

State v. Ellison, 213 N.C. App. 300 (July 19, 2011) aff'd on other grounds, 366 N.C. 439 (Mar 8 2013)

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by granting the State’s motion to join charges against two defendants. The defendant had argued that as a result of joinder, the jury was allowed to consider against him “other crimes” evidence introduced against a co-defendant. The court rejected this argument, concluding that the no prejudice occurred; the defendant was clearly not involved in the other crime and the trial court gave an appropriate limiting instruction.

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