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., 04/21/2024
E.g., 04/21/2024
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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