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., 06/26/2022
E.g., 06/26/2022

The defendant arranged a meeting with the victim through an app for the purchase of a phone. The victim left his home to go get the phone and was later found shot and killed. Communications found on the app led police officers to the defendant, who was 15 years old at the time.

Officers contacted the defendant’s mother and arranged to meet with the defendant as a witness in a larceny case. The officers met with and questioned the defendant in the presence of his parents. During the questioning, the defendant told the officers about the meeting that had been arranged for the purchase of the phone, and eventually disclosed that one of his companions wanted to rob the victim. Although the defendant carried a gun at the time of the incident, the defendant insisted that his own plan was not to rob the victim but rather sell him the phone.

The defendant was found guilty of attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree murder. The defendant was found not guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery with a firearm.

(1) On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s challenge for cause to dismiss a juror. The Court of Appeals held that the defendant failed to preserve the issue for appeal because he did not adhere to the procedures established by G.S. 15A-1214(i). Specifically, the defendant did not (1) previously peremptorily challenge the juror; or (2) state in his motion to renew his challenge for cause that he would have challenged that juror peremptorily had his challenges not been exhausted.

(2) The defendant’s next argument on appeal was that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress his confession. The defendant contended that detectives gained access to him, a fifteen-year-old boy, by deceiving his mother, repeatedly told the defendant that he was lying, and capitalized on the presence of his parents to extract the confessions from him. Based on the trial court’s findings of fact, the Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant was in a non-custodial setting in his grandmother’s home with his parents, was informed the discussion was voluntary, was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained, and was not coerced, deceived, or threatened. The defendant did not challenge any of the trail court’s findings of fact. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s findings of fact fully support its conclusions of law, and based upon the totality of the circumstances, held that the defendant’s statement was voluntary. The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress his non-custodial statement.

(3) The defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on second-degree murder as a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder because there was evidence that supported the instruction. In rejecting this argument, the Court of Appeals noted that there was no evidence that the victim was killed other than in the course of an attempted robbery. The Court concluded that there was no evidence in the record from which a rational juror could find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder and not guilty of felony murder.

(4) The defendant’s final argument was that the trial court erred by failing to order a discretionary transfer hearing as a matter of due process. The defendant argued that the juvenile petition did not contain facts indicating that he committed first-degree murder, so a discretionary transfer hearing should have occurred as required under G.S. 7B-2203. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, noting that the defendant already had a transfer hearing in district court, and the defendant did not appeal the district court’s order to superior court as required by G.S. 7B-2603.

The defendant also contended that the trial court violated his right to due process by allowing the State to prosecute him under felony murder because felony murder is based on deterrence, which is not effective for and should not apply to juveniles. However, the Court of Appeals considered the argument abandoned because the defendant failed to cite any law indicating a juvenile may not be convicted of felony murder.

Chief Judge Stroud dissented in part to say that because there was a conflict in the evidence regarding an element of felony murder, specifically whether or not the defendant planned to rob the victim, the evidence supported an instruction for the lesser included offense of second-degree murder.

The defendant in this case was convicted of first-degree murder on four different theories, along with three counts each of armed robbery and kidnapping, and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. The trial court sentenced the defendant for the murder and two robberies, and arrested judgment on the remaining convictions. Since the only issues raised on appeal concerned jury selection and a clerical error in one of the judgments, the appellate court declined to “recount the especially brutal and horrific factual background” leading to the defendant’s convictions. The facts are summarized in the parties’ briefs available here and here.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by refusing to excuse a prospective juror for cause after the juror indicated that she would not be able to apply the presumption of innocence. The defendant’s motion to excuse the juror for cause was denied at trial, so she was excused by the defense with a peremptory challenge. The motion was renewed later in the jury selection process after all the defendant’s peremptory challenges were exhausted, when the defendant was unable to excuse another juror he otherwise would have.

The appellate court reviewed the trial court’s ruling under an abuse of discretion standard, and found no error. Since this case had received extensive pretrial publicity, around 200 prospective jurors were called for jury selection. After excusing a number of jurors for hardships, the remaining 146 were divided into two panels for jury selection. Many of those potential jurors were subsequently excused for cause due to their exposure to pretrial publicity, inability to be fair and impartial, and concerns over the gruesome nature of the evidence. The juror at issue in this appeal had no prior knowledge of the facts, but during voir dire she stated that her father was retired from the Highway Patrol and acknowledged that she may have difficulty being fair to the defendant since she would be inclined to trust and give greater weight to testimony from a law enforcement witness. However, after further questioning by the attorneys and the trial judge, the prospective juror also stated that she was capable of setting her bias aside and “applying the presumption of innocence to defendant and the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the State.” Viewing the juror’s answers in their entirety under case precedent such as State v. Cummings, 361 N.C. 438 (2007), along with the fact that (unlike much of the venire) this juror also had no prior knowledge of the case, the appellate court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the juror could follow the law as instructed, and did not err in declining to excuse her for cause.

The case was remanded to correct a clerical error on one of the judgments, which incorrectly listed the defendant’s active sentence as 77 to 100 months, instead of 73 to 100 months.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s challenges for cause of two prospective jurors. The defendant asserted that the first juror stated that he would form opinions during trial. Because the juror stated upon further questioning that he would follow the judge’s instructions, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the challenge of this juror. Next, the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it denied his for-cause challenge to a second juror who was a Marine with orders to report to Quantico, Virginia, before the projected end of trial. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to allow the for-cause challenge where the juror twice asserted that despite his orders to report, he could focus on the trial if he was selected as a juror.

State v. Carr, 229 N.C. App. 579 (Sept. 17, 2013)

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s challenge for cause. Although the juror initially voiced sentiments that would normally make her vulnerable to a challenge for cause, she later confirmed that she would put aside prior knowledge and impressions, consider the evidence presented with an open mind, and follow the applicable law.

In an appeal from a conviction obtained in the Eve Carson murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying three of the defendant’s challenges for cause during jury selection. The defendant failed to preserve for appellate review challenges as to two of the jurors. As to the third, his challenge was based on the juror’s hearing problems. However, the trial court obtained a hearing device for the juror’s use and tested its effectiveness in court.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to strike a juror for cause or his request for an additional peremptory challenge. The defendant argued that a juror should have been excused for cause based on his comments during voir dire that he knew “things that [he] probably shouldn’t know, knowing some of the details.” Asked to elaborate, he indicated that he had read about the case in the newspaper. The trial court and the defendant then inquired further as to whether the juror could follow the law and be impartial. The juror indicated that he could put aside what he had read and make a decision based on the evidence. The court noted that the trial court was very careful to give considerable attention to its determination of whether the juror’s prior knowledge of the case would impair his ability to fairly evaluate the evidence and in accordance with trial court’s instructions.

In an impaired driving case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State’s challenge for cause of a juror while denying a defense challenge for cause of another juror. The juror challenged by the State had a pending impaired driving case in the county and admitted to consuming alcohol at least three times a week, and stated that despite his pending charge, he could be fair and impartial. The juror challenged by the defense was employed with a local university police department as a traffic officer. He had issued many traffic citations, worked closely with the District Attorney’s office to prosecute those and other traffic cases, including impaired driving cases, and had never testified for the defense. He indicated that he could be fair and impartial. Distinguishing State v. Lee, 292 N.C. 617 (1977), the court noted that the juror challenged by the defense did not have a personal relationship with any officer involved in the case and never indicated he might not be able to be fair and impartial. The court rejected the notion that a juror must be excused solely on the grounds of a close relationship with law enforcement.

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