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., 06/17/2024
E.g., 06/17/2024
Berghuis v. Smith, 559 U.S. 314 (Mar. 30, 2010)

The state supreme court did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law with respect to the defendant’s claim that the method of jury selection violated his sixth amendment right to be tried by an impartial jury drawn from sources reflecting a fair cross-section of the community. The state supreme court assumed that African-Americans were underrepresented in venires from which juries were selected but went on to conclude that the defendant had not shown the third prong of the Duren prima facie case for fair cross section claims: that the underrepresentation was due to systemic exclusion of the group in the jury-selection process. The Court expressly declined to address the methods or methods by which underrepresentation is appropriately measured. For a more detailed discussion of this case, see the blog post.

In this Wake County case, defendant appealed his convictions for two counts of first-degree murder and four counts of discharging a weapon into an occupied vehicle, arguing error in (1) allowing certain text messages into evidence, and (2) denying his challenge to the jury pool. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In May of 2022, trial began on defendant’s charges; during jury selection, defendant challenged the makeup of the jury pool, arguing members of defendant’s race (Black) were underrepresented. Defendant offered statistical evidence to support his argument, but the trial court denied defendant’s challenge. During the trial, the State offered text messages between an accomplice of defendant and a third party, attempting to show motivation for the robbery that eventually led to the murders. Defendant objected to the messages, and the trial court only allowed admission of the accomplice’s text messages, not those from the third party. Defendant was subsequently convicted and appealed.  

Before reaching the merits of defendant’s arguments in (1), the Court of Appeals considered the basis for its review. At trial, defendant objected to the text messages “because they were hearsay, were not illustrative, and lacked a proper foundation.” Slip Op. at 6. However, on appeal, defendant did not raise these three issues, but instead argued the text messages were irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial, and violated the Confrontation Clause and defendant’s right to a fair trial. Because defendant attempted to change his arguments on appeal, he was limited to the plain-error standard; however, the court noted that defendant “failed to ‘specifically and distinctly . . . argue plain error.’” Id., quoting State v. Frye, 341 N.C. 470, 496 (1995). As a result, defendant was limited to the grounds under which he originally objected to the evidence at trial. But as noted above, defendant did not argue the three issues from trial on appeal. This meant that defendant had no valid arguments on appeal, and the court dismissed issue (1). 

Moving to (2), the court explained that under applicable precedent on the fair-cross-section requirement, statistical evidence about the composition of the jury pool alone is not enough to prove systematic exclusion of that group. Here defendant acknowledged that he did not admit sufficient evidence of all three factors under Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357 (1979), but attempted to reference other cases and the pervasive problem of disparity in jury pools across North Carolina. The court was not swayed by this argument, concluding defendant “only offers statistical evidence as proof of systematic exclusion, and without more, he fails to establish a fair-cross-section claim under Duren.” Slip Op. at 8-9. 

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to strike the jury venire. The defendant alleged that his venire was racially disproportionate to the demographics of Mecklenburg County, where he was tried, and therefore deprived him of his constitutional right to a jury of his peers. The court began by noting that the fact that a single venire that fails to proportionately represent a cross-section of the community does not constitute systematic exclusion. Rather, systematic exclusion occurs when a procedure in the venire selection process consistently yields non-representative venires. Here, the defendant argued that Mecklenburg County’s computer program, Jury Manager, generated a racially disproportionate venire and thus deprived him of a jury of his peers. Although the defendant asserted that there was a disparity in the venire, he conceded the absence of systematic exclusion and thus his claim must fail.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to discharge the jury venire on grounds that the defendants’ race (African-American) was disproportionately underrepresented. To establish a prima facie violation for disproportionate representation in a venire, a defendant must show that: (1) the group alleged to be excluded is a “distinctive” group in the community; (2) the representation of this group in venires from which juries are selected is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community; and (3) this underrepresentation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury selection process. Although the defendants met their burden with respect to the first prong, they failed to satisfy the other prongs. As to the second prong, the defendants failed to produce any evidence that the representation African-Americans was not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community. Defendants stated that the African-American population in the county was “certainly greater than . . . five percent” but produced no supporting evidence. As to the third prong, the defendants presented no evidence showing that the alleged deficiency of African-Americans in the venire was because of the systematic exclusion. Although the defendants noted that only three out of 60 potential jurors were African-American, this fact was insufficient to show systematic exclusion.

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