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., 07/12/2024
E.g., 07/12/2024

The defendant was tried for various federal crimes in connection with the collapse of Enron. The Court held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by an impartial jury was not violated when the federal district court denied the defendant’s motion to change venue because of pretrial publicity. The Court distinguished the case at hand from previous decisions and concluded that given the community’s population (Houston, Texas), the nature of the news stories about the defendant, the lapse in time between Enron’s collapse and the trial, and the fact that the jury acquitted the defendant of a number of counts, a presumption of juror prejudice was not warranted. The Court went on to conclude that actual prejudice did not infect the jury, given the voir dire process.

In this Stanly County case, defendant appealed his convictions for possession with intent to sell and deliver methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, and possession of a firearm by a felon, arguing error in (1) denying his motion for a mistrial, (2) denying his motion to dismiss the possession of a firearm by a felon charge, and (3) failing to comply with the statutory requirements regarding shackling during the trial. The Court of Appeals agreed with defendant regarding (1) and granted a new trial. 

In April of 2018, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at the auto repair shop where defendant worked, finding methamphetamine, cocaine, and firearms. Defendant was arrested along with several coworkers. When defendant came for trial in August of 2022, the State asked prospective jurors if they knew anyone involved in the trial. One juror, a prison guard, responded that he knew defendant from his time in prison. Defendant moved for a mistrial, arguing the jury pool had been tainted by hearing this statement. The trial court denied the motion. During the trial, defendant’s ankles were shackled. Defense counsel did not object to the shackling, but requested that defendant be seated at the witness stand before the jury was brought into the room so they would not see him walk awkwardly due to the shackles. 

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals noted the State conceded the trial court erred in denying the motion for a mistrial. The court explained that the prejudicial effect of having an employee of the justice system make a statement regarding defendant’s former imprisonment justified a mistrial under State v. Mobley, 86 N.C. App. 528 (1987), and State v. Howard, 133 N.C. App. 614 (1999). Here, it was clearly error that the trial court failed to inquire whether the other prospective jurors heard the prison guard’s statement, and an abuse of discretion to deny defendant’s motion. 

Moving to (2), the court explained that substantial evidence showing defendant constructively possessed the firearm justified denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. Specifically, defendant was in front of the office where three firearms were found, and one of the firearms was found in a cabinet next to a bill of sale for a truck defendant purchased. 

Finally, in (3) the court found that defendant invited error and did not preserve his challenge to the shackling issue. Defense counsel failed to object and even requested accommodations for the shackling so that the jury would not see defendant walking awkwardly. 

In this child sexual assault case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that a statement made by a prospective juror violated his constitutional right to an impartial jury and constituted plain error. Specifically, the defendant argued that the prospective juror’s statement that her uncle was a local defense attorney who had told her his job was to “get the bad guys off” amounted to a comment on the defendant’s guilt from a reliable source. The court found that the statement in question was generic and did not imply any particular knowledge of the defendant’s case or the possibility that the defendant might be guilty.

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