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., 10/21/2021
E.g., 10/21/2021
State v. Maness, 363 N.C. 261 (June 18, 2009)

Trial court did not err in sustaining the prosecutor’s objection to an improper stake-out question by the defense. Defense counsel wanted to ask the juror in this capital case whether the juror could, if convinced that life imprisonment was the appropriate penalty, return such a verdict even if the other jurors were of a different opinion.

In an appeal from a conviction obtained in the Eve Carson murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by overruling the defendant’s objections to the State’s questions during jury selection. The defendant objected to questions about whether jurors could consider testimony by witnesses who had criminal records, had received immunity deals for their testimony, and/or were uncharged participants in some of the criminal activities described at trial. The defendant also objected to questions about the jurors’ understanding of and feelings about the substantive law on felony murder.

In a case in which the defendant was charged with various crimes related to his shooting of his pregnant wife, the trial court did not err by limiting the defendant’s voir dire of prospective jurors. The charges against the defendant included first-degree murder of his child, who was born alive after the defendant’s attack on her mother but died one month later. Defense counsel attempted to ask prospective jurors about their views on abortion and when life begins, and whether they held such strong views on those subjects that they would be unable to apply the law. The trial court sustained the State’s objection to this questioning. These questions apparently confused prospective jurors as several inquired about the relevancy of their opinions on abortion. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by sustaining the State’s objection to questioning that was confusing and irrelevant.

The trial court did not improperly limit the defendant’s voir dire questioning with respect to assessing the credibility of witnesses and the jurors’ ability to follow the law on reasonable doubt. Because the trial judge properly sustained the State’s objections to the defendant’s questions, no abuse of discretion occurred. Even if any error occurred, the defendant suffered no prejudice.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred during jury selection by unduly restricting the defendant’s inquiry into whether prospective jurors could fairly evaluate credibility if faced with evidence that a person had lied in the past. The trial court properly sustained objections to the defendant’s improper stakeout questions and questions tending to indoctrinate the jurors. Additionally, the trial court did not close the door on the defendant’s inquiry into whether the prospective jurors could fairly assess credibility. Rather, the defendant was permitted to ask similar questions in line with the pattern jury instructions, which were an adequate proxy to gauge a prospective juror’s ability to fairly assess credibility at trial.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s request to be provided, prior to voir dire, with the trial court’s intended jury instructions regarding the killing of an unborn fetus. The defendant wanted the instruction to “clarify the law” before questioning of the jurors. The trial court properly instructed the jury on the born alive rule and killing of an unborn fetus was not an issue in the case.

In this non-capital first-degree murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by preventing the defendant from rehabilitating a juror. During jury selection, the State questioned prospective juror Terrance Copling, who said he was familiar with the defendant’s family, did not know the defendant personally, and could be impartial and fair to both sides. However, when pressed by the State, Copling admitted that his connection to the defendant’s father would “probably cause issues.” The State moved to dismiss Copling for cause. The trial court denied the defendant’s request to rehabilitate and upon questioning by the trial court Copling indicated that because of his connection to the defendant’s family he could not be impartial. The trial court allowed the State’s challenge for cause and excused Copling over the defendant’s objection. The defendant also wanted to rehabilitate prospective juror Clapp, believing that the State’s questions had confused her. The trial court rejected this request and excused Clapp for cause. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The court reasoned that in non-capital cases the trial court has discretion regarding whether to allow rehabilitation during voir dire. Here, although the trial court initially told the defendant that rehabilitation was not permissible in a non-capital case, the trial court later allowed for the possibility of rehabilitation and thus did not establish a blanket ruling against all rehabilitation. It further found that the trial court properly exercised its discretion by denying the defendant’s request to rehabilitate jurors.

Following State v. Holden, 346 N.C. 404 (1997), the court held that the trial court erred by refusing to allow the defendant to use a remaining peremptory challenge when a juror revealed mid-trial that she knew one of the State’s witnesses from high school. After re-opening voir dire on the juror, the trial court determined that there was no cause to remove her. The defendant then requested that he be allowed to use his remaining peremptory challenge, but this request was denied. The court reasoned that the trial court has discretion to re-open voir dire even after the jury has been empaneled. If that happens, each side has an absolute right to exercise any remaining peremptory challenges to excuse the juror.

The trial court committed reversible error by refusing to allow the defendant, after the jury was impanelled, to exercise a remaining peremptory challenge to excuse a juror who had lunch with a friend who was a lawyer in the district attorney's office. Citing State v. Holden, 346 N.C. 404 (1997), and State v. Thomas, 195 N.C. App. 593 (2009), the court held that because the trial court reopened voir dire and because the defendant had not exhausted all of his peremptory challenges, the trial court was required to allow the defendant to exercise a peremptory challenge to excuse the juror. After a lunch break at trial, defense counsel reported that he had seen juror number 8 having lunch with a lawyer from the district attorney's office. Counsel said that if he had known of the juror’s connection with that office, he "probably would have used one of [his] strikes against them." The jurors were returned to the courtroom and asked whether any of them had lunch with a member of the district attorney's office. Juror number 8 indicated that he had done so, but that they had not discussed the case. After removing the other jurors, the trial judge allowed both sides to question juror number 8. Thereafter defense counsel asked that the juror be removed, noting that he had two strikes left. The trial court denied the motion. The court noted that after a jury has been impaneled, further challenge of a juror is a matter within the trial court's discretion. However, when the trial court reopens voir dire, each party has the absolute right to exercise any remaining peremptory challenges. In this case, because the trial court reopened voir dire, the defendant had an absolute right to exercise his remaining challenges.

The defendant was indicted for multiple charges of armed robbery, kidnapping, possession of firearm by a felon, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and assaulting a law enforcement officer with a firearm. The charges arose out of the robbery of an illegal poker game and the intended robbery of a second game. The second game was a set-up by one of the victims from the first game, who called 911 when the robbers arrived. Officers responding to the 911 call encountered the defendant in a car parked outside the office complex where the fake game was to be held, and a shootout ensued. The defendant was apprehended after a low-speed chase involving several law-enforcement agencies, and went to trial on all charges. Three of the charges were dismissed at trial by the court, and the jury acquitted the defendant of two others, but he was convicted of the remaining charges and received thirteen consecutive judgments totaling 872 to 1,203 months incarceration. The defendant appealed his conviction. A more detailed summary of the facts of this case and a discussion of the Court of Appeals’ holding regarding the application of the statutory felony disqualification provisions to the defendant’s self-defense claims can be found here: John Rubin, “A Lose-Lose Situation for ‘Felonious’ Defendants Who Act in Self-Defense,” N.C. Criminal Law Blog, May 1, 2018.

The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the conviction, but the state Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the trial court erred by restricting the defendant’s voir dire of prospective jurors on issues of race, implicit bias, and police shootings of black men. Concluding that the “the trial court did abuse its discretion and that the trial court’s improper restrictions on defendant’s questioning during voir dire did prejudice defendant,” the higher court reversed the conviction.

During voir dire, the trial court sustained objections to the defendant’s attempts to ask prospective jurors about “the possibility that they harbored racial biases against African Americans” as well as “their awareness of a case that had recently occurred in Charlotte where a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man.” On appeal, the defense argued that the questions were relevant to determine whether jurors could be unbiased and fair, while the state argued that the questions were an improper attempt to “stake out” the jurors and secure a forecast of how they would vote. The Supreme Court acknowledged that trial courts have broad discretion to restrict the manner and extent of questioning prospective jurors, but concluded that the trial court erred in this case when it “flatly prohibited” and “categorically denied” all questions about race, bias, and officer shootings of black men. The proposed questions were not an attempt to stake out the jurors, but rather an attempt to determine if any jurors had opinions or biases that would impact their ability to decide the facts of the case. Additionally, since the case involved a dispute over whether the defendant or the officers fired first, as well as what inferences to draw from the defendant’s refusal to immediately surrender after the shooting, the error was prejudicial because it impacted the defendant’s ability to identify and challenge any jurors who “might struggle to fairly and impartially determine whose testimony to credit, whose version of events to believe, and, ultimately, whether or not to find defendant guilty.” Because it held that the exclusion of these issues during voir dire was prejudicial error warranting reversal, the Supreme Court did not reach the remaining issue of whether there must be a causal nexus between the use of defensive force and the felonious conduct that would bar a self-defense claim under G.S. 14-51.4. 

Justice Davis dissented, joined by Justices Newby and Morgan. The dissent would have held that the limited series of questions rejected by the trial court did not establish that all inquiry into issues of potential juror bias was prohibited, and also would have found that the only reason offered at trial for these questions was to gauge how jurors might assess the defendant’s state of mind while fleeing the scene, rather than for the purpose of identifying potential bias on the part of the jurors as argued on appeal. The majority responded that both issues were addressed by viewing the questions in context and considering the entire record of the voir dire.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred during jury selection by unduly restricting the defendant’s inquiry into whether prospective jurors could fairly evaluate credibility if faced with evidence that a person had lied in the past. The trial court properly sustained objections to the defendant’s improper stakeout questions and questions tending to indoctrinate the jurors. Additionally, the trial court did not close the door on the defendant’s inquiry into whether the prospective jurors could fairly assess credibility. Rather, the defendant was permitted to ask similar questions in line with the pattern jury instructions, which were an adequate proxy to gauge a prospective juror’s ability to fairly assess credibility at trial.

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