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., 06/26/2024
E.g., 06/26/2024
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 this Alamance County case, defendant appealed his convictions for driving while impaired (DWI), resisting a public officer, and being intoxicated and disruptive, arguing error in (1) excusing potential jurors for cause, (2) denying defendant’s motion to dismiss the DWI charge, and (3) calculating the appropriate sentence. The Court of Appeals found no error in (1) and (2), but in (3) remanded for resentencing for the resisting a public officer and intoxicated and disruptive offenses. 

In April of 2021, police officers noticed a wrecked vehicle in the middle of the road and saw defendant attempting to hide behind a building nearby. Officers eventually arrested defendant, and found a key fob in his pocket that opened the doors of the wrecked vehicle. When defendant came to trial for the charges at superior court, he pleaded guilty to resisting an officer and being intoxicated and disruptive prior to the jury trial. During voir dire, the trial court dismissed two jurors for cause own its own initiative. Defense counsel did not object to either dismissal. Defendant was found guilty of the DWI charge, and the court sentenced defendant for all three charges. 

Taking up defendant’s argument (1), the Court of Appeals noted that the two dismissed jurors “both expressed strong emotions against law enforcement based upon their personal experiences with officers.” Slip Op. at 10. The court noted the defendant also did not use all of his peremptory challenges. Because there was no evidence that the empaneled jury was unfair, the court overruled defendant’s argument. 

Moving to (2), defendant argued that no evidence showed he operated or owned the wrecked vehicle involved in the DWI charge. The court disagreed, noting there was no direct evidence of defendant operating the car while impaired, but sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the conviction. The officers observed defendant near the wrecked vehicle, found a key fob corresponding to the vehicle in his pocket, and observed him at the Cook-Out intoxicated and with a fresh cut on his forehead. 

Finally, in (3) the court noted that defendant was sentenced to 120 days’ confinement for the resisting a public officer and intoxicated and disruptive misdemeanors, while “the maximum, combined sentence allowed by law is 80 days.” Id. at 14. The court remanded to allow resentencing based on the correct calculation of possible confinement. 

In this Mecklenburg County case, defendant appealed his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a weapon into a building and vehicle in operation, arguing error by (1) allowing the prosecutor to tell potential jurors that probation was within the potential sentencing range and (2) substituting an alternative juror after deliberations began, and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error. 

In December of 2019, defendant was involved in an altercation at a Cook Out in Charlotte, eventually firing several shots that hit a car and the exterior wall of the Cook Out. The matter came for trial in March of 2022. On the second day of deliberations, one of the jurors was ill and did not report for jury duty. The trial court substituted an alternate juror and directed the jury to restart deliberations under G.S. 15A-1215(a). Defendant was subsequently convicted and appealed. 

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals explained that it reviewed a trial court’s management of jury selection for abuse of discretion. Here, the State’s choice to mention probation during voir dire was “questionable” as “a probationary sentence under these facts requires the trial judge to find extraordinary mitigation,” but the statement was “technically accurate” as a statement of law. Slip Op. at 5. The court concluded there was no abuse of discretion in these circumstances as it was not a totally unsupported possibility. Turning to (2), the court explained that defendant argued that “more than twelve persons” were involved in the jury verdict, but defendant failed to preserve the issue for review and the court dismissed it.  

Reaching (3), the court explained that defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel argument contained two points, (a) that defense counsel should have objected to the trial court’s jury instructions on self-defense, and (b) that counsel should have requested a jury poll. Looking at (3)(a), defendant argued that the instruction did not require the jury to consider whether other patrons at the Cook Out had guns. The court explained that the instruction closely tracked the applicable language of the statute and directed the jury to consider whether “defendant reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary,” which would encompass the consideration of whether other people at the scene had guns. Id. at 9. The court could not conclude that a different instruction specifically mentioning a gun would have led to a different result, meaning the argument could not support the ineffective assistance claim. The court likewise dispensed with (3)(b), explaining that the trial court was not required to poll the jury unless requested, but “both the jury foreman and the other jurors, as a group, affirmed—in open court—that their verdicts were unanimous.” Id. at 10. Because there was no evidence of coercion or inducements to the jury, there was no reasonable probability a jury poll would have created a different result for defendant. 

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.

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