Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 04/17/2024
E.g., 04/17/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Guilford County case, defendant appealed his conviction for first-degree murder, arguing an abuse of discretion when the trial court declined to reopen voir dire of a juror who expressed concerns about the questions asked to other jurors but not her. The Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion. 

After jury selection but before impaneling of the jury, Juror Number 6 expressed concerns to court deputies that she was not asked the same questions as other jurors during voir dire. One of the deputies brought the issue to the trial court’s attention, and the trial court called the juror in open court to ask her several questions. The court asked the juror “your concern is that some questions were asked of some jurors that perhaps were not asked of other jurors?” to which she replied, “yes.” The trial court went on to ask “[a]nd whatever this information is that you were not provided perhaps because the specific question was not asked, in your opinion, does not affect your ability to be fair; is that correct?” to which the juror responded “I don’t think so.” Slip Op. at 4. After this exchange, the trial court impaneled the jury. 

Examining the trial court’s actions, the Court of Appeals first noted that the trial court possessed discretion to conduct an inquiry into the juror’s comments, and turned to State v. Boggess, 358 N.C. 676 (2004), and State v. Adams, 285 N.C. App. 379 (2022) to establish the standards applicable to the inquiry. Looking at the substance of the inquiry, the court explained that “Juror Number 6 never expressed doubts about her impartiality, ability to serve as a juror, find the facts, and to fairly apply the law.” Slip Op. at 9. Defense counsel also failed to make any further request, as the court explained:  

The trial court provided counsel on both sides with the opportunity to request further voir dire, and both parties’ counsel expressly declined the opportunity. Defense counsel also failed to request additional voir dire when asked by the trial court and waived the right to challenge the issue on appeal.

Id. As a result, the court found no abuse of discretion in the actions of the trial court. 

(Dec. 31, 1969) , 2022-NCCOA-596, ___ N.C. App. ___ 2022-09-06

In this Yadkin County case, two defendants, Defendant A and Defendant P, appealed their convictions for misdemeanor child abuse. Both defendants appealed trial court’s (1) denial of their motion to dismiss at the close of evidence and (2) denial of their motion to reopen voir dire of a juror for bias; Defendant A also appealed trial court’s imposition of conditions of probation while the appeal was pending. The Court of Appeals found no error with the denial of motions, but did find error in imposing conditions of probation while an appeal was pending. 

Defendants’ convictions arose from a 2018 incident in the parking lot of the Yadkin County Sheriff’s Office. An officer from the Yadkinville Police Department, located across the street, walked out of the police department to head home when he heard a commotion across the street, and observed Defendant A pulling on something in the back seat of a car. When the officer approached, he observed Defendant A and Defendant P were having a “tug of war” over their child in the back seat of a car; both defendants were tried and eventually convicted of misdemeanor child abuse in 2021.

The court first considered the motion to dismiss, reviewing whether substantial evidence of each element of child abuse under N.C.G.S. § 14-318.2 was present in the record. Because there was no dispute that the defendants were the parents of the child in question, and that the child was less than 16 years old, the only element in dispute was whether defendants “created or allowed to be created a substantial risk of physical injury” for the child. Slip Op. at ¶11, quoting State v. Watkins, 247 N.C. App. 391 (2019). The court noted the “paucity” of caselaw, observing that Watkins appears to be the only reported case on the “substantial risk” theory under N.C.G.S. § 14-318.2. Slip Op. at ¶13. However, after exploring Watkins and unreported caselaw, the court explained that even a brief period of time placing the child at risk of physical harm could represent “substantial risk,” justifying the jury’s consideration of the question. After examining the evidence against both defendants, the court found no error with the trial court. 

Examining the motion to reopen voir dire, the court explained that N.C.G.S. § 15A-1214(g) granted substantial leeway to the trial court when conducting an inquiry into possible juror bias. Here, the trial court directly questioned the juror during a period spanning two days, allowing the juror to consider the instructions overnight. Slip Op. at ¶30. Additionally, the trial court permitted arguments from counsel on both days of questioning the juror. The Court of Appeals found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to reopen voir dire in these circumstances. 

The Court of Appeals did find error when the trial court ordered Defendant A to enroll and complete co-parenting classes while the appeal in this matter was pending. Slip Op. at ¶34. Under N.C.G.S. § 15A-1451(a)(4), a defendant’s notice of appeal stays probation, meaning trial court’s imposition of the co-parenting condition was error. As a result, the court remanded for resentencing Defendant A only. 

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

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