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., 06/17/2024
E.g., 06/17/2024

(1) On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals in this sexual exploitation of a minor case, the court held that although statements in the prosecutor’s final jury argument were improper, they were not prejudicial. The defendant claimed that the images at issue depicting his penis near the child’s mouth did not show actual conduct and instead had been digitally manipulated to depict the conduct. In closing argument to the jury, the prosecutor argued that the crime of sexual exploitation of a minor could occur if the image was altered or manipulated to show a person engaged in a sexual act with a child. The prosecutor argued that the child does not have to actually be involved in the sexual act itself. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court held that the prosecutor’s argument was improper. According to the plain language of the statute, the minor is required to have engaged in sexual activity. When the minor depicted in an image appears to have been shown as engaged in sexual activity as a result of digital manipulation, the defendant has not committed the offense of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Thus, the prosecutor’s argument misstated the applicable law. However, the court went on to hold that although the trial court erred by sustaining the defendant’s objection to the challenge argument, the error did not justify a new trial. It reasoned that when, as here, a misstatement of the law during jury argument is cured by correct jury instructions, no prejudice occurs. Here, the trial court’s instructions to the jury explicitly stated that to find the defendant guilty the jury had to find that the defendant used, induced, coerced, encouraged or facilitated the child victim’s involvement in sexual activity.

(2) In this first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request that the jury be instructed that the “oral intercourse” element of the offense requires penetration. The court determined that whether the term “oral intercourse” as used in the statute proscribing this crime requires penetration presents an issue of first impression. The court concluded that the General Assembly intended the relevant statutory language to be construed broadly to provide minors with the maximum reasonably available protection from sexual exploitation. The court went on to hold that the term “oral intercourse” was intended as a gender-neutral reference to cunnilingus and fellatio, neither of which require penetration. Thus, the trial court did not err by refusing to instruct the jury in accordance with the defendant’s request.


In this New Hanover county case, defendant appealed his convictions for two counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, arguing error in (1) denying his motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence, (2) failing to instruct the jury on second-degree exploitation of a minor as a lesser-included offense, (3) allowing a detective to provide testimony regarding the elements of the charged offense, and (4) mistakenly identifying the charge as “sexual assault” one time during the jury instruction. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In 2018, defendant and a group of friends attended a Halloween party with the plan to find a girl and have sex with her while filming it. Several members of the group made recordings of defendant and others having sex with a minor girl from the party, and these videos were discovered by law enforcement during an unrelated traffic stop. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charges, but the trial court denied the motion, and defendant was subsequently convicted of both counts. 

For (1), defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence that he engaged in the sex with a minor for the purpose of producing material showing their sexual activity, an essential element of the charges. The Court of Appeals explained that defendant was guilty of the offense because he acted in concert with others. Even if defendant was not the principal offender, the court concluded that “substantial evidence demonstrates [defendant] acted in concert with his friends by engaging in the sexual activity which they recorded with the knowledge they were recording it.” Slip Op. at 9.

Moving to (2), the court looked to the statutes creating the relevant offenses, noting that under G.S. 14-190.16(a)(1) “[t]he focus of first-degree sexual exploitation is the direct mistreatment of the minor or the production of material for sale or profit.” Id. at 13. This contrasted with G.S. 14-190.17(a)(1), where second-degree sexual exploitation criminalized the actions of those “involved in the production or after-the-fact distribution of such material,” without the requirement of producing material for sale or gain. Id. The court also pointed to State v. Fletcher, 370 N.C. 313 (2017), where the Supreme Court highlighted that the second-degree sexual exploitation did not involve directly facilitating the involvement of a minor victim. This led the court to conclude that second-degree exploitation of a minor was not a lesser-included offense. 

In (3), defendant argued that the officer’s testimony instructed the jury that merely being filmed having sex constituted a violation of G.S. 14-190.16(a)(1), and this testimony confused the jury as to the statute’s requirement that defendant must have intent to produce material. The court disagreed, pointing out that the testimony was during cross-examination related to the questioning of one of the friends who attended the party, and the officer “simply answered why he did not feel compelled to question [one of the friends] regarding the filming of the sexual activity, and he gave a logical, albeit legally incorrect, response.” Id. at 16. The court determined this response made sense in context, and was not improperly instructing the jury as to the elements of the offense. 

Arriving at (4), the court explained that the trial court’s mistaken statement that the offense was “sexual assault” only occurred once, during the instruction related to acting in concert. This was inadvertent, and the trial court provided the correct instruction on the elements of first-degree exploitation of a minor, as well as the correct charge when providing a second instruction on acting in concert where the trial court did not make the mistake. As a result, the court found no danger that the jury was confused as to the charge. 

In this felony death by vehicle case, the prosecution did not incorrectly state the standard for impairment in jury argument. The defendant asserted that the prosecutor’s statements suggested that the jury could find the defendant guilty merely if impairing substances were in his blood. The court disagreed finding that the when viewed in totality, the prosecutor’s statements made clear that the defendant could only be convicted if he was, in fact, legally impaired.

Although the prosecutor improperly argued to the jury in this armed robbery case that it did not matter whether a shotgun in question was loaded for purposes of determining whether it was a dangerous weapon, the defendant was not prejudiced by this argument where the trial judge properly instructed the jury on this element.

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