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., 09/18/2021
E.g., 09/18/2021

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant final closing arguments in this DWI case. Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts provides that “if no evidence is introduced by the defendant, the right to open and close the argument to the jury shall belong to him.” Here, the defendant did not call any witnesses or put on evidence but did cross-examine the State’s only witness and sought to play a video of the entire traffic stop recorded by the officer’s in-car camera during cross-examination. At issue on appeal was whether admitting the video of the stop during cross-examination constituted introducing evidence. Although the officer provided testimony describing the stop shown in the video, the video went beyond the officer’s testimony and “is different in nature from evidence presented in other cases that was determined not to be substantive.” Playing the video allowed the jury to hear exculpatory statements by the defendant to the police beyond those testified to by the officer and introduced evidence of flashing police lights that was not otherwise in evidence to attack the reliability of the HGN test. The video was not merely illustrative. It allowed the jury to make its own determinations concerning the defendant’s impairment apart from the officer’s testimony and therefore was substantive evidence. 

Because the defendant did not present any evidence at trial, the trial court committed reversible error by denying the defendant final closing argument. Defense counsel cross-examined an officer who responded to a call about the break-in and identified defense Exhibit 2, a report made by that officer following his investigation. During cross defense counsel elicited the officer’s confirmation that, after viewing video surveillance footage, a man named Basil King was identified as a possible suspect. The trial court denied the defendant's motion to make the final closing argument because it believed this cross-examination constituted the introduction of evidence pursuant to Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts. Although the defendant introduced for the first time evidence in the officer’s report that Basil King was a suspect, the defendant did not introduce the officer’s actual report into evidence, nor did he have the officer read the report to the jury. Furthermore, this evidence was relevant to the investigation and was contained in the officer’s own report. It was the State, the court noted, that first introduced testimony by the officer and other witnesses concerning the investigation and the evidence leading the police to identify the defendant as a suspect. It concluded: “We cannot say that the identification of other suspects by the police constituted new evidence that was not relevant to any issue in the case." (quotation omitted). Therefore, this testimony cannot be considered the introduction of evidence pursuant to Rule 10. 

The trial court committed reversible error by denying the defendant the right to the final argument based on its ruling that he had “introduced” evidence within the meaning of Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts during his cross-examination of the victim. During that cross defense counsel read aloud several portions of the victim’s earlier statement to an officer, in what appears to have been an attempt to point out inconsistencies between the victim’s trial testimony and his prior statement; defense counsel also asked the victim questions, including whether he had told the officer everything that happened when he provided his statement. The statements read and referenced by defense counsel directly related to the victim’s testimony on direct examination. Furthermore, defense counsel never formally introduced the statement into evidence. Thus, the defendant never “introduced” evidence within the meaning of Rule 10.  

The trial judge erred in denying the defendant final jury argument. The defendant did not introduce evidence under Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice when cross-examining an officer. Defense counsel referred to the contents of the officer’s report when cross-examining the officer. However, the officer’s testimony on cross-examination did not present “new matter” to the jury when considered with the state’s direct examination of the officer.

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