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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021
State v. May, 368 N.C. 112 (June 11, 2015)

The court reversed State v. May, 230 N.C. App. 366 (2013), which had held that the trial court committed reversible error when charging a deadlocked jury. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred when it instructed the deadlocked jury to resume deliberations for an additional thirty minutes, stating: “I’m going to ask you, since the people have so much invested in this, and we don’t want to have to redo it again, but anyway, if we have to we will.” The court of appeals concluded that instructing a deadlocked jury regarding the time and expense associated with the trial and a possible retrial resulted in coercion of a deadlocked jury in violation of the N.C. Constitution. The court of appeals went on to hold that the State had failed to show that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The State petitioned for discretionary review on whether the court of appeals had erred in holding that the State had the burden of proving that the purported error in the trial court’s instructions was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The supreme court reversed, distinguishing State v. Wilson, 363 N.C. 478, 484 (2009) (claim that instructions given to less than the full jury violated the constitution was preserved as a matter of law), and concluding that because the defendant failed to raise the constitutional coercive verdict issue below, it was waived on appeal. Nevertheless, the supreme court continued, because the alleged constitutional error occurred during the trial court’s instructions to the jury, it could review for plain error. The court also concluded that because the defendant failed to assert at trial his argument that the instructions violated G.S. 15A-1235 and because the relevant provisions in G.S. 15A-1235 were permissive and not mandatory, plain error review applied to that claim as well. Turning to the substance of the claims, the court concluded that the trial court’s instructions substantially complied with G.S. 15A-1235. It further held that “Assuming without deciding that the court’s instruction to continue deliberations for thirty minutes and the court’s isolated mention of a retrial were erroneous, these errors do not rise to the level of being so fundamentally erroneous as to constitute plain error.” 

In this sex offense and indecent liberties case where the defendant was ordered to enroll in lifetime SBM, the trial court did not plainly err with respect to an Allen charge, the defendant did not preserve his argument related to SBM, and the defendant received statutory ineffective assistance of counsel during the SBM proceedings.  Approximately one hour after beginning deliberations, the jury sent a question to the court asking for clarification as to whether they must have unanimous agreement to render a guilty verdict and whether a lack of unanimity would require that they return a not guilty verdict.  In response and without objection from either party, the trial court responded to the jury’s question with instructions derived from G.S. 15A-1235(a).  The court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court plainly erred by omitting instructions from G.S. 15A-1235(b), explaining that the jury’s question asked for clarification on the issue of unanimity and did not clearly indicate that the jury was deadlocked, in disagreement, or at an impasse.  As such, the trial court did not err by reciting the unanimity instructions in G.S. 15A-1235(a) without providing the additional instructions in subsection (b).

As to SBM, the court first found that the defendant failed to preserve a Fourth Amendment challenge to the lifetime SBM order by failing to make a constitutional objection during the sentencing proceeding where SBM was addressed, and further declined to invoke Rule 2 to reach the issue.  The court went on to agree with the defendant’s alternative argument that he received statutory ineffective assistance of counsel under G.S. 7A-451(a)(18).  Likening the case to State v. Spinks, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-218 (2021), the court found that counsel was ineffective by failing to object to SBM enrollment or file a notice of appeal from the SBM order where the State offered no evidence of the reasonableness of lifetime SBM.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by giving a coercive instruction after the jury indicated that it was deadlocked. Concluding that the trial court’s instructions to continue deliberations were in accord with G.S. 15A-1235(b), the court disagreed. The jury informed the trial court three times that it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Each time the trial court gave an instruction consistent with the statute. After the jury had deliberated less than five hours in a single day, and after its third note to the trial court stating that it was deadlocked, the trial court informed the jury that it was sending them back to further deliberate with the same instructions previously given. However, in this instance, the trial court added: “after five days of testimony and less than 5 hours of deliberations, these folks deserve better.” The defendant argued that this comment was impermissibly coercive and left the jurors with the impression that the judge was irritated with them for not reaching a verdict. The court found otherwise, noting that the judge was polite, patient, and accommodating. The trial court properly gave an Allen charge each time the jury stated that it was deadlocked. Prior to its final comment, the jury received a lunch break, recess and a meal. After the third impasse, the trial court gave the jury a choice to continue to deliberate that day or to go home and continue deliberations the next day. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the trial court’s comment was not coercive.

No plain error occurred with respect to a supplemental jury instruction given by the trial court in response to the jury’s note that it was “stuck” during deliberations. The noted indicated that the jury was split 11 to 1. Neither party objected to the trial court’s suggestion to give the jury an instruction urging them to do what they could to arrive at a unanimous verdict. The defendant argued that the trial court’s instruction violated G.S. 15A-1235. Although the court found that the trial court’s failure to give the full instructions as directed by the statute did not rise to the level of plain error, it stated: “[W]e must clarify that at the time the instruction was given, the trial court should reasonably have believed that the jury was deadlocked. Because the trial court gave some of the instructions, but not all of them, it did commit error.” 

State v. Lee, ___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 679 (Aug. 2, 2016) rev’d on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, 811 S.E.2d 563 (Apr 6 2018)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court committed plain error by requiring a jury to deliberate for an unreasonable length of time. Jury deliberations began at 2:15 pm. At 8:43 pm the jury sent a note indicating that it was deadlocked. Several minutes later, and with defense counsel’s consent, the trial court gave an Allen instruction. At 10:50 pm the trial court returned the jury to the courtroom and requested an update on deliberations. The foreperson indicated that the jury was a lot closer “than the first time.” Both parties agreed to let deliberations resume. The jury returned a verdict at 11:34 pm. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that by allowing the jury to continue deliberations until nearly midnight it violated G.S. 15A-1235(c). When the trial court allowed the jury to continue deliberating at 10:50 pm the statute was not implicated because it no longer appeared that the jury was unable to agree.

Where the trial court’s Allen charge was in substantial compliance with G.S. 15A-1235, no coercion of the verdict occurred. The defendant argued that because the Allen charge failed to instruct the jury in accordance with section G.S. 15A-1235(b)(3) that “a juror should not hesitate to reexamine his own views and change his opinion if convinced it is erroneous,” he was entitled to a new trial. Acknowledging that the charge failed to repeat G.S. 15A-1235(b)(3) verbatim, the court concluded that the trial court's instructions contained the substance of the statute and fairly apprised the jurors of their duty to reach a consensus after open-minded debate and examination without sacrificing their individually held convictions merely for the sake of returning a verdict.

(1) The trial court did not coerce a verdict by giving an Allen charge pursuant to G.S. 15A-1235. The jury sent the judge a note at 3:59 pm, after 70 minutes of deliberations, indicating that they were split 11-to-1 and that the one juror “will not change their mind.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a jury’s indication that it may be deadlocked requires the trial court to immediately declare a mistrial, finding it inconsistent with the statute and NC case law. (2) The trial court did not coerce a verdict when it told the deliberating jury, in response to the same note about deadlock, that if they did not reach a verdict by 5 pm, he would bring them back the next day to continue deliberations. Although threatening to hold a jury until they reach a verdict can under some circumstances coerce a verdict, that did not happen here. After receiving the note at approximately 4:00 pm, the trial judge told the jurors that although they were divided, they had been deliberating for only approximately 75 minutes. The judge explained that he was going to have them continue to deliberate for the rest of the afternoon and that if they needed more time they could resume deliberations the next day. The trial judge further emphasized that the jurors should not rush in their deliberations and reminded them that it was “important that every view of the jury be considered, and that you deliberate in good faith among yourselves.” The court found that these statements cannot be viewed as coercive. 

The trial court did not coerce a verdict by instructing the jurors to continue deliberating after they three times indicated a deadlock. Although the trial court did not give an Allen instruction every time, G.S. 15A-1235 does not require the trial court to do so every time the jury indicates that it is deadlocked.

The trial court did not impermissibly coerce a verdict. While deliberating, the jury asked to hear certain trial testimony again. The trial judge initially denied the request. After the jury indicated that it could not reach a verdict, the trial judge asked if it would be helpful to have the testimony played back. This was done and the trial judge gave an Allen instruction.

State v. Lee, 218 N.C. App. 42 (Jan. 17, 2012)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s instructions to the jury coerced a verdict. The jury retired to begin deliberations at 3:38 p.m.  At 5:51 p.m., the trial judge brought the jury into the courtroom to inquire about its progress. The jury indicated that it had reached unanimous verdicts on two of the four charges. The trial judge then allowed a twenty-minute recess, giving the following challenged instruction:

What I am going to do at this point is allow you to take a recess for about 20 minutes[.] If anyone needs during this 15 or 20 minute recess to call someone, a family member, to let them know that you are going to be delayed  – but we are going to stay here this evening with a view towards reaching a unanimous verdict on the other two.  That’s where we are.  I want everyone to know that.  If you need to call someone to let them know you will be delayed, that’s fine.

After the recess, the jury resumed its deliberations. Eleven minutes later the jury returned unanimous verdicts in all four cases. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the instructions were not coercive. 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to declare a mistrial and instead allowing the jury to go home and return the next day to continue deliberating. The jury deliberated approximately 7 hours over the course of two days; at the end of the day, when asked whether they wished to continue deliberating or come back the next day, a juror indicated that nothing would “change[.]” The trial judge ordered the jury to return the next day. They did so and reached a verdict.

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