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., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021

In this Buncombe County case, the defendant was convicted of possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine. The defendant sold two white rocks to an undercover officer in a parking lot. When the defendant gave the drugs to the officer, he placed them in the officer’s bare hands without any packaging. The rocks were later tested and found to contain cocaine. (1) At trial, the defendant moved to dismiss for insufficient evidence. He pointed out that the officer had handled other cocaine with his bare hands earlier in the day and had stored other cocaine in his car console where the cocaine obtained from the defendant was later stored. According to the defendant, this rendered the laboratory result unreliable and insufficient to prove possession of cocaine. The court rejected this argument, finding the handling and storing of the rocks was an issue going to the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility. While the jury was free to consider the contamination argument, there was sufficient evidence that the substance was cocaine when viewed in the light most favorable to the State.

(2) The defendant did not object to the authentication of the cocaine at trial but argued on appeal that the trial court plainly erred in admitting the evidence due to the potential contamination issue. The court again disagreed. “The possibility that physical evidence has been contaminated does not, by itself, bar that evidence from being authenticated and admitted.” Slip op. at 6. Just as with the sufficiency issue, the question of the authentication of the cocaine here went to the weight of the evidence and not admissibility.

(3) After one day of deliberations, the jury sent a note to the trial court indicating it was deadlocked. The trial court instructed the jury pursuant to G.S. 15A-1235 before dismissing the jury for the day. The next morning, the trial judge stated that the jury should resume deliberations “with a goal of reaching a unanimous decision as to each charge.” The defendant complained that this language improperly coerced the jury to render a unanimous verdict. The court disagreed:

The trial court properly gave the required Allen instructions to ensure that jurors understood they were not compelled to reach a unanimous verdict. In light of those instructions, the trial court’s decision, when deliberations resumed, to inform the jury that they should have the goal of reaching a unanimous verdict did not compel any juror to surrender his well-founded convictions or judgment to the views of the majority. It simply reinforced that the jury’s charge was to deliberate and reach a unanimous verdict if possible. Jackson Slip op. at 9.

The case was therefore affirmed in all respects.

(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.

(1) The trial court did not abuse its discretion by giving an Allen charge. During the jury’s second day of deliberations in a murder case, it sent a note to the trial judge stating that the jurors could not agree on a verdict. The trial judge inquired as to the numerical division, instructing the foreperson not to tell him whether the division was in favor of guilty or not guilty. The foreperson informed the judge that the jury was divided eleven to one. The trial court then gave additional instructions based on G.S. 15A-1235(b) and the jury found the defendant guilty almost two hours later. (2) Although the trial court’s Allen instruction (which was almost identical to N.C.P.I.—Crim. 101.40) varied slightly from the statutory language, no error occurred.

The trial court’s instructions to a deadlocked jury unconstitutionally coerced guilty verdicts. The jury began their initial deliberations and continued deliberating for about three hours. Following a lunch break, the jury resumed deliberations. After an hour the jury sent the following note to the court: “We cannot reach a unanimous decision on 4 of the 5 verdicts.” Upon receiving the note, the trial judge brought the jury back into the courtroom and gave the following instruction:

It’s not unusual, quite frankly, in any case for jurors to have a hard time reaching a unanimous verdict on one charge, much less four or five or more.

So what the Court is prepared to do is remind you – and if you look at the jury instructions – that it is your duty to find the truth in this case and reach a verdict.

What I’m going to do is understand that you guys are having some difficulty back there but most respectfully, direct once again you go back into that jury room, deliberate until you reach a unanimous verdict on all charges. You’ve not been deliberating that long. I understand it’s difficult and I understand sometimes it can be frustrating, but what I ask you to do is continue to be civil, professional, cordial with each other, exchange ideas, continue to deliberate and when you’ve reached a unanimous verdict, let us know. 

Thank you so much.  Once again, I ask you [to] retire to your jury room to resume deliberations.

The jury then resumed deliberations, and after approximately 90 minutes, returned three guilty verdicts. Although the trial judge’s instructions contained the substance of G.S. 15A-1235(a) and (c), they did not contain the substance of G.S. 15A-1235(b) and as a result were coercive. Nowhere in the instructions was there a suggestion to the jurors that no juror is expected to “surrender his honest conviction” or reach an agreement that may do “violence to individual judgment.” The court went onto conclude that the error was not harmless and ordered a new trial. 

Upon being notified that the jury was deadlocked, the trial judge did not err by giving an Allen instruction pursuant to N.C. Crim. Pattern Jury Instruction 101.40 and not G.S. 15A-1235, as requested by the defendant. Because there was no discrepancy between the pattern instruction and G.S. 15A-1235, it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to use the pattern instruction.

State v. Ross, 207 N.C. App. 379 (Oct. 19, 2010)

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to give an Allen instruction after the jury reported for the third time that it was deadlocked when the trial judge had given such an instruction 45 minutes earlier.

The trial judge did not abuse his discretion in giving an Allen instruction. After an hour of deliberation, the jury foreman sent a note stating that the jury was not able to render a verdict and were split 11-1. The trial court recalled the jury to the courtroom and, with the consent of the prosecutor and defendant, instructed the jury in accordance with N.C.P.I. Criminal Charge 101.40, failure of the jury to reach a verdict. The jury then returned to deliberate for 30 minutes before the trial judge recessed court for the evening. The next morning, before the jury retired to continue deliberations, the trial court again gave the Allen instruction.

The court upheld the language in N.C. Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction 101.40, instructing the jury that “it is your duty to do whatever you can to reach a verdict.”

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