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
State v. Grainger, 367 N.C. 696 (Dec. 19, 2014)

In this murder case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for a jury instruction on accessory before the fact. Because the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder under theories of both premeditation and deliberation and the felony murder rule and the defendant’s conviction for first-degree murder under the theory of felony murder is supported by the evidence (including the defendant’s own statements to the police and thus not solely based on the uncorroborated testimony of the principal), the court of appeals erred by concluding that a new trial was required.

In a case in which the victim died after consuming drugs provided by the defendant and the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury on second-degree murder and the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. The defendant objected to submission of the lesser offense. The evidence showed that the defendant sold the victim methadone and that the defendant had nearly died the month before from a methadone overdose. There was no evidence that the defendant intended to kill the victim by selling him the methadone. This evidence would support a finding by the jury of reckless conduct under either second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter. 

State v. Hobbs, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 779 (July 17, 2018) rev’d on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (May 1 2020)

In this murder and armed robbery case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying defense counsel’s proffered jury instructions. The additional jury instructions requested by the defense all relate to the defendant’s mental and/or emotional condition at the time of the murder and whether the defendant had the mental capacity to consider the consequences of his actions. However, the substance of the requested instructions was included in the instructions given to the jury. Additionally, the trial court gave the defendant’s proposed instruction on lack of mental capacity, informing the jury that if as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, persistent depressive disorder, or other mental infirmity, the defendant did not have the specific intent to kill, formed after premeditation and deliberation, he would not be guilty of first-degree murder. The jury was clearly instructed concerning their ability to consider the defendant’s mental illnesses and condition as part of their deliberations. Finally, because the defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder based both on premeditation and deliberation and felony murder, even if the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s requested instructions, no prejudice would have occurred.

The trial court did not err by instructing the jury that it could consider wounds inflicted after the victim was felled in determining whether the defendant acted with premeditation and deliberation. The trial court instructed the jury:

Neither premeditation nor deliberation are usually susceptible of direct proof. They may be proved by circumstances by which they may be inferred such as lack of provocation by the victim; conduct of the defendant before, during, and after the attempted killing; threats and declarations of the defendant; use of grossly excessive force; or inflictions of wounds after the victim is fallen.

The defendant argued this instruction was improper because there was no evidence that he inflicted wounds on the victim after the victim was felled. Following State v. Leach, 340 N.C. 236, 242 (1995)(trial court did not err by giving the instruction, “even in the absence of evidence to support each of the circumstances listed” because the instruction “informs a jury that the circumstances given are only illustrative”), the court found no error.

State v. Hobbs [Duplicated], ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 779 (July 17, 2018) rev’d on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (May 1 2020)

In this murder and armed robbery case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying defense counsel’s proffered jury instructions. The additional jury instructions requested by the defense all relate to the defendant’s mental and/or emotional condition at the time of the murder and whether the defendant had the mental capacity to consider the consequences of his actions. However, the substance of the requested instructions was included in the instructions given to the jury. Additionally, the trial court gave the defendant’s proposed instruction on lack of mental capacity, informing the jury that if as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, persistent depressive disorder, or other mental infirmity, the defendant did not have the specific intent to kill, formed after premeditation and deliberation, he would not be guilty of first-degree murder. The jury was clearly instructed concerning their ability to consider the defendant’s mental illnesses and condition as part of their deliberations. Finally, because the defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder based both on premeditation and deliberation and felony murder, even if the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s requested instructions, no prejudice would have occurred.

State v. Juarez, 369 N.C. 351 (Dec. 21, 2016)

Reversing the Court of Appeals in this first-degree felony murder case, the court held that the trial court did not commit reversible error by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. The underlying felony for first-degree felony murder was discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle in operation. The trial court denied the defendant’s request for instructions on second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. The Court of Appeals held that it was error not to instruct on the lessers because the evidence was conflicting as to whether the defendant acted in self-defense. The court found this reasoning incorrect, noting that self-defense is not a defense to felony murder. Perfect self-defense may be a defense to the underlying felony, which would defeat the felony murder charge. Imperfect self-defense however is not available as a defense to the underlying felony use to support a felony murder charge because allowing such a defense when the defendant is in some manner at fault “would defeat the purpose of the felony murder rule.” In order to be entitled to instructions on the lesser included offenses, “the conflicting evidence must relate to whether defendant committed the crime charged, not whether defendant was legally justified in committing the crime.” Here, there is no conflict regarding whether the defendant committed the underlying felony. The defendant does not dispute that he committed this crime; rather he claims only that his conduct was justified because he was acting in self-defense. 

In a case where the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by failing to submit an instruction on second-degree murder and/or voluntary manslaughter. The defendant argued that the evidence negated premeditation and deliberation. The court disagreed, finding that the State offered substantial evidence of those elements. Specifically, the defendant had a tumultuous relationship with the victim, with ill-will existing between the two. The victim planned to call off their wedding and sent the defendant a text message telling him that he needed to move out of the home and that she would be changing the locks. Moreover, she told the defendant, who had financial troubles, that she would continue to seek child support payments. Her body was found the next day. After the killing, the defendant gave inconsistent statements about events of the day. He told the victim’s friend that he left early for work and that the victim was not at the home, and said that she had a doctor’s appointment. However, the defendant had the victim’s vehicle and the keys to his own car with him, leaving her with no vehicle. When the friend asked the defendant whether the victim’s vehicle was at the home when he went to work, the defendant never responded. Moreover, there was no evidence that the victim provoked the defendant. This constituted substantial evidence of premeditation and deliberation. The only evidence claimed by the defendant to negate premeditation and deliberation is the text message from the victim telling him to move out and signs of struggle in the home. From this evidence, the defendant claims that premeditation and deliberation were negated because the jury could have concluded that an argument aroused a sudden passion in him. The court rejected the notion that this evidence negated premeditation and deliberation. Likewise the court determined that the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter, again noting the lack of evidence of heat of passion.

(1) In this case in which the defendant was convicted of felony murder with the underlying felony being child abuse, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request to instruct the jury on premeditated and deliberate murder and all lesser included offenses. There was no evidence that the defendant possessed a specific intent to kill formed after premeditation and deliberation where the evidence showed that the defendant “snapped” and “lost control.” (2) Second-degree murder is not a lesser included offense of first-degree felony murder.

In this felony-murder case the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request to instruct on second-degree murder. The underlying felony was armed robbery and the defendant’s own testimony established all the elements of that offense.

Where no evidence negated the State’s proof of first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for an instruction on second-degree murder.

In a case in which the victim died after consuming drugs provided by the defendant and the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury on second-degree murder and the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. The defendant objected to submission of the lesser offense. The evidence showed that the defendant sold the victim methadone and that the defendant had nearly died the month before from a methadone overdose. There was no evidence that the defendant intended to kill the victim by selling him the methadone. This evidence would support a finding by the jury of reckless conduct under either second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.

In a case in which the defendant was charged with first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for a second-degree murder charge where there was no evidence to negate the State’s proof of every element of first-degree murder; the defendant’s defense was simply an assertion that he did not shoot the victim.

State v. Miles, 222 N.C. App. 593 (Aug. 21, 2012) aff’d per curiam, 366 N.C. 503 (Apr 12 2013)

In a case in which the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on second-degree murder. The court found that the record supported the inference that the defendant murdered the victim after premeditation and deliberation. The defendant harassed the victim over the telephone at least 94 times and visited the victim’s home at least twice; the defendant threatened the victim’s life by voicemail on the day of the murder; the defendant stated his intention to murder the victim to a confidant; the defendant and the victim had a heated relationship and argued over money; the defendant anticipated a confrontation whereby he would use deadly force; the defendant crafted a false alibi; the defendant fled the scene leaving the victim to die; and the defendant sold his wife’s R.V., which the jury could infer was the vehicle the defendant drove on the night of the murder, less than two months after the crime. “Most notably,” the victim died as a result of a gunshot wound to the center back of the head, discharged at close range, indicating that the defendant not only inflicted a brutal, fatal wound with a deadly weapon, but that even if the defendant and the victim were fighting at the time, the victim’s back was to defendant and the victim was fleeing or turning away at the time of his death. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that certain facts suggested that a fight precipitated the murder and thus warranted an instruction on the lesser offense. It noted that even evidence of an argument, “without more, is insufficient to show that defendant’s anger was strong enough to disturb his ability to reason and hinder his ability to premeditate and deliberate the killing.”  

In a case in which the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on second-degree murder. The defendant conceded that the evidence warranted an instruction on first-degree murder. However, he argued that because the evidence failed to illustrate the circumstances immediately preceding the murder, the jury should have been allowed to consider that he formed the intent to kill absent premeditation and deliberation and, therefore, was entitled to an instruction on second-degree murder. The court concluded that in the absence of evidence suggesting that the victim was killed without premeditation and deliberation, an instruction on second-degree murder would be improper.

In a murder case, the trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder. For reasons discussed in the opinion, the evidence showed that the defendant acted with premeditation and deliberation.

The trial court did not err by declining to instruct the jury on second-degree murder when no evidence negated the State’s evidence of first-degree murder. The defendant argued that the evidence showed that he killed the victim in a “frenzied, crack-fueled explosion” of a long-simmering “rage of jealousy.” However, the court noted, premeditation and deliberation do not imply a lack of passion, anger or emotion. Nor, the court noted, does the defendant’s possible drug intoxication support an inference that he did not premeditate and deliberate. The State presented evidence of the defendant’s conduct and statements before the killing, including threats towards the victim; ill-will and previous difficulties between the parties; lethal blows rendered after the victim had been felled and rendered helpless; the brutality of the killing; and the extreme nature and number of the victim’s wounds.

The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of involuntary manslaughter. In the context of a shooting, the charge of involuntary manslaughter requires evidence of the absence of intent to discharge the weapon. This fact distinguishes involuntary manslaughter from its voluntary counterpart, which requires proof of intent. The defendant’s argument fails because there was no evidence at trial suggesting that the defendant did not intend to shoot his wife. Rather, the defendant’s defense relied on his argument that he was in a state of automatism--a complete defense to all criminal charges--which the jury rejected. Here, there was no evidence suggesting that the shooting was an accident.

In this assault and second-degree murder case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is a killing without malice. However, where death results from the intentional use of a firearm or other deadly weapon, malice is presumed. Here, the defendant intentionally fired the gun under circumstances naturally dangerous to human life and the trial court did not err by refusing to give an instruction on involuntary manslaughter. 

In this murder case, the trial court did not commit plain error by failing to submit involuntary manslaughter to the jury. The trial court submitted first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and not guilty to the jury. The jury found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder. By finding the defendant guilty of this offense, the jury necessarily found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant acted with malice. Involuntary manslaughter is a homicide without malice, a fact rejected by the jury.

State v. Epps, 231 N.C. App. 584 (Jan. 7, 2014) aff’d, 368 N.C. 1 (Apr 10 2015)

(per curiam). In a first-degree murder case, the court held, over a dissent, that the trial court did not err by declining to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter. The evidence showed that the defendant fought with the victim in the yard. Sometime later the defendant returned to the house and the victim followed him. As the victim approached the screen door, the defendant stabbed and killed the victim through the screen door. The knife had a 10-12 inch blade, the defendant’s arm went through the screen door up to the elbow, and the stab wound pierced the victim’s lung, nearly pierced his heart and was approximately 4 1/2 inches deep. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his case was similar to those that required an involuntary manslaughter instruction where the “defendant instinctively or reflexively lashed out, involuntarily resulting in the victim’s death.” Here, the court held, the “defendant’s conduct was entirely voluntary.”

In a case in which the victim died after consuming drugs provided by the defendant and the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury on second-degree murder and the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. The defendant objected to submission of the lesser offense. The evidence showed that the defendant sold the victim methadone and that the defendant had nearly died the month before from a methadone overdose. There was no evidence that the defendant intended to kill the victim by selling him the methadone. This evidence would support a finding by the jury of reckless conduct under either second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter. 

In a case in which the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, the trial court committed reversible error by denying the defendant’s request for a jury instruction on involuntary manslaughter. The evidence tended to show that the defendant did not intend to kill or seriously injure the victim: the victim became angry at the defendant when the defendant offered drugs to the victim’s girlfriend; after the victim punched or shoved the defendant, others separated the men; the victim then charged at the defendant, who struck him on the head or neck with a beer bottle, shattering the bottle; the defendant and the victim struggled and fell; and the defendant did not stab the victim. Cause of death was a large laceration to the neck. The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant’s admission that he intentionally hit the victim with the bottle supported the trial court’s refusal to instruct on involuntary manslaughter. Although the intentional use of a deadly weapon causing death creates a presumption of malice, if the defendant adduces evidence or relies on a portion of the State’s evidence raising an issue on the existence of malice and unlawfulness, the presumption disappears, leaving only a permissible inference which the jury may accept or reject. Here, the defendant’s evidence sufficed to so convert the presumption.

State v. Juarez, 369 N.C. 351 (Dec. 21, 2016)

Reversing the Court of Appeals in this first-degree felony murder case, the court held that the trial court did not commit reversible error by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. The underlying felony for first-degree felony murder was discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle in operation. The trial court denied the defendant’s request for instructions on second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. The Court of Appeals held that it was error not to instruct on the lessers because the evidence was conflicting as to whether the defendant acted in self-defense. The court found this reasoning incorrect, noting that self-defense is not a defense to felony murder. Perfect self-defense may be a defense to the underlying felony, which would defeat the felony murder charge. Imperfect self-defense however is not available as a defense to the underlying felony use to support a felony murder charge because allowing such a defense when the defendant is in some manner at fault “would defeat the purpose of the felony murder rule.” In order to be entitled to instructions on the lesser included offenses, “the conflicting evidence must relate to whether defendant committed the crime charged, not whether defendant was legally justified in committing the crime.” Here, there is no conflict regarding whether the defendant committed the underlying felony. The defendant does not dispute that he committed this crime; rather he claims only that his conduct was justified because he was acting in self-defense. 

In a case where the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by failing to submit an instruction on second-degree murder and/or voluntary manslaughter. The defendant argued that the evidence negated premeditation and deliberation. The court disagreed, finding that the State offered substantial evidence of those elements. Specifically, the defendant had a tumultuous relationship with the victim, with ill-will existing between the two. The victim planned to call off their wedding and sent the defendant a text message telling him that he needed to move out of the home and that she would be changing the locks. Moreover, she told the defendant, who had financial troubles, that she would continue to seek child support payments. Her body was found the next day. After the killing, the defendant gave inconsistent statements about events of the day. He told the victim’s friend that he left early for work and that the victim was not at the home, and said that she had a doctor’s appointment. However, the defendant had the victim’s vehicle and the keys to his own car with him, leaving her with no vehicle. When the friend asked the defendant whether the victim’s vehicle was at the home when he went to work, the defendant never responded. Moreover, there was no evidence that the victim provoked the defendant. This constituted substantial evidence of premeditation and deliberation. The only evidence claimed by the defendant to negate premeditation and deliberation is the text message from the victim telling him to move out and signs of struggle in the home. From this evidence, the defendant claims that premeditation and deliberation were negated because the jury could have concluded that an argument aroused a sudden passion in him. The court rejected the notion that this evidence negated premeditation and deliberation. Likewise the court determined that the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter, again noting the lack of evidence of heat of passion.

In this case where the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. On appeal, the defendant argued that he acted in the heat of passion. The defendant did not testify at trial, nor did any witness testify on his behalf. The State’s evidence indicated that the defendant was the initial aggressor and that he was the only one to make any threats or perform any violent acts. The court determined that there “simply [was] no evidence” to support heat of passion.

The trial court did not err by declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter. The trial judge instructed the jury on first- and second-degree murder but declined the defendant’s request for an instruction on voluntary manslaughter. The jury found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder. The defendant argued that the trial court should have given the requested instruction because the evidence supported a finding that he acted in the heat of passion based on adequate provocation. The defendant and the victim had been involved in a romantic relationship. The defendant argued that he acted in the heat of passion as a result of the victim’s verbal taunts and her insistence, shortly after they had sex, that he allow his cell phone to be used to text another man stating that the victim and the defendant were no longer in a relationship. The court rejected this argument, concluding that the victim’s words, conduct, or a combination of the two could not serve as legally adequate provocation. Citing a North Carolina Supreme Court case, the court noted that mere words, even if abusive or insulting, are insufficient provocation to negate malice and reduce a homicide to manslaughter. The court rejected the notion that adequate provocation existed as a result of the victim’s actions in allowing the defendant to have sex with her in order to manipulate him into helping facilitate her relationship with the other man. The court also noted that that there was a lapse in time between the sexual intercourse, the victim’s request for the defendant’s cell phone and her taunting of him and the homicide. Finally the court noted that the defendant stabbed the victim 29 times, suggesting premeditation.

In this assault and second-degree murder case, the trial court did not err by refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense and by omitting an instruction on voluntary manslaughter. The court noted that the defendant himself testified that when he fired the gun he did not intend to shoot anyone and that he was only firing warning shots. It noted: “our Supreme Court has held that a defendant is not entitled to jury instructions on self-defense or voluntary manslaughter ‘while still insisting . . . that he did not intend to shoot anyone[.]’” 

In this murder case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for jury instructions on self-defense and voluntary manslaughter. The defendant’s theory was that the gun went off accidentally. Additionally, there was no evidence that the defendant in fact formed a belief that it was necessary to kill his adversary in order to protect himself from death or great bodily harm.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for a voluntary manslaughter instruction. Although the defendant knew that his wife was having sex with other men and she threatened to continue this behavior, the defendant did not find her in the act of intercourse with another or under circumstances clearly indicating that the act had just been completed. Additionally, the defendant testified that he strangled his wife to quiet her.

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