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., 07/21/2024
E.g., 07/21/2024

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.

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