Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

About

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.

Instructions

Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021
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.

Show Table of Contents