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. Cox, 367 N.C. 147 (Nov. 8, 2013)

The court reversed the decision below, State v. Cox, 222 N.C. App. 192 (2012), which had found insufficient evidence to support a conviction of felon in possession of a firearm under the corpus delicti rule. The defendant confessed to possession of a firearm recovered by officers ten to twelve feet from a car in which he was a passenger. The Supreme Court held that under the “Parker rule” the confession was supported by substantial independent evidence tending to establish its trustworthiness and that therefore the corpus delicti rule was satisfied. The court noted that after a Chevrolet Impala attempted to avoid a DWI checkpoint by pulling into a residential driveway, the driver fled on foot as a patrol car approached. The officer observed that the defendant was one of three remaining passengers in the car. Officers later found the firearm in question within ten to twelve feet of the driver’s open door. Even though the night was cool and the grass was wet, the firearm was dry and warm, indicating that it came from inside the car. The court determined that these facts strongly corroborated essential facts and circumstances embraced in the defendant’s confession and linked the defendant temporally and spatially to the firearm. The court went on to note that the defendant made no claim that his confession was obtained by deception or coercion, or was a result of physical or mental infirmity. It continued, concluding that the trustworthiness of the confession was “further bolstered by the evidence that defendant made a voluntary decision to confess.” 

State v. Sweat, 366 N.C. 79 (June 14, 2012)

The court affirmed the holding of State v. Sweat, 216 N.C. App. 321 (Oct. 18, 2011), that there was sufficient evidence of fellatio under the corpus delicti rule to support sex offense charges. The court clarified that the rule imposes different burdens on the State:

If there is independent proof of loss or injury, the State must show that the accused’s confession is supported by substantial independent evidence tending to establish its trustworthiness, including facts that tend to show the defendant had the opportunity to commit the crime. However, if there is no independent proof of loss or injury, there must be strong corroboration of essential facts and circumstances embraced in the defendant’s confession. Corroboration of insignificant facts or those unrelated to the commission of the crime will not suffice.

(quotations omitted). Here, because the substantive evidence of fellatio was defendant’s confession to four such acts, the State was required to strongly corroborate essential facts and circumstances embraced in the confession. Under the totality of the circumstances, the State made the requisite showing based on: the defendant’s opportunity to engage in the acts; the fact that the confession evidenced familiarity with corroborated details (such as the specific acts that occurred) likely to be known only by the perpetrator; the fact that the confession fit within the defendant’s pattern of sexual misconduct; and the victim’s extrajudicial statements to an investigator and a nurse. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the victim’s extrajudicial statements introduced to corroborate her testimony could not be used to corroborate his confession.

State v. Smith, 362 N.C. 583 (Dec. 12, 2008)

Under the corpus delecti rule, there was insufficient evidence independent of the defendant’s extrajudicial confession to sustain a conviction for first-degree sexual offense; however, there was sufficient evidence to support an indecent liberties conviction. Note: under the rule, the state may not rely solely on the extrajudicial confession of a defendant, but must produce substantial independent corroborative evidence that supports the facts underlying the confession.

The defendant in this case previously appealed his convictions for possession of a firearm by a felon, trafficking in heroin, PWISD cocaine, and attaining habitual felon status. The Court of Appeals found no error in State v. Wynn, 264 N.C. App. 250 (2019) (unpublished) (“Wynn I”).

The state Supreme Court granted a petition for discretionary review and remanded to the Court of Appeals for the limited purpose of reconsideration in light of State v. Golder, 347 N.C. 238 (2020) (holding that a motion to dismiss made “at the proper time preserved all issues related to the sufficiency of the evidence for appellate review”). Applying Golder to the case at hand, the appellate court reconsidered defendant’s argument challenging the sufficiency of the evidence at trial, which the court in Wynn I had ruled was not preserved at the trial level. The court began by rejecting the state’s argument that Golder was inapplicable because defense counsel in this case moved for a directed verdict, rather than making a motion to dismiss; the court held that in criminal cases the terms are used interchangeably and are reviewed in the same manner.

Turning to the substantive offenses, the court held that the motion to dismiss the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon should have been granted. No firearm was found in this case; the state’s primary evidence for possession of a firearm was the defendant’s statement to the officers that he had one before they arrived but he had dropped it. Applying the corpus delicti principle, the court held that a confession alone cannot support a conviction unless there is substantial independent evidence to establish the trustworthiness of the confession, including facts which strongly corroborate the essential facts and circumstances in the confession. In this case, the police found a 9mm magazine in a home the defendant had broken into, and also found 9mm shell casings and bullet holes in the defendant’s own home; however, the court pointed out that a magazine is not a firearm, and it was unknown who caused the bullet holes or when. Without some additional evidence (such as recovering the firearm, testimony from a witness who saw a firearm or heard gunshots, or evidence of injury to a person or property), the court concluded that there was insufficient corroboration of the confession and vacated the conviction.

On his convictions for trafficking heroin and PWISD cocaine, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence that he possessed the drugs, but the appellate court held that there was sufficient evidence to establish constructive possession. The drugs were found inside a house where the defendant was seen actively moving from room to room, indicating that had dominion over the space, and the drugs were packaged in red plastic baggies that the defendant was known to use for selling drugs. When the defendant exited the house he also had over $2,000 in cash on him and a white powdery substance in and on his nose. Taken together, these facts presented sufficient evidence to withstand a motion to dismiss regarding the defendant’s constructive possession of the controlled substances, and the convictions were affirmed. 

Finally, the court declined to revisit its earlier ruling on defendant’s argument concerning the admissibility of evidence under Rule 403 and 404, since the case was only remanded for reconsideration in light of Golder. “As such, the Supreme Court left, and we shall too, leave intact our prior analysis, regarding defendant’s second argument of evidence of other wrongs.”

In this child sexual assault case, there was substantial independent evidence to support the trustworthiness of the defendant’s extrajudicial confession that he engaged in vaginal intercourse with the victim on at least three occasions and therefore the corpus delicti rule was satisfied. The defendant challenged the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss two of his three statutory rape charges, which arose following the defendant’s confession that he had sex with the victim on three separate occasions. The defendant recognized that there was “confirmatory circumstance” to support one count of statutory rape because the victim became pregnant with the defendant’s child. However, he asserted that there was no evidence corroborating the two other charges other than his extrajudicial confession. The court disagreed, finding that there was substantial independent evidence establishing the trustworthiness of his confession that he engaged in vaginal intercourse with the victim on at least three separate occasions. Specifically, the victim’s pregnancy, together with evidence of the defendant’s opportunity to commit the crimes and the circumstances surrounding his statement to detectives provide sufficient corroboration “to engender a belief in the overall truth of Defendant’s confession.” The court began by noting that here there is no argument that the defendant’s confession was produced by deception or coercion. Additionally, in his confession he admitted that he engaged in intercourse with the victim on at least three occasions “that he could account for,” suggesting his appreciation and understanding of the importance of the accuracy of his statements. The trustworthiness of the confession was further reinforced by his ample opportunity to commit the crimes given that he was living in the victim’s home during the relevant period. Finally, and most significantly, the undisputed fact that the defendant fathered the victim’s child unequivocally corroborated his statement that he had engaged in vaginal intercourse with her. Thus, strong corroboration of the confession sufficiently establishes the trustworthiness of the concurrent statement regarding the number of instances that he had sexual intercourse with the victim.

In this case, involving habitual impaired driving, driving while license revoked, and reckless driving, the corpus delicti rule was satisfied. The defendant argued that no independent evidence corroborated his admission to a trooper that he was the driver of the vehicle. The court disagreed, noting, in part, that the wrecked vehicle was found nose down in a ditch; one shoe was found in the driver’s side of the vehicle, and the defendant was wearing the matching shoe; no one else was in the area at the time of the accident other than the defendant, who appeared to be appreciably impaired; the defendant had an injury consistent with having been in a wreck; and the wreck of the vehicle could not otherwise be explained. Also the State’s toxicology expert testified that the defendant’s blood sample had a blood ethanol concentration of 0.33.

State v. Blankenship, ___ N.C. App. ___, 814 S.E.2d 901 (Apr. 17, 2018) temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 812 S.E.2d 666 (May 3 2018)

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss charges of statutory sexual offense and indecent liberties with a child where the State failed to satisfy the corpus delecti rule. Here, the only substantive evidence was the defendant’s confession. Thus, the dispositive question is whether the confession was supported by substantial independent evidence tending to establish its trustworthiness, including facts tending to show that the defendant had the opportunity to commit the crime. In this case, the defendant had ample opportunity to commit the crimes; as the victim’s father, he often spent time alone with the victim at their home. Thus, the defendant’s opportunity corroborates the essential facts embedded in the confession. However, the confession did not corroborate any details related to the crimes likely to be known by the perpetrator. In out-of-court statements, the victim told others “Daddy put weiner in coochie.” However, the defendant denied that allegation throughout his confession. He confessed to other inappropriate sexual acts but did not confess to this specific activity. Also, the defendant’s confession did not fit within a pattern of sexual misconduct. Additionally, the confession was not corroborated by the victim’s extrajudicial statements. Although the defendant confessed to touching the victim inappropriately and watching pornography with her, he did not confess to raping her. Thus, the State failed to prove strong corroboration of essential facts and circumstances. The court noted that although the defendant spoke of watching pornography with the victim, investigators did not find pornography on his computer. The court thus determined that the State failed to satisfy the corpus delecti rule. It went on to reject the State’s argument that even without the defendant’s confession, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant was the perpetrator of the crimes.

In this possession of methamphetamine case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that her admission to an officer that she possessed “meth” in her bra was insufficient to establish the nature of the controlled substance under the corpus delicti rule. The defendant’s out-of-court statement to the officer was corroborated by the physical object of the crime. Specifically, law enforcement found a crystal-like substance in the defendant’s bra. Additionally, an investigation revealed that the individual from whom the defendant admitted purchasing the substance had been under surveillance for drug-related activity.

In this case involving impaired and reckless driving, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State presented insufficient evidence to establish that he was driving the vehicle, in violation of the corpus delicti rule. The court found that the State presented substantial evidence to establish that the cause the car accident was criminal activity, specifically reckless or impaired driving. Among other things: three witnesses testified that immediately before the crash, the driver was speeding and driving in an unsafe manner on a curvy roadway; an officer testified that when he arrived at the scene, he detected alcohol from both occupants; and two motorists who stopped to assist saw the defendant exit the driver side of the vehicle seconds after the crash. 

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of armed robbery asserting that the State failed to establish the corpus delicti of the crime. Specifically, the defendant argued that the State relied solely on his uncorroborated confession, which, under the corpus delicti rule, was insufficient to establish guilt. Rejecting the defendant’s argument, the court also rejected the notion that the corpus delicti rule requires non-confessional evidence of every element of a crime. Citing prior case law, it concluded that the State need only show corroborative evidence tending to establish the reliability of the confession. Here, the State presented evidence that aligned with the defendant’s confession, including, among other things, the medical examiner’s determination as to cause of death; the recovery of a firearm at the scene; and DNA evidence. 

(1) In a case involving two perpetrators, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss a robbery charge, predicated on the corpus delicti rule. Although the defendant’s own statements constituted the only evidence that he participated in the crime, “there [wa]s no dispute that the robbery happened.” Evidence to that effect included “security footage, numerous eyewitnesses, and bullet holes and shell casings throughout the store.” The court concluded: “corpus delicti rule applies where the confession is the only evidence that the crime was committed; it does not apply where the confession is the only evidence that the defendant committed it.” The court continued, citing State v. Parker, 315 N.C. 222 (1985) for the rule that “ ‘the perpetrator of the crime’ is not an element of corpus delicti.” (2) The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss a conspiracy charge, also predicated on the corpus delicti rule. The court found that there was sufficient evidence corroborating the defendant’s confession. It noted that “the fact that two masked men entered the store at the same time, began shooting at employees at the same time, and then fled together in the same car, strongly indicates that the men had previously agreed to work together to commit a crime.” Also, “as part of his explanation for how he helped plan the robbery, [the defendant] provided details about the crime that had not been released to the public, further corroborating his involvement.” Finally, as noted by the Parker Court, “conspiracy is among a category of crimes for which a ‘strict application’ of the corpus delicti rule is disfavored because, by its nature, there will never be any tangible proof of the crime.”

Where the State failed to produce substantial, independent corroborative evidence to support the facts underlying the defendant’s extrajudicial statement in violation of the corpus delicti rule, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss charges of participating in the prostitution of a minor. 

The evidence was sufficient to sustain a juvenile’s adjudication as delinquent for driving with no operator’s license under the corpus delicti rule. The thirteen-year-old juvenile admitted that he drove the vehicle. Ample evidence, apart from this confession existed, including that the juvenile and his associates were the only people at the scene and that the vehicle was registered to the juvenile’s mother.

State v. Foye, 220 N.C. App. 37 (Apr. 17, 2012)

In an impaired driving and driving while license revoked case there was sufficient evidence other than the defendant’s extrajudicial confession to establish that the defendant was driving the vehicle. Among other things, the vehicle was registered to the defendant and the defendant was found walking on a road near the scene, he had injuries suggesting that he was driving, and he admitting being impaired.

In an impaired driving case, there was sufficient evidence apart from the defendant’s extrajudicial confession to establish that he was driving the vehicle. When an officer arrived at the scene, the defendant was the only person in the vehicle and he was sitting in the driver's seat. 

Applying the corpus delicti rule (State may not rely solely on the extrajudicial confession of a defendant, but must produce substantial independent corroborative evidence) the court held that the State produced substantial independent corroborative evidence to show that a robbery and rape occurred. As to the robbery, aspects of the defendant’s confession were corroborated with physical evidence found at the scene (weapons, etc.) and by the medical examiner’s opinion testimony (regarding cause of death and strangulation). As to the rape, the victim’s body was partially nude, an autopsy revealed injury to her vagina, rape kit samples showed spermatozoa, and a forensic analysis showed that defendant could not be excluded as a contributor of the weaker DNA profile.

In this capital murder case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a first-degree murder charge. The defendant argued that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that he was the perpetrator. The court noted that the State’s evidence tended to show that the defendant had a history of abusing the victim, that the defendant had threatened to kill the victim and to dispose of her body, that the defendant violently attacked the victim, that the defendant was the last person to see the victim alive, that the defendant had been seen in the general area in which the victim’s body had been discovered, that the defendant had attempted to clean up the location at which he assaulted the victim, that the defendant sent text messages from the victim’s phone to another person in an attempt to establish that the victim had voluntarily left the area, that the victim’s clothing and blood were found in the defendant’s vehicle, that the defendant made conflicting statements concerning the circumstances surrounding the victim’s disappearance to various people, and that the autopsy performed upon the victim’s body indicated, consistently with other evidence tending to show that blood was emanating from the victim’s nose as the defendant carried her away, that the victim had aspirated blood prior to her death. On these facts, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge for insufficiency of the evidence.

State v. Miles, 366 N.C. 503 (Apr. 12, 2013)

The court per curiam affirmed the decision below, State v. Miles, 222 N.C. App. 593 (Aug. 21, 2012), a murder case in which the court of appeals held, over a dissent, that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The court of appeals held that there was sufficient evidence that the defendant was the perpetrator of the offense and that the defendant possessed the motive, means, and opportunity to murder the victim. The victim owed the defendant approximately $40,000. The defendant persistently contacted the victim demanding his money; in the month immediately before the murder, he called the victim at least 94 times. A witness testified that the defendant, his business, and his family were experiencing financial troubles, thus creating a financial motive for the crime. On the morning of the murder the defendant left the victim an angry voicemail stating that he was going to retain a lawyer, but not to collect his money, and threatening that he would ultimately get “a hold of” the victim; a rational juror could reasonably infer from this that the defendant intentionally threatened the victim’s life. Another witness testified that on the day of the murder, the defendant confided that if he did not get his money soon, he would kill the victim, and that he was going to the victim to either collect his money or kill the victim; this was evidence of the defendant’s motive and intention to murder the victim. The victim’s wife and neighbor saw the defendant at the victim’s house on two separate occasions in the month prior to the crime. On the day of the murder, the victim’s wife and daughter observed a vehicle similar one owned by the defendant’s wife at their home. The defendant’s phone records pinpointed his location in the vicinity of the crime scene at the relevant time. Finally, the defendant’s false alibi was contradicted by evidence putting him at the crime scene.

State v. Carver, 366 N.C. 372 (Jan. 25, 2013)

The court per curiam affirmed State v. Carver, 221 N.C. App. 120 (June 5, 2012), in which the court of appeals held, over a dissent, that there was sufficient evidence that the defendant perpetrated the murder. The State’s case was entirely circumstantial. Evidence showed that at the time the victim’s body was discovered, the defendant was fishing not far from the crime scene and had been there for several hours. Although the defendant repeatedly denied ever touching the victim’s vehicle, DNA found on the victim’s vehicle was, with an extremely high probability, matched to him. The court of appeals found State v. Miller, 289 N.C. 1 (1975), persuasive, which it described as holding “that the existence of physical evidence establishing a defendant’s presence at the crime scene, combined with the defendant’s statement that he was never present at the crime scene and the absence of any evidence that defendant was ever lawfully present at the crime scene, permits the inference that the defendant committed the crime and left the physical evidence during the crime’s commission.” The court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was insufficient given that lack of evidence regarding motive.

State v. Pastuer, 365 N.C. 287 (Oct. 7, 2011)

An equally divided court left undisturbed the court of appeals’ decision in State v. Pastuer, 205 N.C. App. 566 (July 20, 2010) (holding that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge alleging that he murdered his wife; the State’s case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence; the court held that although the State may have introduced sufficient evidence of motive, evidence of the defendant’s opportunity and ability to commit the crime was insufficient to show that he was the perpetrator; according to the court, no evidence put the defendant at the scene; although a trail of footprints bearing the victim’s blood was found at her home and her blood was found on the bottom of one of the defendant’s shoes, the court concluded that the State failed to present substantial evidence that the victim’s DNA could only have gotten on the defendant’s shoe at the time of the murder; evidence that the defendant was seen walking down a highway sometime around the victim’s disappearance and that her body was later found in the vicinity did not supply substantial evidence that he was the perpetrator). The court noted that the effect of its decision is that the court of appeals’ opinion stands without precedential value.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of first-degree murder. On appeal the defendant argued that the State failed to introduce sufficient evidence with respect to an unlawful killing and the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator.

            The defendant argued that the State failed to show that the victim died by virtue of a criminal act. The court disagreed. The victim was found dead in a bathtub, with a hairdryer. Although the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy was unable to determine a cause of death, he testified that he found red dots similar to bruising inside of the victim’s eyelids, causing him to believe that there was some type of pressure around her upper chest or neck and head area. He also found a large bruise on her right side that was less than 18 hours old, and an abrasion on her right thigh. A witness testified that the victim had no bruises the night before her death. Additionally, the pathologist found a hemorrhage on the inside of the victim’s scalp. The pathologist testified that her toxicology report was negative for alcohol and drugs and he ruled out drowning as a cause of death. He also found no evidence to support a finding that the victim died of electrocution. Taken in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence was sufficient to establish that the cause of death was a criminal act.

            The evidence was also sufficient to establish that the defendant was the perpetrator. The State presented substantial evidence of a tumultuous relationship between the defendant and the victim, colored by the defendant’s financial troubles, and that animosity existed between the two. The victim explicitly told a friend that she did not want to marry the defendant because of financial issues. The day before her death, the victim sent the defendant a text message, stating “You have until Tuesday at 8:00 as I’m leaving to go out of town Wednesday or Thursday. And my locks will be changed. So do my [sic] act stupid. Thanks.” She then sent an additional text stating, “I will also be [sic] send a request not to stop child support FYI.” The defendant’s financial difficulties, coupled with his tempestuous relationship with the victim and her threat to end the relationship and remove the defendant from her home are sufficient for a reasonable juror to conclude that the defendant had a motive to kill the victim. Additionally, the State presented evidence of opportunity. Specifically, evidence that the defendant was in the home between when the victim returned the night before and when her body was found the next day. Additionally, the evidence supported a conclusion that the victim was suffocated, and evidence connected the defendant to the method of killing. A white feather pillow was found behind a mattress in the room where the defendant stayed. Also in that room was an unopened pack of white socks. White feathers were found on the floor in the bedroom, in a trash bin outside the home, and in the bathroom where the victim’s body was found. A pair of wet white socks was found in the trashcan in the kitchen, with a feather on them. This evidence would allow a reasonable juror to conclude that the defendant had the means of suffocating the victim with the feather pillow found in his room and that he was connected to the means of the killing.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of first-degree rape. Because the victim could not remember the incident, she was unable to testify that she had been raped or that the defendant was the perpetrator. The evidence showed that while out with friends one night, the victim met the defendant. Later that evening, two strangers, John and Jean, responded to a woman screaming for help. They found a man straddling the victim. After throwing the man off, John saw him pull up his pants over an erection. The man ran, chased by John and another person. Jean stayed with the victim, who was on the ground with her pants and underwear pulled to her ankles. An officer saw the chase and detained the defendant, whose pants were undone. John and Jean participated in a show up identification of the defendant shortly thereafter; both identified the defendant as the perpetrator. The victim was taken to the emergency room where a nurse found debris and a small black hair consistent with a pubic hair inside the victim’s vagina. The nurse testified in part that debris cannot enter the vagina unless something had opened the vagina; thus the debris could not have entered merely because she was on the ground. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to dismiss, was convicted and appealed. On appeal the defendant argued that the State failed to produce sufficient evidence that penetration occurred and that he was the perpetrator. The court disagreed, succinctly concluding that a reasonable juror could have inferred that the victim was vaginally penetrated against her will and that the defendant was the perpetrator.

In this first-degree felony-murder and discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges on grounds that there was insufficient evidence establishing that the defendant was the perpetrator. Among other things, the State’s evidence established a motive (hostility between the defendant and the victim) and opportunity to commit the crime (through physical evidence at the crime scene and witness testimony).

In a case involving convictions for felony breaking or entering, felony larceny, and misdemeanor injury to real property, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The property owner was the defendant’s former girlfriend, who was away at the time. The items taken included a television. At trial, and at the State’s request, the trial court did not instruct the jury on acting in concert or aiding and abetting. Thus, to find the defendant guilty, the State was required to prove that the defendant committed the offenses himself. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was insufficient evidence that he was the perpetrator. Among other things, a neighbor saw a vehicle backed up to the victim’s patio; neighbors saw two males going in and out of the apartment; a neighbor recognized the defendant as one of the men; when one of the neighbors spoke to the defendant he seemed startled and anxious; a neighbor saw a television in the vehicle; another neighbor saw “stuff” in the car and when the men saw her, they quickly closed the trunk and departed; the victim told only three people that she was going out of town, one of whom was the defendant; and when the victim asked the defendant about the evening in question, he lied, telling her he was out of town. These and other facts were sufficient evidence that the defendant was the perpetrator.

Sufficient evidence supported the defendant’s armed robbery conviction where two eyewitnesses identified the defendant and an accomplice. The court was unpersuaded by the defendant’s citation of articles and cases from other states discussing the weaknesses of eyewitness identification, noting that such arguments have no bearing on the sufficiency of the evidence when considering a motion to dismiss. It continued: “If relevant at all, these arguments would go only to the credibility of an eyewitness identification.”

There was sufficient evidence that the defendant perpetrated the crime of discharging a weapon into occupied property. Evidence tied a burgundy SUV to the shooting and suggested the defendant was the vehicle’s driver, the defendant fled from police and made statements to them showing “inside” knowledge, and gunshot residue was found on the defendant shortly after the shooting.

There was sufficient evidence that the defendant perpetrated the murder. The defendant’s cell phone was found next to the victim, cell phone records showed that the phone was within one mile of the murder scene around the time of the murder, the defendant gave inconsistent statements about his whereabouts, and a witness testified that the defendant stated, “I must have dropped [my phone] after I killed him.”

There was sufficient evidence that the defendant was the perpetrator of the charged offenses so that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The crimes occurred at approximately 1:00 am at the victim’s home. The intruder took a fifty-dollar bill, a change purse, a cell phone, and jewelry. The victim’s description of the perpetrator was not inconsistent with the defendant’s appearance. An eyewitness observed the defendant enter a laundromat near the victim’s home at approximately 2:00 am the same morning. The stolen change purse, cell phone, and jewelry were found in the laundromat. No one other than the defendant entered the laundromat from midnight that evening until when the police arrived. The defendant admitted using used a fifty-dollar bill to purchase items that morning and gave conflicting stories about how he obtained the bill. 

State v. Patel, 217 N.C. App. 50 (Nov. 15, 2011)

In a first-degree murder case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss on grounds of insufficiency of the evidence where the State produced evidence of motive, opportunity, and means as well as admissions by the defendant.

In a case involving a 1972 homicide, the trial judge erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss due to insufficient evidence that he was the perpetrator. When the State presents only circumstantial evidence that the defendant is the perpetrator, courts look at motive, opportunity, capability and identity to determine whether a reasonable inference of the defendant’s guilt may be inferred or whether there is merely a suspicion that the defendant is the perpetrator. Evidence of either motive or opportunity alone is insufficient to carry a case to the jury. Here, the evidence was sufficient to show motive; it showed hostility between the victim and the defendant that erupted at times in physical violence and threats. However, there was insufficient evidence of opportunity. The court noted that for there to be sufficient evidence of opportunity, the State must present evidence placing the defendant at the crime scene when the crime was committed. Here, the only evidence of opportunity was the defendant’s statement, made 26 years after the murder, that he was briefly in a spot two miles away from the crime scene. Finally, the court agreed with the defendant’s argument that State’s evidence of his means to kill the victim was insufficient because it failed to connect the defendant to the murder weapon.

The State presented sufficient evidence that the defendant perpetrated a breaking and entering. The resident saw the defendant break into her home, the getaway vehicle was registered to the defendant, the resident knew the defendant from prior interactions, a gun was taken from the home, and the defendant knew that the resident possessed the gun. 

The evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant perpetrated the murder. The defendant was jealous of the victim and made numerous threats toward him; four spent casings found in his bedroom were fired from the murder weapon; on the day of the murder, the victim got into a vehicle that matched a description of the defendant’s vehicle; and a fiber consistent with the victim’s jacket was recovered from the defendant’s vehicle. 

In a robbery case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss where there was substantial evidence that the defendant was the perpetrator. The victim, who knew the defendant well, identified the defendant’s voice as that of his assailant; identified his assailant as a black man with a lazy eye, two characteristics consistent with the defendant’s appearance; consistently identified the defendant as his assailant; and had a high level of certainty with regard to this identification.

There was sufficient evidence that the defendant perpetrated a murder when, among other things, cuts on the defendant’s hands were visible more than 10 days after the murder; neither the defendant’s nor the victim’s DNA could be excluded from a DNA sample from the scene; DNA from blood stains on the defendant’s jeans matched the victim’s DNA; and 22 shoe prints found in blood in the victim’s residence were consistent with the defendant’s shoes. 

In a case involving felonious breaking or entering, larceny, and possession of stolen goods, the State presented sufficient evidence identifying the defendant as the perpetrator. The evidence showed that although the defendant did not know the victim, she found his truck in her driveway with the engine running; the victim observed a man matching the defendant’s description holding electronic equipment subsequently determined to have been stolen; the man dropped the electronic equipment and jumped over a fence; a police dog tracked the man’s scent through muddy terrain and lost the trail near Thermal Road; a canine officer observed fresh slide marks in the mud; the defendant was found on Thermal Road with muddy pants and shoes and in possession of a Leatherman tool, which could have been used to open the door of the residence; the defendant had approximately $30.00 in loose change, which could have been taken from the residence; and when police apprehended an accomplice, the defendant’s roommate and known associate, he had the victim’s electronic device in his possession.

Where the State’s evidence in this murder case showed both motive and opportunity, it was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss on the issue of whether the defendant was the perpetrator.

Where a burglary victim identified the defendant as the perpetrator in court, the rule of State v. Irick, 291 N.C. 480 (1977) (fingerprint evidence can withstand a motion for nonsuit only if there is substantial evidence that the fingerprints were impressed at the time of the crime),did not require dismissal. Although the identification was not clear and unequivocal, it was not inherently incredible and supported the fingerprint evidence.

State v. McCrary, 368 N.C. 571 (Dec. 18, 2015)

In a per curiam opinion, the supreme court affirmed the decision below, State v. McCrary, __ N.C. App. __, 764 S.E.2d 477 (2014), to the extent it affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to dismiss. In this DWI case, the court of appeals had rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss, which was predicated on a flagrant violation of his constitutional rights in connection with a warrantless blood draw. Because the defendant’s motion failed to detail irreparable damage to the preparation of his case and made no such argument on appeal, the court of appeals concluded that the only appropriate action by the trial court under the circumstances was to consider suppression of the evidence as a remedy for any constitutional violation. Noting that the trial court did not have the benefit of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013), in addition to affirming that portion of the court of appeals opinion affirming the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss, the supreme court remanded to the court of appeals “with instructions to that court to vacate the portion of the trial court’s 18 March 2013 order denying defendant’s motion to suppress and further remand to the trial court for (1) additional findings and conclusions—and, if necessary—a new hearing on whether the totality of the events underlying defendant’s motion to suppress gave rise to exigent circumstances, and (2) thereafter to reconsider, if necessary, the judgments and commitments entered by the trial court on 21 March 2013.”

(1) The trial court erred by entering a pretrial order dismissing, under G.S. 15A-954(a)(4), murder, child abuse, and sexual assault charges against the defendant. The statute allows a trial court to dismiss charges if it finds that the defendant's constitutional rights have been flagrantly violated causing irreparable prejudice so that there is no remedy but to dismiss the prosecution. The court held that the trial court erred by finding that the State violated the defendant’s Brady rights with respect to: a polygraph test of a woman connected to the incident; a SBI report regarding testing for the presence of blood on the victim’s underwear and sleepwear; and information about crime lab practices and procedures. It reasoned, in part, that the State was not constitutionally required to disclose the evidence prior to the defendant’s plea. Additionally, because the defendant’s guilty plea was subsequently vacated and the defendant had the evidence by the time of the pretrial motion, he received it in time to make use of it at trial. The court also found that the trial court erred by concluding that the prosecutor intentionally presented false evidence at the plea hearing by stating that there was blood on the victim’s underwear. The court determined that whether such blood existed was not material under the circumstances, which included, in part, substantial independent evidence that the victim was bleeding and the fact that no one else involved was so injured. Also, because the defendant’s guilty plea was vacated, he already received any relief that would be ordered in the event of a violation. Next, the court held that the trial court erred by concluding that the State improperly used a threat of the death penalty to coerce a plea while withholding critical information to which the defendant was entitled and thus flagrantly violating the defendant’s constitutional rights. The court reasoned that the State was entitled to pursue the case capitally and no Brady violation occurred. (2) The trial court erred by concluding that the State’s case should be dismissed because of statutory discovery violations. With regard to the trial court’s conclusion that the State’s disclosure was deficient with respect to the SBI lab report, the court rejected the notion that the law requires either an affirmative explanation of the extent and import of each test and test result. It reasoned: this “would amount to requiring the creation of an otherwise nonexistent narrative explaining the nature, extent, and import of what the analyst did.” Instead it concluded that the State need only provide information that the analyst generated during the course of his or her work, as was done in this case. With regard to polygraph evidence, the court concluded that it was not discoverable.

The defendant was seen handling a black box in connection with a possible drug transaction/ransom payment. The next day, officers found a black box full of cocaine in the woods nearby. The defendant was charged with and convicted of trafficking by possession. He appealed, arguing that the State’s evidence was insufficient. A divided court of appeals agreed that there was insufficient evidence that there was cocaine inside the box at the time that defendant was seen handling it. On further appeal, the supreme court held that the defendant adequately preserved the sufficiency issue, as his motion to dismiss at the close of all the evidence included an argument about possession. The supreme court divided equally on the merits, with Justice Davis not participating. The opinion of the court of appeals therefore stands without precedential value.

The State had no right to appeal the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence, made after the close of all evidence where the trial court erred by taking the defendant’s motion under advisement and failing to rule until after the jury returned its verdict. Under G.S. 15A-1227(c), when a defendant moves to dismiss based on insufficient evidence, the trial court must rule on the motion “before the trial may proceed.” Here, after the defendant moved to dismiss the trial court determined that it needed to review the transcript of an officer’s trial testimony before ruling. While waiting for the court reporter to prepare the transcript, the trial court allowed the jury to begin deliberations. Shortly after the jury returned a guilty verdict, the court reporter completed the transcript and the trial court reviewed it. The trial court then granted the motion to dismiss, explaining that the transcript showed the State had not met its burden of proof. The trial court added that it considered its ruling as one made “at the close of all the evidence.” The State appealed. While double jeopardy prevents the State from appealing the grant of a motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence if it comes before the jury verdict, the State generally can appeal that ruling if it comes after the verdict (because, the court explained, if the State prevails, the trial court on remand can enter judgment consistent with the jury verdict without subjecting the defendant to a second trial). Here, the trial court’s violation of the statute prejudiced the defendant; had the trial court ruled at the proper time, no appeal would have been allowed. The court determined that the proper remedy was to preclude the State’s appeal.

In this DWI case, the district court properly dismissed the charges sua sponte. After the district court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress, the State appealed to superior court, which affirmed the district court’s pretrial indication and remanded. The State then moved to continue the case, which the district court allowed until June 16, 2015, indicating that it was the last continuance for the State. When the case was called on June 16th the State requested another continuance so that it could petition the Court of Appeals for writ of certiorari to review the order granting the defendant’s motion to suppress. The district court judge denied the State’s motion to continue and filed the final order of suppression. The district court judge then directed the State to call the case or move to dismiss it. When the State refused to take any action, the district court, on its own motion, dismissed the case because of the State’s failure to prosecute. Affirming, the court noted that when the case came on for final hearing on June 16th, the State had failed to seek review of the suppression motion. And, given that the prosecutor knew that there was no admissible evidence supporting the DWI charge in light of the suppression ruling, a State Bar Formal Ethics Opinion required dismissal of the charges. The court noted: the “State found itself in this position by its own in action.”

State v. Joe, 365 N.C. 538 (Apr. 13, 2012)

Although a trial court may grant a defendant's motion to dismiss under G.S. 15A–954 or –1227 and the State may enter an oral dismissal in open court under G.S. 15A–931, the trial court has no authority to enter an order dismissing the case on its own motion.

In this Rowan County case, the defendant was convicted of felony murder based on an underlying felony of robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree murder based on premeditation and deliberation. The defendant was charged after one of his coworkers, Arthur Davis, was found dead in his residence due to multiple stab wounds. Investigating officers found bloody clothes at the defendant’s residence, but forensic biologists testified that those clothes had no DNA connection with the victim, and that there was no other connection between the defendant’s DNA profile and the scene of the crime. When asked about his whereabouts on the night of the crime, the defendant told investigators that he tried to call the victim that night to borrow money from him, but that Davis never answered. The defendant said he then went to his place of employment, smoked crack, did some work, and then went home. Cell site location analysis performed on the defendant’s phone records showed him to be in a sector that included both the victim’s home and his place of employment on that night. After talking with officers, the defendant was arrested and jailed on an unrelated charge. In a jailhouse phone call on a monitored line, the defendant instructed his girlfriend to bail him out using approximately $3,000 in cash hidden in a work glove, which was in turn hidden in a McDonald’s bag in a trash can. The defendant moved to dismiss all charges for insufficiency of the evidence at the close of the State’s evidence and again at the close of all evidence. At closing, the prosecutor noted the lack of DNA evidence, but said that the jury “need[ed] a reasonable explanation for that money.” The defendant objected as the prosecutor was saying “If you don’t have a reasonable explanation for where that money came from . . . ,” which the trial judge sustained, but without giving a curative instruction. 

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss all the charges for failure to provide evidence as to each element of each crime. A majority of the Court of Appeals agreed. Even giving the State every reasonable inference and resolving any contradictions in its favor, the court concluded that the evidence here was insufficient to go to the jury. The State presented no evidence that the defendant entered Mr. Davis’s trailer, and no evidence connecting the $3,000 with the victim. Evidence indicating that the defendant was in the vicinity of the victim’s home on the night of the offense, and that the victim was supposed to bring money to his daughter the next day but that no money or billfold was found in his house, showed only that the defendant had the opportunity to commit the crime and that someone may have taken money from the victim. There was no evidence beyond speculation, the court said, that the defendant actually went to the victim’s house, had a motive to commit the crimes, or actually did it. The court thus found that the trial court erred by failing to grant the defendant’s motion to dismiss and vacated the defendant’s convictions. Having vacated the convictions, the majority did not reach the defendant’s second argument regarding the trial court’s failure to give a limiting instruction related to the State’s improper closing argument, which arguably shifted the burden of proof to the defendant.

A dissenting judge would have found the evidence sufficient to give rise to a reasonable inference of guilt, and that the trial court therefore did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The dissenting judge also would have concluded that the trial court did not err in failing to give a limiting instruction regarding the State’s closing argument in light of a unobjected-to rephrasing of the argument by the prosecutor after the parties conferred with the judge.

The defendant was arrested for impaired driving. Because of his extreme intoxication, he was taken to a hospital for medical treatment. The defendant was belligerent and combative at the hospital, and was medicated in an effort to calm his behavior. After the defendant was medically subdued, a nurse withdrew his blood. She withdrew some blood for medical purposes and additional blood for law enforcement use. No warrant had been issued authorizing the blood draw. The defendant moved to suppress evidence resulting from the warrantless blood draw on constitutional grounds. The trial court granted the motion, suppressing evidence of the blood provided to law enforcement and the subsequent analysis of that blood. The State appealed from that interlocutory order, certifying that the evidence was essential to the prosecution of its case. The North Carolina Supreme Court, in State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678 (2017), affirmed the trial court’s ruling suppressing the State’s blood analysis, and remanded the case for additional proceedings. 

While the case was pending before the state supreme court, the State filed a motion for disclosure of the defendant’s medical records on the date of his arrest, which included records of the hospital’s analysis of his blood. The motion was granted, and the medical records were disclosed.

After the case was remanded, the State proceeded to try the defendant on charges of habitual impaired driving and driving while license revoked for impaired driving. The defendant moved to dismiss the charges and to suppress the evidence of his medical records. The trial court denied the motions, and the defendant was convicted.

The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss. Noting that the State appealed the order suppressing evidence from the warrantless blood draw on the basis that the State’s analysis of his blood was essential to its case, the defendant argued that the State should not have been permitted to try the case against him on remand because that evidence was ordered suppressed. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, stating that the supreme court’s decision simply upheld the suppression of the evidence. It did not preclude the State from proceeding to trial without the suppressed evidence on remand. Thus, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to dismiss.

State v. Todd, ___ N.C. App. ___, 790 S.E.2d 349 (Aug. 16, 2016) rev’d on other grounds, 369 N.C. 707 (Jun 9 2017)

Over a dissent the court held that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for armed robbery where it consisted of a single partial fingerprint on the exterior of a backpack worn by the victim at the time of the crime and that counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to raise this issue on the defendant’s first appeal. Evidence showed that the assailants “felt around” the victim’s backpack; the backpack however was not stolen. The backpack, a movable item, was worn regularly by the victim for months prior to the crime while riding on a public bus. Additionally, the defendant left the backpack unattended on a coat rack while he worked in a local restaurant. Reviewing the facts of the case and distinguishing cases cited by the State, the court concluded that the circumstances of the crime alone provide no evidence which might show that the fingerprint could only have been impressed at the time of the crime. The court went on to reject the State’s argument that other evidence connected the defendant to the crime. 

In an impaired driving case, evidence that the defendant’s BAC was .09 was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, notwithstanding evidence that the machine may have had a margin of error of .02. The court concluded: “Defendant’s argument goes to the credibility of the State’s evidence, not its sufficiency to withstand defendant’s motion to dismiss. Such an argument is more appropriately made to the jury at trial, and not to an appellate court.”

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss where the defendant’s argument went to issues of credibility.

The trial court erred by granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of felon in possession of a firearm on grounds that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to him. The defendant’s motion was unverified, trial court heard no evidence, and there were no clear stipulations to the facts. To prevail in a motion to dismiss on an as applied challenge to the statute, the defense must present evidence allowing the trial court to make findings of fact regarding the type of felony convictions and whether they involved violence or threat of violence; the remoteness of the convictions; the felon's history of law abiding conduct since the crime; the felon's history of responsible, lawful firearm possession during a period when possession was not prohibited; and the felon's assiduous and proactive compliance with amendments to the statute.

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