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.

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