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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

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.

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).

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 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 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. 

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. 

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.

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