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., 07/24/2024
E.g., 07/24/2024
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.”

In this Guilford County case, the State appealed an order granting dismissal of the assault, interfering with emergency communications, and communicating threats charges against defendant after the district court imposed a $250 secured bond when defendant announced his intention to appeal to superior court. The Court of Appeals reversed the superior court order dismissing the charges, remanding for further findings to support the imposition of a secured cash bond. 

In June of 2019, defendant was charged with felony assault by strangulation, interfering with emergency communications, and communicating threats, and received a $2,500 unsecured bond for pretrial release. The State reduced the assault by strangulation charge to simple assault, and a district court bench trial was held in August 2022. Defendant was found guilty on all charges, and given a 150-day suspended sentence. Defendant then gave notice of appeal, at which point the district court modified defendant’s pretrial release to require a $250 secured bond, leading to defendant being taken into custody for a few hours while his family posted the bond. In October 2022, defendant moved at the superior court to dismiss the charges, and the superior court granted the motion, finding the district court did not properly modify defendant’s bond pursuant to statute and the denial of his right to a reasonable bond impermissibly infringed on his Fourth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights.

Taking up the State’s appeal, the Court of Appeals first looked at the district court’s jurisdiction to modify the pretrial release bond, as defendant argued that the district court was immediately divested of jurisdiction when he announced his appeal. Looking to the language of G.S. 15A-1431, the court concluded “[g]iven that the plain language contained in Section 1431 mandates action from a magistrate or district court following a defendant giving notice of appeal, we conclude that the district court is not immediately divested of jurisdiction following ‘the noting of an appeal.’” Slip Op. at 11. This meant that the district court retained jurisdiction to modify defendant’s pretrial release. The court then looked to G.S. 15A-534 for the requirements to impose a secured cash bond, finding that the district court did not properly record its reasons in writing, meaning the superior court’s order was correct in finding the district court erred. 

Having established that the district court erred by imposing a secured bond without written findings, the court moved to the question of whether defendant’s rights were flagrantly violated and whether his case suffered irreparable prejudice to support dismissal of the charges against him under G.S. 15A-954. The court concluded that defendant had not been irreparably prejudiced, looking to the superior court’s own findings, pointing to Finding No. 12 that “the court does not find, that the $250 cash bond and subsequent time in custody affected defendant’s ability to prepare his case in superior court, or otherwise to consult with counsel to be ready for trial.” Id. at 14 (cleaned up). Because the superior court’s own findings showed no prejudice and the findings were not challenged on appeal, the court determined it was error to grant defendant’s motion to dismiss. 

(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.

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