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
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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