Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 07/19/2024
E.g., 07/19/2024

In this drug case, the defendant failed to preserve her argument that the trial court erred by failing to sua sponte conduct a hearing to confirm that the defendant’s in-custody statements to law enforcement were knowing and voluntary. The defendant did not move to suppress the statements before or at any time during trial. When the State first asked about the statements at trial, defense counsel stated “objection.” The trial court overruled the objection, and defense counsel said nothing more. When no exception to making a motion to suppress before trial applies, a defendant’s failure to make a pretrial motion to suppress waives any right to contest the admissibility of evidence at trial on constitutional grounds. Thus, the trial court properly overruled the defendant’s objection as procedurally barred.

In this indecent liberties case, the defendant waived any right of appellate review with respect to his arguments challenging admission of his inculpatory statements (he had asserted a Miranda violation and that the statements were involuntary). The defendant has the burden of establishing that a motion to suppress is made both timely and in proper form. Here, the defendant failed to meet that burden and thus waved appellate review of these issues. The court continued, however, holding that the record was insufficient to consider the defendant’s related ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and dismissed that claim without prejudice to the defendant’s right to file a motion for appropriate relief in superior court.

On appeal from a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 795 S.E.2d 374 (2016), the court reversed, holding that the defendant’s Fourth Amendment claims regarding the traffic stop are not reviewable on direct appeal, even for plain error, because the defendant waived them by not moving to suppress the evidence discovered during the stop before or at trial. The defendant did not move to suppress the evidence before or at trial, but instead argued for the first time on appeal that the seizure of the evidence—here cocaine--resulted from various Fourth Amendment violations. Deciding this issue of first impression, the court held that plain error review is not available when a defendant has not moved to suppress at the trial level. It noted that when a defendant does not move to suppress in the trial court, the evidentiary record pertaining to the suppression issue is not fully developed, and may not be developed at all. Without a fully developed record, and appellate court lacks the information necessary to assess the merits of a defendant’s plain error arguments. Here, for example, the Court of Appeals reviewed the officer’s body camera footage and determined that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to extend the stop. However, the officer never testified at a suppression hearing, and thus never gave testimony regarding whether he had reasonable suspicion, including testimony about facts that were not captured on the camera footage. The court reversed and remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the defendant’s claim that counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to move to suppress the evidence in question.

State v. Oates, 366 N.C. 264 (Oct. 5, 2012)

The court reversed State v. Oates, 215 N.C. App. 491 (Sept. 6, 2011), and held that the State’s notice of appeal of a trial court ruling on a suppression motion was timely. The State’s notice of appeal was filed seven days after the trial judge in open court orally granted the defendant’s pretrial motion to suppress but three months before the trial judge issued his corresponding written order of suppression. The court held that the window for filing a written notice of appeal in a criminal case opens on the date of rendition of the judgment or order and closes fourteen days after entry of the judgment or order. The court clarified that rendering a judgment or an order means to pronounce, state, declare, or announce the judgment or order and is “the judicial act of the court in pronouncing the sentence of the law upon the facts in controversy.” Entering a judgment or an order is “a ministerial act which consists in spreading it upon the record.” It continued:

For the purposes of entering notice of appeal in a criminal case . . . a judgment or an order is rendered when the judge decides the issue before him or her and advises the necessary individuals of the decision; a judgment or an order is entered under that Rule when the clerk of court records or files the judge’s decision regarding the judgment or order.

In this Guilford County case, defendant appealed his convictions for felony cocaine possession and misdemeanor marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession, arguing error in the denial of his motion to suppress testimony obtained in violation of his Miranda rights and limitation of his cross-examination of an officer testifying against him. The Court of Appeals dismissed defendant’s appeal. 

In October of 2017, a vehicle with defendant as a passenger was pulled over for expired tags; when officers approached the vehicle, they smelled marijuana. Officers observed a book bag in the back seat of the vehicle, and asked the occupants who owned the bag. Defendant answered that the book bag was his, and a subsequent search of the bag turned up a digital scale and a lockbox containing a handgun and cocaine. Defendant denied that the lockbox was his. At trial, the officer testified, over defendant’s objection, regarding defendant’s statement that the book bag was his. On cross-examination, defense counsel attempted to elicit testimony regarding defendant’s statement that the lock box inside the book bag was not his, but the prosecutor objected on hearsay grounds. The trial court sustained this objection, which led to defendant’s decision to take the stand and testify that the lock box was not his and he did not have a key to it. 

Looking at defendant’s objections, the Court of Appeals noted that the statements defendant objected to, (1) his ownership of the book bag, and (2) his lack of ownership for the lock box, were both admitted several times. Defendant himself testified that he owned the book bag and did not own the lock box when he took the stand. Quoting State v. Terry, 337 N.C. 615 (1994), the court noted “[w]here evidence is admitted over objection, and the same evidence has been previously admitted or is later admitted without objection, the benefit of the objection is lost.” Slip Op. at 6. Ultimately, “all of the statements central to Defendant’s arguments on appeal were admitted into evidence several times, either without objection by Defendant, during Defendant’s cross-examination of the State’s witnesses, or during Defendant’s own testimony.” Id. at 8. The court rejected defendant’s argument that he was compelled to testify, noting that the trial court’s ruling on the hearsay objection left him with a choice of trial strategy, not an obligation to testify. As a result of defendant’s actions, he rendered the alleged errors harmless, leading the court to dismiss his appeal. 

In this Hoke County case, defendant Stanley Draughon was found guilty by a jury of assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill inflicting serious injury (AWDWIKISI) and conspiracy to commit AWDWIKISI, and defendant Phyllis Mull was found guilty of conspiracy to commit AWDWIKISI. The charges arose from an incident in which Draughon and an unidentified man beat a victim, McBryde, with an object and tased him, breaking several bones in his arms and legs, among other injuries. At trial, Draughon’s lawyer objected to the State’s questioning related to Draughon’s cell phone, which had been seized from the vehicle of the person who drove Draughon to the sheriff’s office to turn himself in. Evidence from the phone indicated that Draughon and Mull had exchanged many text messages and calls. Additional testimony indicated that Mull wound up in possession of a box cutter that McBryde typically carried and had used in self-defense when he was assaulted.

(1) On appeal, Draughon argued that the evidence related to his cell phone should have been suppressed. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that Draughon’s lawyer made only a general objection to the evidence at trial without specifying that he was making a motion to suppress or requesting a voir dire, as required by G.S. 15A-977. As a result, the defendant waived appellate review of the issue.

(2) Defendant Draughon also challenged the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the conspiracy to commit AWDWIKISI charge at the close of the State’s evidence and at the close of all evidence. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that, viewed in the light most favorable to the State, there was sufficient evidence of each element of the conspiracy charge. The numerous calls and texts between Draughon and Mull reflected that they had a relationship, and the facts that Mull was standing behind Draughon when he assaulted McBryde and that Mull wound up with McBryde’s box cutter constituted substantial evidence that Draughon had conspired to assault McBryde. Defendant Mull likewise argued that the trial court erred by denying her motion to dismiss. Again, the Court of Appeals disagreed, citing evidence indicating that Mull had agreed to invite Draughon and the other assailant into her house so they could wait for McBryde to assault him. 

(3) Finally, the Court of Appeals concluded that Defendant Mull’s argument regarding the trial court’s denial of her motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict was not preserved for appeal, because her trial lawyer did not state the basis for the motion. The Court went on to decline Mull’s request to invoke Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to consider the issue, reasoning that Mull’s not guilty verdict on her AWDWIKISI charge was neither contradictory to nor mutually exclusive with her conviction for conspiracy to commit AWDWIKISI, as the conspiracy was complete when there was a meeting of minds between the conspirators, without any requirement for an overt act.

In a case where the defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement without notifying the State of his intent to appeal the suppression ruling and failed to timely file a notice of intent to appeal, the court dismissed the defendant’s untimely appeal and his petition for writ of certiorari. Acknowledging State v. Davis, 237 N.C. App. 22 (2014), a recent case that allowed, with no analysis, a writ in this very circumstance, the court found itself bound to follow an earlier opinion, State v. Pimental, 153 N.C. App. 69, 77 (2002), which requires dismissal of the defendant’s efforts to seek review of the suppression issue.

The denial of a motion to suppress does not preserve the issue for appellate review in the absence of a timely objection made when the evidence is introduced at trial.

The defendant gave sufficient notice of his intent to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress so as to preserve his right to appeal. The State had argued that defense counsel’s language was not specific enough to put the trial court and prosecution on notice of his intention to appeal the adverse ruling. Immediately following an attempt to make a renewed motion to suppress at the end of the State’s evidence, defense counsel stated “that [the defendant] would like to preserve any appellate issues that may stem from the motions in this trial.” The court noted that the defendant had only made five motions during trial, two of which were motions to suppress, and that following defense counsel’s request, the trial court reentered substantially similar facts as he did when initially denying the pretrial motion to suppress. Clearly, the court concluded, the trial court understood which motion the defendant intended to appeal and decided to make its findings of fact as clear as possible for the record.

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