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., 07/21/2024
E.g., 07/21/2024

The presumption of prejudice recognized in Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), applies regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver. Defendant Garza signed two plea agreements arising from charges brought by the State of Idaho. Each agreement included a provision stating that Garza waived his right to appeal. The trial court accepted the agreements and sentenced Garza. Shortly thereafter Garza told his trial counsel that he wanted to appeal. Although Garza continuously reminded his attorney of this directive, counsel did not file a notice of appeal informing Garza that appeal was problematic because of the waiver. About four months after sentencing Garza sought post-conviction relief in state court, alleging that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file notices of appeal despite his requests. The trial court denied relief, and this ruling was affirmed by the state appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a split of authority on this issue.

            As a general rule, a defendant claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must prove that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that prejudice occurred. In certain circumstances however prejudice is presumed, such as where the defendant is denied counsel at a critical stage or where counsel entirely fails to subject the prosecution’s case to meaningful adversarial testing. Additionally, in Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), the Court held that when an attorney’s deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would have otherwise pursued, prejudice is presumed. The question presented in this case was: whether that rule applies even when the defendant has, in the course of pleading guilty, signed an “appeal waiver”—that is, an agreement forgoing certain, but not all, possible appellate claims. The Court held that it does.

            The Court first determined that Garza’s lawyer provided deficient performance: “Where, as here, a defendant has expressly requested an appeal, counsel performs deficiently by disregarding the defendant’s instructions.” Turning to the crux of the case, the Court held that the Flores-Ortega presumption of prejudice applied despite the appeal waiver. The Court reasoned that because there is no dispute that Garza wished to appeal, a direct application of that case resolves this one. It held: When counsel’s constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken, the defendant has made out a successful ineffective assistance of counsel claim entitling him to an appeal, with no need for a further showing of the merit of his claim, regardless of whether an appeal waiver was signed.

(1) In this case where the defendant pleaded guilty to felony speeding to elude arrest pursuant to a plea arrangement, he had no statutory right to appeal. 

(2) However, the court considered the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari which argued that he did not receive notice and an opportunity to be heard on the amount of attorney’s fees and costs. The court noted that a criminal defendant may file a petition for a writ of certiorari to appeal a civil judgment for attorney’s fees and costs. Here, after the defendant pleaded guilty to felony speeding to elude arrest he was sentenced and the trial court ordered him to pay court costs in the amount of $1,572.50. Before entering monetary judgments against indigent defendants for fees imposed for court appointed counsel, the trial court should ask defendants personally whether they wish to be heard on the issue. Absent a colloquy directly with the defendant, the requirements of notice and opportunity to be heard will be satisfied only if there is other evidence in the record demonstrating that the defendant received notice, was aware of the opportunity to be heard, and chose not to be heard. Here, nothing in the record indicated that the defendant understood he had a right to be heard on the issue, and the trial court did not inform him of that right. The court thus vacated the civil judgment for attorney’s fees and remanded to the trial court.

Under G.S. 15A-1444, the defendant did not have a right to appeal whether his guilty plea was knowing and voluntary. The defendant argued that his plea was invalid based on the trial court’s assurance that he could appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. However, considering the defendant's petition for writ of certiorari, the court exercised its discretion to invoke Rule 2 to suspend the Rules and address the merits of the defendant’s appeal.

Over a dissent, the court held that it had jurisdiction to consider the defendant’s appeal under G.S. 15A-1444(e). After the trial court announced the sentence in open court, defense counsel indicated that the defendant would like to strike her plea because she would like “to take it to trial.” The court declined to strike the plea and the defendant appealed. The court held that notwithstanding State v. Carriker, 180 N.C. App. 470 (2006), under G.S. 15A-1444(e) and State v. Dickens, 299 N.C. 76 (1980), a defendant has a right to appeal when a motion to withdraw a guilty plea has been denied.

A drug trafficking defendant who pled guilty and was sentenced pursuant to a plea agreement had no right to appeal the sentence, which was greater than that allowed by the applicable statute at the time. G.S. 15A-1444 allows for appeal after a guilty plea for terms that are unauthorized under provisions of Chapter 15A; the drug trafficking defendant here was sentenced under Chapter 90. However, the court went on to find that the defendant’s plea was invalid.

(1) The defendant, who pleaded guilty in this drug case, had no statutory right under G.S. 15A-1444 to appeal where his appeal pertained to the voluntariness of his plea. (2) Notwithstanding prior case law, and over a dissent, the court held that the defendant could not seek review by way of certiorari where the defendant’s claim did fall within any of the three grounds set forth in Appellate Rule 21(a)(1). The court distinguished prior cases in which certiorari had been granted, noting that none addressed the requirements of Rule 21. (3) The court declined to exercise its discretion under Appellate Rule 2 to suspend the rules of appellate procedure, finding that the defendant had not demonstrated exceptional circumstances warranting such action.

The defendant’s assertions in his MAR, filed more than seven years after expiration of the appeal period, that his plea was invalid because the trial court failed to follow the procedural requirements of G.S. 15A-1023 and -1024 were precluded by G.S. 15A-1027 (“Noncompliance with the procedures of this Article may not be a basis for review of a conviction after the appeal period for the conviction has expired.”).

Where the defendant pleaded guilty in this DWI case “and preserved his right to appeal” the denial of his motion to dismiss, the court found that the defendant had no statutory right to appeal the issue or ground to request review by way of certiorari. The defendant’s motion alleged that he was denied his constitutional right to communicate with counsel and friends and gather evidence on his behalf by allowing friends or family to observe him and form opinions as to his condition. The court thus dismissed the appeal without prejudice to the defendant’s right to pursue relief by way of a MAR.

Although the court treated the defendant’s brief challenging his guilty plea as a writ of certiorari and addressed his contentions, it reviewed the law on the right to appeal after a plea, stating: A defendant who has entered a guilty plea is not entitled to appellate review as a matter of right, unless the defendant is appealing sentencing issues or the denial of a motion to suppress, or the defendant has made an unsuccessful motion to withdraw the guilty plea. Thus, the court concluded, a defendant does not have an appeal as a matter of right to challenge the trial court’s acceptance of his guilty plea as knowing and voluntary absent a denial of a motion to withdraw that plea.

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