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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

In 2011 the defendant was charged with first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon for his participation in a murder allegedly committed by Taurus Locklear and Shawn Jones. A plea agreement allowed the defendant to plead guilty to second-degree murder and other crimes in exchange for his cooperation in the pending prosecutions of Locklear and Jones. The trial court accepted the guilty plea in 2014, but deferred sentencing pending the resolution of the case against Locklear. However, in 2015 the State dismissed the charges against Locklear due to issues with the witnesses and evidence against him. At that point, the defendant moved with withdraw his guilty plea. At an evidentiary hearing in April 2016 two officers gave inconsistent accounts of the defendant’s statements during their investigation of the case. At a subsequent hearing in June 2016, the defendant’s lawyer testified that, in light of his own failure to examine the discrepancies between the officers’ accounts, he gave ineffective assistance in the plea agreement process, and that the defendant should therefore be entitled to withdraw his plea. The trial judge denied the motion and entered judgment. The defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals considered whether the defendant had shown “any fair and just reason” for withdrawing the plea—the proper standard for evaluating a motion filed prior to sentencing. Applying the factors spelled out by the Supreme Court in State v. Handy, 326 N.C. 532 (1990), the Court of Appeals concluded over a dissent that the trial court did not err by denying the motion. The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, concluding that the defendant failed to show any fair and just reason for withdrawing the guilty plea. The Court examined each of the Handy factors in turn. As to the first factor, whether the defendant asserted his legal innocence, the Court concluded that the fact that the defendant’s guilty plea was not a no contest or Alford plea weighed against allowing him to withdraw it. As to the second factor, the strength of the State’s proffer of evidence, the Court noted that the factual basis for the plea presented by the State was “essentially uncontested” and therefore sufficient. As to the third factor, the length of time between entry of the guilty plea and the desire to change it, the Court concluded that the 18-month delay in this case did not favor allowing the defendant to withdraw the plea. As to the fourth factor, the competency of counsel, the Court agreed that the factor was inconclusive. Taking all of the factors into consideration, the Court ultimately agreed with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the defendant failed to show “any fair and just reason” to withdraw the guilty plea. The Court dismissed the defendant’s related ineffective assistance of counsel claim without prejudice to his right to file it as a motion for appropriate relief.

The defendant entered an Alford plea pursuant to a plea agreement where convictions for felony larceny and felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle would be consolidated for sentencing.  The defendant failed to appear at a scheduled sentencing hearing and was later arrested.  When the defendant appeared over two months later at a sentencing hearing following his arrest, he moved to withdraw his plea but the trial court denied the motion.  Analyzing the non-exclusive list of factors enumerated in State v. Handy, 326 N.C. 532 (1990) bearing on whether a defendant has carried his or her burden of showing some “fair and just reason” supporting withdrawal of the plea, the court found, focusing particularly on the defendant’s failure to show the timeliness of his motion, that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea.

Addressing the defendant’s separate argument that there was an insufficient factual basis for his plea and recognizing precedent holding that a factual basis for an Alford plea cannot be supplied by a plea transcript standing alone, the court distinguished State v. Agnew, 361 N.C. 333 (2007) and concluded that factual information alleged in the indictments coupled with the plea transcript provided a sufficient factual basis for the plea and the trial court did not err in accepting it.

In this case involving a motion to withdraw a plea and an MAR, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motions.  On April 10, 2018 the defendant pleaded guilty to felony drug offenses, answering affirmatively that he understood the charges to which he was pleading and that he was in fact guilty of the charges.  On April 12, 2018 the defendant filed the motions at issue, alleging that he “felt dazed and confused” at the time of the plea because of lack of sleep and medications he was taking, did not understand that he was pleading to three felonies, did not understand what a consolidated judgment meant, did not have enough time to consider his plea and felt pressure to make a decision, and was not aware of the negative employment ramifications of his plea.  On April 16, the motions were heard in Superior Court, where the court made extensive findings of fact supporting its conclusion that the motions were without merit.  The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred because the circumstances demonstrated that withdrawal of his plea would prevent manifest injustice.  Specifically, the defendant argued that his plea should be withdrawn because he (1) is innocent, (2) pled guilty in haste, and (3) pled guilty in confusion based on erroneous beliefs about the nature of a consolidated judgment.  The court reviewed the record and, for reasons stated in the opinion, found each of these arguments meritless.

Pursuant to a plea agreement, the defendant entered a no contest plea to charges including fleeing to elude and being an habitual felon, and in return several other charges were dismissed by the state. The defendant was advised of what his sentence would be, but was released on conditions until his sentencing date two months later. The defendant failed to appear for sentencing, and an order for his arrest was issued. At the next court hearing, the defendant asked to withdraw his no contest plea. The trial court denied the request and entered judgment.

As a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeals held that when a defendant has been advised of what his or her sentence will be, the standard for evaluating whether the defendant should have been allowed to withdraw from the plea is the same as the standard used after a defendant has been sentenced: “it is appropriate to review the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion only to determine whether it amounted to a manifest injustice, and not according to the ‘any fair and just reason’ standard.” The court reasoned that the same considerations (e.g, the possibility that the defendant will view the plea as a ‘tactical mistake’ once he learns the sentence, the state’s detrimental reliance on the plea, and the policy of protecting the finality of convictions) are present in both situations, so the same standard should apply.

Alternatively, even under the lower ‘any fair and just reason’ standard that applies to requests to withdraw a guilty or no contest plea prior to sentencing, the particular facts of this case did not warrant relief.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his Alford plea. After finding that there was no support in the record for various factual assertions made by the defendant on appeal, the court found that the defendant had offered no fair and just reason for withdrawal of his plea. Among other things, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he entered his plea while under duress because he was in custody at the time, holding: “Defendant cites no authority for the proposition that the fact that a defendant is incarcerated is per se evidence of coercion, and we decline to adopt the position proposed by defendant.”

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s post-sentence motion to withdraw her guilty plea. On appeal the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying her motion because the plea agreement and plea colloquy contained no indication that a fine would be imposed as part of her punishment. In fact a fine of $1000 was imposed. The court noted that under G.S. 15A-1024, if at the time of sentencing a judge decides to impose a sentence other than that provided for in a plea arrangement, the judge must inform the defendant of that fact and inform the defendant that he may withdraw the plea. If however the sentence imposed is consistent with the plea agreement, the defendant is entitled to withdraw his plea after sentencing only upon a showing of manifest injustice. Here, the plea agreement specified only three things: the crime to which the defendant would plead guilty; the charges that would be dismissed; and the defendant’s prior record level and number of prior record level points. The plea agreement did not contain any specific terms regarding the sentence. Thus, the court found itself unable to conclude that the trial court imposed a sentence other than that provided for in the plea arrangement. Having determined that the sentence was not inconsistent with the plea agreement and that the defendant was not entitled to relief under G.S. 15A-1024 the court went on to conclude that no manifest injustice supported granting the post-sentence motion to withdraw the guilty plea. Here, the defendant provided no specific reason in support of her motion to withdraw, except that she had decided she would like to take her case to trial.

In this robbery case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Shortly after the jury was empaneled, the defendant decided to enter into a plea arrangement with the State. In exchange for his guilty plea, the defendant received a PJC, apparently so that he could provide the State with information concerning an unrelated criminal case in exchange for a potentially more lenient sentence. After entry of the plea and prior to sentencing, the State determined not to use the defendant as a witness in the other case. The defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting that his trial counsel provided incomplete or erroneous advice concerning habitual felon sentencing which resulted in his misunderstanding the consequences of his plea and also conspired with the State to “trick” him into pleading guilty. Analyzing the case under the State v. Handy, 326 N.C. 532 (1990), “any fair and just reason” standard for withdrawal of a plea before sentencing, the court held that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion. It noted, in part, that the defendant did not assert legal innocence; that the State’s case was not weak; and that the defendant waited nine days to file his motion to withdraw his plea after the chance of receiving a more lenient sentence evaporated, suggesting “a well thought out and calculated tactical decision.” Citing the record, which “plainly and unambiguously” showed that the defendant was fully informed of the consequences of his plea, the court rejected the defendant’s contention that he was operating under a misapprehension of the law regarding habitual felon sentencing due to trial counsel’s incorrect legal advice, which he claimed was intentionally provided pursuant to a broad but undefined conspiracy between court appointed attorneys and the State to trick defendants into entering unfavorable pleas.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. When a defendant seeks to withdraw a guilty plea after being sentenced consistent with a plea agreement, the defendant is entitled to withdraw his plea only upon a showing of manifest injustice. Factors relevant to the analysis include whether the defendant was represented by competent counsel and is asserting innocence, and whether the plea was made knowingly and voluntarily or was the result of misunderstanding, haste, coercion, or confusion. None of these factors were present here. The defendant was represented by competent counsel, admitted his guilt, averred that he made the plea knowingly and voluntarily, and admitted that he fully understood the plea agreement and that he accepted the arrangement.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea, made before sentencing. The fact that the plea was a no contest or Alford plea did not establish an assertion of legal innocence for purposes of the State v. Handy analysis that applies to pre-sentencing plea withdrawal requests. Although the defendant testified at a co-defendant’s trial that he did not agree to take part in the crime, that testimony was negated by his stipulation to the factual basis for his plea and argument for a mitigated sentence based on acceptance of responsibility. The court also concluded that the State’s uncontested proffer of the factual basis at the defendant’s plea hearing was strong and that the fact that the co-defendant was acquitted at trial was irrelevant to the analysis. The court held that based on the full colloquy accompanying the plea, it was voluntarily entered. It also rejected the defendant’s argument that an alleged misrepresentation by his original retained counsel caused him to enter the plea when such counsel later was discharged and the defendant was represented by new counsel at the time of the plea. Although the defendant sought to withdraw his plea only nine days after its entry, this factor did not weigh in favor of withdrawal where the defendant executed the plea transcript approximately 3½ months before the plea was entered and never waivered in this decision.

The trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw a plea, made after sentencing. Such pleas should be granted only to avoid manifest injustice, which was not shown on the facts presented.

The trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea before sentencing; no fair and just reason supported the motion.

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