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
State v. Ross, 369 N.C. 393 (Dec. 21, 2016)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the court held that the defendant’s plea was knowing and involuntary. The Court of Appeals had held that because the defendant conditioned his plea on the appealability of an issue that was not appealable, the plea was not knowing and involuntary. The court however concluded that the defendant’s plea was not conditionally entered on such a right of appeal. Thus, the terms and conditions of the plea agreement did not attempt to preserve the right to appellate review of a non-appealable matter.

State v. Khan, 366 N.C. 448 (Mar. 8, 2013)

The trial court properly followed the procedure in G.S. 15A-1022.1 for accepting an admission of an aggravating factor.

With one judge concurring in the result only, the court held that the trial court did not commit prejudicial error when, in connection with a plea, it misinformed the defendant of the maximum sentence. Pursuant to an agreement, the defendant pleaded guilty to trafficking in heroin and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. The trial court correctly informed the defendant of the maximum punishment for the trafficking charge but erroneously informed the defendant that the possession with intent charge carried a maximum punishment of 24 months (the correct maximum was 39 months). The trial court also told the defendant that he faced a total potential maximum punishment of 582 months, when the correct total was 597 months. Both errors were repeated on the transcript of plea form. The trial court accepted the defendant’s plea, consolidated the convictions and sentenced the defendant to 225 to 279 months. The defendant argued that the trial court violated G.S. 15A-1022(a)(6), providing that a trial court may not accept a guilty plea without informing the defendant of the maximum possible sentence for the charge. The court noted that decisions have rejected a ritualistic or strict approach to the statutory requirement and have required prejudice before a plea will be set aside. Here, the defendant cannot show prejudice. The court noted that the defendant faced no additional time of imprisonment because of the error; put another way, the trial court’s error did not affect the maximum punishment that the defendant received as a result of the plea. Furthermore, the defendant failed to argue how the result would have been different had he been correctly informed of the maximum punishment. The court stated: “It would be a miscarriage of justice for us to accept that Defendant would have backed out of his agreement if Defendant knew that the total potential maximum punishment was 15 months longer on a charge that was being consolidated into his trafficking conviction.”

[Author’s Note: The defendant does not appear to have made the constitutional argument that the plea was not knowing, voluntary and intelligent; constitutional errors are presumed to be prejudicial unless the State proves them to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.] 

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his plea was not knowing and voluntary because the trial court erroneously advised him that he had the right to appeal a denial of the defendant’s pro se motion to dismiss. The motion to dismiss was based on lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction and asserted as its basis the fact that the defendant was a Sovereign Citizen. The defendant agreed to plead guilty pursuant to a plea agreement. The trial court advised him of the maximum possible punishment and the defendant stated that he entered the plea of his own free will. The trial court told the defendant that he would have the right to appeal the ruling denying the pro se motion to dismiss. The court agreed with the defendant that the trial court erroneously advised him that he had the right to appeal the denial of his pro se motion to dismiss after entering his plea. However, the court found that any error was harmless, noting that the defendant’s motion to dismiss failed to present a coherent, legally recognized challenge the trial court’s jurisdiction.

The trial court erred by sentencing the defendant as a habitual felon where the defendant stipulated to his habitual felon status but did not enter a plea to that effect. The trial court’s colloquy with the defendant failed to comply with G.S. 15A-1022.

Based on the trial court’s colloquy with the defendant, the court rejected the defendant’s challenge to the knowing and voluntary nature of his plea. The defendant had argued that the trial court did not adequately explain that judgment may be entered on his plea to assault on a handicapped person if he did not successfully complete probation on other charges.

The defendant’s plea was not constitutionally valid where the trial judge misinformed the defendant of the maximum sentence he would receive. The trial court told the defendant that the maximum possible sentence would be 168 months' imprisonment when the maximum sentence (and the maximum ultimately imposed) was 171 months. The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant was not prejudiced by this error.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because it was the result of unreasonable and excessive pressure by the State and the trial court. The defendant asserted that the trial court pressured him to accept the plea during a 15 minute recess, denying him the time he needed to reflect on the decision. However, the plea offer was made some days earlier and the trial judge engaged in an extensive colloquy with the defendant, beyond statutory mandates, to ensure that the plea was knowing and voluntary.

The defendant’s plea to habitual felon was valid based on the totality of the circumstances. Although the trial court informed the defendant that the plea would elevate punishment for the underlying offenses from Class H to Class C, it did not inform the defendant of the minimum and maximum sentences associated with habitual felon status.

The inclusion of an incorrect file number on the caption of a transcript of plea was a clerical error that did not invalidate a plea to obtaining property by false pretenses where the plea was taken in compliance with G.S. 15A-1022 and the body of the form referenced the correct file number. The incorrect file number related to an armed robbery charge against the defendant.

The defendant, who had entered an Alford plea, was not prejudiced by the trial judge’s failure to inform him of his right to remain silent, the maximum possible sentence, and that if he pleaded guilty he would be treated as guilty even if he did not admit guilt. (In addition to the trial court’s failure to verbally inform the defendant of the maximum sentence, a worksheet attached to the signed Transcript of Plea form incorrectly stated the maximum sentence as 89 months; the correct maximum was 98 months). The court further held that based on the questions that were posed, the trial judge properly determined that the plea was a product of the defendant’s informed choice.

Following Bare (discussed above).

State v. Bare, 197 N.C. App. 461 (June 16, 2009)

When taking a plea, a judge is not required to inform a defendant of possible imposition of sex offender satellite-based monitoring (SBM). Such a statement is not required by G.S. 15A-1022. Nor is SBM a direct consequence of a plea.

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