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 a plurality opinion, a majority of the Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) is unconstitutional.  The defendant Haymond was convicted by a jury of possessing child pornography in violation of federal law and was sentenced to a prison term of 38 months, followed by 10 years of supervised release.  While on supervised release, Haymond was discovered to be in possession of apparent child pornography and the government, in the plurality’s words, “sought to revoke [his] supervised release and secure a new and additional prison sentence.”  At a hearing conducted before a district judge acting without a jury, and under a preponderance of the evidence standard, the judge found that Haymond knowingly downloaded and possessed certain images.  Acting in accordance with § 3583(k), the judge revoked Haymond’s supervised release and required him to serve a five-year term of imprisonment.  The Tenth Circuit held that this violated Haymond’s right to a trial by jury under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments and the Supreme Court granted review to evaluate this constitutional holding.

Generally under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e), a judge who finds a violation of a condition of supervised release by a preponderance of the evidence has discretion as to whether to revoke the term of supervised release.  Upon deciding to revoke the term of release, a judge also has discretion as to the amount of time a person must serve in prison as a consequence of the revocation.  18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) modifies this general rule in situations such as Haymond’s where a defendant required to register under SORNA has his or her supervised release revoked because of a judge’s determination that he or she has committed one of several criminal offenses enumerated in the statute.  In such a case, § 3583(k) requires the judge to revoke the term of supervised release and further requires the imposition of a term of imprisonment of at least five years.

Writing for himself and Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor, Justice Gorsuch determined that § 3583(k) ran afoul of principles laid down in Blakely v. Washington, Apprendi v. New Jersey, and Alleyne v. United States, saying that under the statute “judicial factfinding triggered a new punishment in the form of a prison term of at least five years and up to life.”  Likening this situation to that of Alleyne Gorsuch said that “the facts the judge found here increased ‘the legally prescribed range of allowable sentences’ in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.”  Gorsuch continued, saying that “what was true in [Alleyne] can be no less true here: A mandatory minimum 5-year sentence that comes into play only as a result of additional judicial factual findings by a preponderance of the evidence cannot stand.”  Contrasting § 3583(k) against other provisions in § 3583 regarding revoking supervised release and requiring a defendant to serve a term of imprisonment, Gorsuch explained that “§ 3583(k) alone requires a substantial increase in the minimum sentence to which a defendant may be exposed based solely on judge-found facts.”

Justice Breyer concurred in the judgment and said that § 3583(k) is unconstitutional because “it is less like ordinary revocation and more like punishment for a new offense, to which the jury right would typically attach.”  However, Breyer said that he would “not transplant the Apprendi line of cases to the supervised-release context” and that he agreed with much of the dissent.

Justice Alito dissented, joined by Chief justice Roberts, Justice Thomas, and Justice Kavanaugh.  Justice Alito said that the plurality opinion “is not grounded on any plausible interpretation of the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment,” and generally criticized the plurality for extending the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial to the supervised release context.

The Court overruled Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), and held that any fact that increases a mandatory minimum sentence must be submitted to the jury. The defendant was charged with several federal offenses, including using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence under § 924(c)(1)(A). The statute provided in part that anyone who “uses or carries a firearm” in relation to a “crime of violence” shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years and that if the firearm is “brandished,” the term of imprisonment is not less than 7 years. The jury convicted the defendant of the offense and indicated on the verdict form that he had “[u]sed or carried a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence”; it did not indicate a finding that the firearm was brandished. The trial court applied the “brandishing” mandatory minimum and sentenced the defendant to seven years’ imprisonment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, noting that the defendant’s objection to the sentenced was foreclosed by Harris, which had held that judicial fact-finding that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a crime is permissible under the Sixth Amendment. The Court reversed.

The Court held that the Apprendi rule applies to fines. Thus, any fact that increases a defendant’s statutory maximum fine must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Oregon v. Ice, 555 U.S. 160 (Jan. 14, 2009)

Apprendi, and later rulings do not provide a Sixth Amendment right to jury trial under an Oregon law that requires findings of fact to support a judge’s decision to impose consecutive sentences. The Court made clear that states such as North Carolina, which do not require a judge to make findings of fact to impose consecutive sentences, are not required to provide a defendant with a jury trial on the consecutive sentences issue.

The court held that even if the trial court erred under Blakely by finding the existence of an aggravating factor and sentencing the defendant in the aggravated range, any error was harmless. After the jury found the defendant guilty of two counts of common-law robbery the trial court dismissed the jury and held a sentencing hearing. The State had given timely notice of his intent to prove the existence of an aggravating factor, specifically that during the 10-year period prior to the commission of the offense the defendant was found in willful violation of his conditions of probation (aggravating factor G.S. 15A-1340.16(d)(12a)). At sentencing hearing, the State offered evidence demonstrating the existence of the aggravating factor. Over the defendant’s objection that under the statutes and Blakely the existence of the aggravating factor must be found by the jury, the trial court sentenced the defendant in the aggravated range. The court opined that “Given the standard of proof that applies in this State, it is arguable whether a judgment of a willful probation violation—be it by admission or court finding—is sufficiently tantamount to a “prior conviction” to allow a sentencing judge to use that previous finding as an aggravating factor justifying an increase in the length of a defendant’s sentence beyond that authorized by the jury’s verdict alone consonant with the demands of due process.” However, it found that it need not decide the issue, concluding instead that even if an error occurred it was harmless given the State’s evidence.

In a case involving convictions for attempted first-degree murder, statutory sex offense with a child by an adult, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, first-degree kidnapping, and taking indecent liberties with a child, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s MAR challenging his aggravated sentence. The defendant’s MAR asserted that the State failed to allege the aggravating factors in the indictment and to narrowly define the aggravating factors in violation of Apprendi. The court began by rejecting the defendant’s argument that aggravating factors must be alleged in the indictment. Here, the State complied with G.S. 15A-1340.16, filing a written notice of aggravating factors months before trial that informed the defendant that the State sought to prove two identified statutory aggravating factors. After the jury convicted the defendant of the underlying offenses, the court allowed the State to proceed on the aggravating factors, and the jury found that each offense was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel and that the victim was very young. The State complied with the statute and the procedure prescribed by the statute satisfies Apprendi.

            The court went on to reject the defendant’s argument that the jury instruction for the heinous, atrocious, or cruel aggravating factor was unconstitutionally vague, citing controlling precedent.

Where the trial court enhanced a DWI sentence based solely on the defendant’s prior convictions, the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights were not violated. At sentencing, the trial court found the existence of two grossly aggravating factors, i.e., that defendant had two or more convictions involving impaired driving within seven years before the date of the offense. (1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State violated the notice provision for aggravating factors in G.S. 20-179(a1)(1), holding that provision only applied to cases appealed to superior court (the case in question was initiated in superior court by indictment). (2) The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the State’s failure to comply with the statutory notice provision violated his constitutional rights under Blakely (any factor other than prior conviction that elevates the sentence beyond the statutory maximum must be submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt).The court reasoned that because the defendant’s sentence was aggravated only because of prior convictions, Blakely did not apply.

In this sexual offense with a child by adult offender case, the State conceded, and the court held, that the trial court violated the defendant’s sixth amendment right to a trial by jury by sentencing him under G.S. 14-27.4A(c) to a term above that normally provided for a Class B1 felony on the trial court’s own determination, and without notice, that egregious aggravation existed. G.S. 14-27.4A(c) provides that a defendant may be sentenced to an active term above that normally provided for a Class B1 felony if the judge finds egregious aggravation. The court held that the statutory sentencing scheme at issue was unconstitutional under the Apprendi/Blakely rule. See Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004) (holding that any factor, other than a prior conviction, that increases punishment beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt). Specifically, the statute fails to require notice that “egregious aggravation” factors may be used, does not require that such aggravation be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and does not provide any mechanism for submitting such factors to a jury. The court rejected the State’s argument that under G.S. 14-27.4A, the trial court may submit egregious aggravation factors to a jury in a special verdict, concluding, in part, that the statute explicitly gives only “the court,” and not the jury, the ability to determine whether the nature of the offense and the harm inflicted require a sentence in excess of what is otherwise permitted by law. Because the defendant did not challenge that portion of the statute setting a 300-month mandatory minimum sentence, the court did not address the constitutionality of that provision. The court remanded for resentencing.

Although the trial court erred in accepting the defendant’s admission to an aggravating factor without complying with G.S. 15A-1022, as required by G.S. 15A-1022.1, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt based on the uncontroverted and overwhelming evidence of the relevant factor.

Where the defendant admitted that he was serving a prison sentence when the crime was committed, no Blakely violation occurred when the trial judge assigned a prior record level point on this basis without submitting the issue to the jury.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court took into account a non-statutory aggravating factor neither stipulated to nor found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant’s argument was based on the trial court’s comments that (1) the defendant could have been tried for premeditated first degree murder and (2) “the State . . . made a significant concession . . . allowing [him] to plead second-degree murder.” When taken in context, these comments were merely responses to those made by defense counsel.

Trial judge’s Blakely error with respect to aggravating factors was not harmless and required a new sentencing hearing.

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