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., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 786 S.E.2d 73 (2016), in this murder case where the defendant, who was a juvenile at the time of the offense, was resentenced to life in prison without parole under the state’s Miller-compliant sentencing scheme (G.S. 15A-1340.19A to -1340.19D), the court modified and affirmed the opinion below and remanded for further proceedings. In the Court of Appeals, the defendant argued that the trial court had, by resentencing him pursuant the new statutes, violated the constitutional prohibition against the enactment of ex post facto laws, that the statutory provisions subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment and deprived him of his rights to a trial by jury and to not be deprived of liberty without due process of law, and that the trial court failed to make adequate findings of fact to support its decision to impose a sentence of life without parole. In a unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the statutes while reversing the trial court’s resentencing order and remanding for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals remanded for the trial court to correct what it characterized as inadequate findings as to the presence or absence of mitigating factors to support its determination. Before the Supreme Court, the defendant argued that the Court of Appeals erred by holding that the statute creates a presumption in favor of life without parole and by rejecting his constitutional challenges to the statutory scheme.

The Supreme Court began its analysis by addressing whether or not G.S. 15A-1340.19C gives rise to a mandatory presumption that a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder on the basis of a theory other than felony murder should be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The court concluded, in part: “the relevant statutory language, when read in context, treats the sentencing decision required by N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.19C(a) as a choice between two equally appropriate sentencing alternatives and, at an absolute minimum, does not clearly and unambiguously create a presumption in favor of sentencing juvenile defendants convicted of first-degree murder on the basis of a theory other than the felony murder rule to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.” Thus, the Court of Appeals erred by construing the statutory language as incorporating such a presumption. The court offered this instruction for trial judges:

On the contrary, trial judges sentencing juveniles convicted of first-degree murder on the basis of a theory other than the felony murder rule should refrain from presuming the appropriateness of a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and select between the available sentencing alternatives based solely upon a consideration of “the circumstances of the offense,” “the particular circumstances of the defendant,” and “any mitigating factors,” N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.19C(a), as they currently do in selecting a specific sentence from the presumptive range in a structured sentencing proceeding, in light of the United States Supreme Court’s statements in Miller and its progeny to the effect that sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole should be reserved for those juvenile defendants whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption rather than transient immaturity.

The court then rejected the defendant’s argument that the statutory scheme was unconstitutionally vague, concluding that the statutes “provide sufficient guidance to allow a sentencing judge to make a proper, non-arbitrary determination of the sentence that should be imposed upon a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder on a basis other than the felony murder rule to satisfy due process requirements.” The court also rejected the defendant’s arbitrariness argument. Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s ex post facto argument, holding that the Court of Appeals correctly determined that the statutory scheme does not allow for imposition of a different or greater punishment than was permitted when the crime was committed. In this respect, it held: because the statutes “make a reduced sentence available to defendant and specify procedures that a sentencing judge is required to use in making the sentencing decision, we believe that defendant’s challenge to the validity of the relevant statutory provisions as an impermissible ex post facto law is without merit.” Justices Beasley and Hudson dissented. 

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