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., 07/22/2024
E.g., 07/22/2024

Because the State failed to give notice of its intent to use aggravating sentencing factors as required by G.S. 20-179(a1)(1), the trial court committed reversible error by using those factors in determining the defendant’s sentencing level. The case involved an appeal for trial de novo in superior court. The superior court judge sentenced the defendant for impaired driving, imposing a level one punishment based on two grossly aggravating sentencing factors. On appeal, the defendant argued that the State failed to notify him of its intent to prove aggravating factors for sentencing in the superior court proceeding. The State did not argue that it gave notice to the defendant prior to the superior court proceeding. Instead, it argued that the defendant was not prejudiced because he received constructive notice of the aggravating factors when they were used at the earlier district court proceeding. The court rejected this argument, determining that allowing the State to fulfill its statutory notice obligations by relying on district court proceedings “would render the statute effectively meaningless.” The court concluded that the State “must provide explicit notice of its intent to use aggravating factors in the superior court proceeding.” The court vacated the defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing.

The trial court did not err by sentencing the defendant as a Level Two offender after finding the existence of a grossly aggravating factor based on upon his prior DWI conviction. The defendant was convicted in superior court of DWI on 15 September 2016. He appealed that conviction on 26 September 2016, which remained pending at the time of the instant 31 August 2017 sentencing hearing. The defendant argued that his prior DWI conviction could not be used to enhance his sentence because the prior conviction was pending on appeal and thus not final. The court disagreed, finding no statutory language limiting convictions that can be used as grossly aggravating factors to only those not challenged on appeal. The court noted however that if the earlier DWI conviction is later overturned, the defendant would be entitled to be resentenced.

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.

(1) In this DWI case, the court rejected the defendant’s invitation to decide whether G.S. 20-179(d)(1) (aggravating factor to be considered in sentencing of gross impairment or alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more) creates an unconstitutional mandatory presumption. Defendant challenged that portion of the statute that provides: “For purposes of this subdivision, the results of a chemical analysis presented at trial or sentencing shall be sufficient to prove the person's alcohol concentration, shall be conclusive, and shall not be subject to modification by any party, with or without approval by the court.” In this case, instead of instructing the jury in accordance with the challenged language, the trial court refrained from incorporating any reference to the allegedly impermissible mandatory presumption and instructed the prosecutor to refrain from making any reference to the challenged language in the presence of the jury. Because the jury’s decision to find the G.S. 20-179(d)(1) aggravating factor was not affected by the challenged statutory provision, the defendant lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statutory provision. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a double jeopardy violation occurred when the State used a breath test result to establish the factual basis for the defendant’s plea and to support the aggravating factor used to enhance punishment. The court reasoned that the defendant was not subjected to multiple punishments for the same offense, stating: “instead of being punished twice, he has been subjected to a more severe punishment for an underlying substantive offense based upon the fact that his blood alcohol level was higher than that needed to support his conviction for that offense.”

(1) In this DWI case the trial court committed a Blakely error by finding an aggravating factor. The trial court found the aggravating factor, determined that it was counterbalanced by a mitigating factor and sentenced the defendant at Level Four. If the aggravating factor had not been considered the trial court would have been required to sentence the defendant to a Level Five punishment. Thus, the aggravating factor, which was improperly found by the judge, increased the penalty for the crime beyond the prescribed maximum. (2) The State failed to provide notice that it intended to seek aggravating factors as required by G.S. 20-179(a1)(1).

The court vacated the defendant’s sentence on an impaired driving conviction and remanded for a new sentencing hearing where the State failed to provide the defendant with notice of its intent to use an aggravating factor under G.S. 20-179(d).

No Blakely error occurred in the defendant’s sentence for impaired driving. The trial court found two aggravating factors, two factors in mitigation, and imposed a level four punishment. The level four punishment was tantamount to a sentence within the presumptive range, so that the trial court did not enhance defendant’s sentence even after finding aggravating factors. Therefore, Blakely is not implicated.

G.S. 20-179(a1)(1) (requiring the state, in an appeal to superior court, to give notice of grossly aggravating factors) only applies to offenses committed on or after the effective date of the enacting legislation, December 1, 2006.

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