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.


Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 06/02/2023
E.g., 06/02/2023

The trial court violated G.S. 15A-1340.22(a) when it imposed a consecutive sentence on multiple misdemeanor convictions that was more than twice that allowed for the most serious misdemeanor, a Class 1 misdemeanor. The statute provides, in part, that if the trial court imposes consecutive sentences for two or more misdemeanors and the most serious offense is a Class A1, Class 1, or Class 2 misdemeanor, the total length of the sentences may not exceed twice the maximum sentence authorized for the most serious offense. 

Prejudice enhancement in G.S. 14-3(c) was properly applied where the defendant, a white male, assaulted another white male because of the victim’s interracial relationship with a black female.

In this Buncombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions for driving while impaired and reckless driving, arguing error in (1) denying his motion to dismiss, (2) improperly applying aggravating factors to his impaired driving conviction, and (3) imposing a reckless driving sentence without making specific findings justifying the length of community punishment. The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded for new sentencing hearings on the convictions, but otherwise affirmed. 

Defendant’s driving offenses came for trial at district court in August of 2021. After being found guilty at district court, defendant timely appealed to superior court. However, due to a court system error, defendant’s appeal was not properly entered, and defendant was held in detention for six additional days. While he was in detention, he was not provided with necessary medication, and he suffered a seizure resulting in a concussion. At superior court, defendant filed a motion to dismiss arguing irreparable prejudice to his ability to prepare a defense due to the concussion, a motion denied by the trial court. Defendant was found guilty and during sentencing, the trial court found three aggravating factors: “(1) defendant’s driving was especially reckless; (2) defendant’s driving was especially dangerous; and (3) defendant was convicted of death by motor vehicle in August 2015.” Slip Op. at 3. This led to defendant receiving a sentence at Level III for the impaired driving conviction. 

Considering (1) defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court of Appeals explained that G.S. 15A-954(a)(4) governed motions to dismiss for flagrant violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights. The court looked for “structural errors” in the framework of the trial process as explained in State v. Hamer, 377 N.C. 502 (2021). Slip Op. at 6. Defendant did not testify at the district court level, and it appeared unlikely he would have testified regardless of his injury at superior court, leading the court to conclude that he could not meet the burden of irreparable prejudice required for dismissal. The court also noted defendant was acquitted of two of the charges against him at superior court, suggesting that he mounted a solid defense.  

Considering (2) the aggravating factors for driving while impaired, the court explained that on December 1, 2006, changes in the applicable law moved the responsibility for consideration of aggravating factors from the trial judge to the jury. The current law in G.S. 20-179(a1) places the responsibility on the state to prove these factors beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury. The court examined the caselaw arising from Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), and the concept of harmless error review when a judge fails to submit aggravating factors to the jury. Slip Op. at 9. After exploring applicable federal and state precedent on the failure to submit an aggravating factor to the jury and harmless error, the court concluded: 

Since the relevant federal cases provide the bare minimum, and all relevant state cases are distinguishable because they were decided prior to the modification of the statute where it is clear from the timing and language of the statute that the legislature intended to change the standards adopted by our courts, we hold aggravating factors must be decided by the jury or the case must be remanded for a new sentencing hearing.

Id. at 12. As a result, the court vacated the trial court’s judgement and remanded for resentencing. 

Considering the final issue, (3) defendant’s reckless driving sentence, the court explained that G.S. 15A-1343.2(d)(1) requires a trial court to make specific findings if they sentence a defendant to a community punishment longer than 18 months for a misdemeanor like reckless driving, and here defendant received a 36-month community punishment without specific findings. The state conceded this was error, and the matter was also vacated and remanded for resentencing. 

Judge Gore dissented by separate opinion, and would have found the trial court’s error as harmless under the harmless error standard. Id. at 14. 

The defendant was charged with driving while license revoked, operating a motor vehicle without displaying a current approved inspection certificate (G.S. 20-183.8(a)(1)), and displaying an expired registration plate (G.S. 20-111(2)) after being pulled over for driving his truck without a license plate. He was convicted of all three offenses, first in district court and then by a jury in superior court. (1) On appeal, the State conceded and the Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of displaying an expired registration plate. The defendant’s truck had no plate whatsoever, and so he was not displaying an expired one. (The court noted that the evidence would have supported a conviction under G.S. 20-111(1), driving without a current registration plate.) (2) As to the inspection certificate infraction, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction when the jury was instructed on a theory of guilt—here, display of an expired inspection certificate—that did not apply in his case when, again, he did not display any certificate. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that display of an expired inspection is not one of multiple theories of guilt for this offense. As such, the jury instruction referencing display was erroneous, but the defendant did not object on that basis, and the issue was therefore not properly before the appellate court. (3) Finally, the State conceded and the Court of Appeals agreed that the defendant’s sentence was erroneous. Despite being Prior Conviction Level I with no prior convictions, the defendant received a 10-day suspended sentence with probation for this Class 3 misdemeanor. Under G.S. 15A-1340.23(d), unless otherwise provided for a specific offense, a Class 3 misdemeanor sentence for a defendant with no more than three prior convictions may consist of a fine only. The appellate court remanded for resentencing.

Show Table of Contents