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

The trial court erred in calculating the defendant’s prior record level, which was proved by stipulation, by using a joinable offense as a prior conviction for sentencing purposes.  In 2004 the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery based on an incident where he killed his father and took money from his father’s bedroom.  The defendant was 15 years old at the time of the offenses but was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  In 2014 post-conviction proceedings based on Miller v. Alabama, the first-degree murder conviction was vacated and the defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.  As part of that plea agreement, the State and the defendant stipulated that the defendant had a prior record level of III, a record level that was the result of six prior record points arising from the 2004 armed robbery conviction.  Noting that a defendant’s stipulation regarding his or her prior record level does not preclude the court’s review where calculation of the record level requires answering a legal question, the court found that use of the 2004 armed robbery conviction violated the rule from State v. West, 180 N.C. App. 664 (2006) that a joinable offense may not be used in calculating a defendant’s prior record level.

State v. Glover, ___ N.C. App. ___, 833 S.E.2d 203 (Sept. 3, 2019) rev’d on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Dec 18 2020)

The defendant was charged with possession of various drugs found in his bedroom and an adjoining alcove, which he said was his personal space. The defendant shared the house with a number of people, including a woman named Ms. Stepp. The defendant consented to a search of his bedroom and alcove, stating to the officers he did not believe they would find any illegal substances, only drug paraphernalia. When asked whether he had ingested any illegal substances, the defendant admitted having used methamphetamine and prescription pills. The search of the defendant’s bedroom uncovered a white rectangular pill marked G3722, a small bag of marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. The search of the alcove uncovered a metal tin containing methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and a small pill similar to the one found in his bedroom. The defendant was charged with and convicted of possession of methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine and having attained the status of an habitual felon.

Based on the stipulation of counsel to the prior record worksheet, the trial judge found that the defendant had 47 prior convictions and was in prior record level VI. The Court found that the following 32 convictions should not have been counted: convictions used to support habitual felon status in this case; convictions rendered in the same week or session of court other than the one with the highest points; and Class 2 and lower misdemeanor convictions. The Court held that of the 15 remaining convictions, six were out-of-state convictions and were incorrectly classified. Only two should have been counted and then as Class I felonies. The Court held that precedent continues to prohibit the parties from stipulating to the similarity of out-of-state convictions or the resulting North Carolina classification. The Court distinguished State v. Arrington, ___ N.C. ___, 819 S.E.2d 329 (2018), which held that when an offense is split into two separate crimes and the defendant stipulates to the higher offense class, it is assumed that the higher classification is sufficiently supported by the underlying facts of the crime. For out-of-state convictions, in contrast, the parties must establish that the elements of the out-of-state conviction are similar to those of a North Carolina offense; only then may a stipulation determine the underlying facts of the offense and the appropriate classification. Based on this review, the Court found the defendant had 11 convictions that could be used, which placed him in prior record level V. A judge who dissented on a different issue concurred in this part of the opinion but would not have reached the issue because she found that the defendant was entitled to a new trial.

(No. COA13-925). Citing, State v. West, 180 N.C. App. 664 (2006) (the same case cited in Perkins above), the court held that the trial court erred by increasing the defendant’s sentence based on convictions for charges that originally had been joined for trial with the charges currently before the court. The charges were joined for trial and at the first trial, the defendant was found guilty of some charges, not guilty of others and there was a jury deadlock as to several others. The defendant was retried on charges that resulted in a deadlock and convicted. The trial court used the convictions from the first trial when calculating the defendant’s PRL. 

Although the trial court erred by assigning the defendant one point for a misdemeanor breaking and entering conviction when it also assigned two points for a felony possession of a stolen vehicle conviction that occurred on the same date, the error did not increase the defendant’s PRL and thus was harmless.

On appeal, a defendant is bound by his or her stipulation to the existence of a prior conviction. However, even if a defendant has stipulated to his or her prior record level, the defendant still may appeal the propriety of counting a stipulated-to conviction for purposes of calculating prior record level points. In this case, the trial court erred by counting, for prior record level purposes, two convictions in a single week of court in violation of G.S. 15A-1340.14(d).

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