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., 06/17/2024
E.g., 06/17/2024

In this New Hanover County case, defendant appealed his conviction for possessing a firearm as a felon, arguing error in the denial of his motion to suppress and improper sentencing. The Court of Appeals found no error.  

In February of 2020, a Wilmington police officer observed defendant enter a parking lot known for drug activity and confer with a known drug dealer. When defendant exited the parking lot, the officer followed, and eventually pulled defendant over for having an expired license plate. During the stop, the officer determined that defendant was a “validated gang member,” and had previously been charged with second-degree murder; the officer was also aware that a local gang war was underway at that time. Slip Op. at 2. The officer frisked defendant and did not find a weapon, but defendant told the officer there was a pocketknife in the driver’s door compartment. When the officer went to retrieve the pocketknife he did not find it, but while looking around the driver’s area he discovered a pistol under the seat. During sentencing for defendant, his prior record level was calculated with nine points for prior crimes and one additional point for committing a crime while on probation/parole/post-release supervision, leading to a level IV offender sentence. 

Reviewing defendant’s appeal, the court first noted that the initial traffic stop for an expired plate was proper. The frisk of defendant’s person and vehicle required the officer to have “a reasonable suspicion that the suspect of the traffic stop is armed and dangerous.” Id. at 7, quoting State v. Johnson, 378 N.C. 236 (2021). The court found the totality of the officer’s knowledge about defendant satisfied this standard, as defendant had just exited a parking lot known for drug transactions, had a history of being charged with murder, was a known gang member, and was in an area experiencing a local gang war. Because the officer had a reasonable suspicion that defendant might be armed and dangerous, the frisk of the vehicle leading to the discovery of the pistol was acceptable. 

Turning to defendant’s sentencing, the court explained that under G.S. 15A-1340.14(b)(7), the state was obligated to provide defendant with notice of its intent to add a prior record level point by proving his offense was committed while on probation, parole, or post-release supervision. While the record did not contain evidence that defendant received the required notice 30 days before trial, the court found that the exchange between defense counsel and the trial court represented waiver for purposes of the requirement. While the trial court did not confirm the receipt of notice through the colloquy required by G.S. 15A-1022.1, the exchange between the trial court and defense counsel fell into the exception outlined in State v. Marlow, 229 N.C. App 593, meaning “the trial court was not required to follow the precise procedures . . . as defendant acknowledged his status and violation by arrest in open court.” Slip Op. at 18. 

 

A police officer stopped the defendant for suspected texting while driving. When the officer returned to his vehicle to check on the defendant’s identity, the defendant fled. (1) Before his trial on charges of texting while driving and felony fleeing to elude, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop. At the suppression hearing, the officer testified that he did not stop the defendant for merely using the phone, but rather for using it in a manner that he reasonably believed ran afoul of G.S. 20-137.4A(a), North Carolina’s prohibition on texting and emailing while driving. The officer testified that the defendant was using and handling the phone in a manner more consistent with texting or reading text messages than with using a mapping system. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion and the defendant was convicted of felonious fleeing to elude. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court committed plain error by concluding that the officer was justified in stopping his car solely based on his observation that the operator was using a cell phone while driving. The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that under the specific facts of this case, which included additional indicia of criminal activity beyond mere phone use, the trial court did not err by finding that the officer had reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe that the defendant was using the phone in a manner proscribed by law. The Court emphasized that its holding should not be viewed as establishing a test for meeting the reasonable suspicion requirement in other texting while driving cases. (2) The Court remanded the case for the defendant to be sentenced at prior record level two instead of level three, as his prior record level worksheet improperly counted a point for a prior misdemeanor. The Court rejected the State’s argument that the improperly counted point could be offset by adding for the first time an additional point under G.S. 15A-1340-14(b)(7) for the defendant being on probation at the time of the offense, as the State did not comply with the statutory notice procedures for that point.

The trial court erred by assessing one prior record level point because the offense was committed while the offender was on probation, parole, or post-release supervision where the State did not give notice of its intent to seek this point. Including a prior record level worksheet in discovery materials is insufficient to meet the notice requirement.

The trial court erred by including a prior record level point under G.S. 15A-1340.14(b)(7) where the State did not provide the defendant with notice of intent to prove the existence of the point as required by the statute.

The trial court erred by sentencing the defendant as a PRL III offender when State failed to provide the notice required by G.S. 15A-1340.16(a6) and the defendant did not waive the required notice.

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