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., 06/27/2024
E.g., 06/27/2024
State v. Murchison, 367 N.C. 461 (June 12, 2014)

Reversing an unpublished decision of the court of appeals, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by basing its decision to revoke the defendant’s probation on hearsay evidence presented by the State. The court noted that under Rule 1101, the formal rules of evidence do not apply in probation revocation hearings.

In this Wilson County case, defendant appealed the revocation of her probation, arguing (1) insufficient evidence to support the finding she committed a new crime on probation and (2) violation of her right to confront the probation officer who filed the violation reports against her. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

Defendant’s probation officer “W” filed two probation violation reports against her from November and December 2021. The reports alleged defendant was committed new crimes while on probation as she was charged with obtaining property by false pretenses and uttering a forged instrument. When the matter came before the trial court in May 2022, probation officer W was replaced by probation officer “H,” who testified regarding the two 2021 reports, as well as a third report from February 2022 that officer H prepared alleging a second uttering a forged instrument offense. Defendant objected to the absence of officer W, as she wished to cross-examine the officer who filed the 2021 reports against her. The trial court noted the objection in the record but otherwise proceeded with the hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing the trial court revoked defendant’s probation and activated her prison sentences.  

For (1), defendant argued “the State needed to call law enforcement witnesses to present evidence about the investigations relating to the crimes, civilian victim witnesses, or [bank] employees” to support the alleged crimes committed by defendant. Slip Op. at 10. The Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining that the violation reports, arrest warrants, and testimony from Officer H supported the conclusion that defendant was the person on security camera footage committing the crimes. The court explained “[a] probation revocation hearing is not a trial, and the State need not present evidence sufficient to convict Defendant nor call as witnesses the investigating officers of the crimes alleged.” Id. at 12. 

Turning to (2), the court noted that the Sixth Amendment did not apply to a probation revocation hearing, and that G.S. 15A-1345(e) was the basis for confrontation rights in the proceeding. Because G.S. 15A-1345(e) controlled, the issue before the court was “whether the trial court committed prejudicial error by not making an explicit finding that good cause existed for not allowing Defendant to confront [officer W].” Id. at 14. The court referenced State v. Terry, 149 N.C. App. 434 (2002), explaining that failure to require an adverse witness to testify is not error if “(1) the adverse witness’s testimony would have been merely extraneous evidence in light of other competent evidence presented through the probation officer’s testimony and (2) defendant failed to request the professor be subpoenaed.” Slip Op. at 14. Here, the court found the testimony of Officer W would have been extraneous in light of the other evidence in the record supporting defendant’s commission of the crimes. Additionally, defendant did not subpoena Officer W. This led the court to conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the hearing to proceed without Officer W. Finally, the court noted that if any error occurred, it was not prejudicial, as sufficient competent evidence before the trial court supported the revocation of defendant’s probation without the testimony from Officer W. 

In this Caldwell County case, the Court of Appeals denied the state’s motion to dismiss defendant’s appeal as untimely, but found no error with the trial court’s decision to revoke defendant’s probation for violations related to a search of his truck.

In May of 2020, defendant was pulled over after sheriff’s deputies observed him cross the center line while driving 55 mph in a 35 mph zone. During the traffic stop, the deputies determined that defendant was on probation for manufacturing methamphetamine and possessing stolen goods, and was subject to warrantless searches. The deputies searched defendant and his truck, finding a shotgun, smoking pipes and a baggie containing methamphetamine. Defendant’s probation officer filed violation reports with the trial court; the trial court subsequently revoked defendant’s probation and activated his sentences, leading to defendant’s appeal.

The Court of Appeals first reviewed the state’s motion to dismiss defendant’s appeal as untimely, applying State v. Oates, 366 N.C. 264 (2012), as controlling precedent for criminal appeals. Slip Op. at 7-8. The court explained that Rule of Appellate Procedure 4 requires an appeal to be filed either (1) orally at the time of trial, or (2) in writing within 14 days of the entry of the judgment or order. In the present case, the trial court announced its decision to revoke defendant’s probation on April 30, 2021, but did not enter an order until May 24, 2021, a delayed entry similar to the circumstances in Oates. Defendant filed a written notice of appeal on May 25, 2021, easily satisfying the 14-day requirement.

Turning to the substance of defendant’s appeal, the court noted that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protections and formal rules of evidence do not apply in a probation revocation hearing. Id. at 9. As a result, defendant’s arguments that the evidence obtained by searching his truck should have been suppressed were invalid, and the trial court did not err by using this evidence as the basis for revocation of his probation.

Judge Jackson concurred in part A, the denial of state’s motion to dismiss, but concurred only in the result as to part B, the evidence found in defendant’s truck. Id. at 10.

The defendant in this case was on supervised probation for a conviction of possession with intent to sell or deliver methamphetamine. The defendant’s probation officer filed a violation report, alleging that the defendant had absconded from supervision and committed several other violations. The defendant waived counsel and testified at the hearing held on the violation; he admitted to absconding and committing the other violations, but also maintained that he had given his current address to his probation officer. The trial court found that the defendant had absconded and committed the other alleged violations, revoked his probation, and activated his sentence. The defendant filed a handwritten notice of appeal.

The appellate court first held that the notice of appeal was defective, but granted discretionary review and addressed the merits. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the state presented insufficient evidence of absconding, because the defendant admitted to it in his testimony and thereby waived the requirement that the state present sufficient evidence of the violation. Citing State v. Sellers, 185 N.C. App. 726 (2007), the court held that “when a defendant admits to willfully violating a condition of his or her probation in courtthe State does not need to present evidence to support the violations.” Defendant’s arguments that he did not understand the legal definition of absconding, had provided his probation officer with an address, and that the trial court should have conducted a more thorough examination of his admission, were unavailing given that the defendant “unequivocally and repeatedly admitted that he had absconded.” The court affirmed the revocation based on absconding, but remanded the judgment to correct three clerical errors regarding the name of the underlying offense of conviction, the total number of alleged violations, and an incorrect indication on the judgment form that the other violations besides absconding would also support revocation. The latter was deemed a clerical error because the transcript clearly indicated that the trial court’s revocation order was properly based only on the absconding violation, in accordance with G.S. 15A-1344(d2).

The defendant was on felony probation. During a traffic stop, a law enforcement officer found a pistol in the defendant’s car, which resulted in criminal charges for possession of firearm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon and the filing of a probation violation report for committing new criminal offenses. In the trial for the new criminal charges, the judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the pistol, but the case nonetheless resulted in a mistrial. At the subsequent probation violation hearing, the court found that the defendant committed the alleged criminal offenses and revoked probation. After granting the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari, the Court of Appeals rejected his argument that he was deprived of the right to confront and cross-examine the law enforcement officer at his probation violation hearing. The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses at a probation violation hearing as provided in G.S. 15A-1345(e) is grounded in a probationer’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, which are more flexible than his or her confrontation rights at trial under the Sixth Amendment. As such, the court held that the law enforcement officer’s testimony at the prior motion to suppress was competent evidence of the alleged violations, and that the trial court did not err by finding the new criminal offense violations despite the earlier mistrial. The defendant did not request findings for good cause as to why confrontation should not be allowed, and therefore no such findings were required. The Court of Appeals affirmed the revocation of probation but remanded the case for correction of a clerical error.

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