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., 01/26/2022
E.g., 01/26/2022

The defendant was charged with and convicted of dogfighting and related offenses in Orange County. (1) He argued the evidence was insufficient to establish his specific intent to keep the dogs for purposes of fighting. The court disagreed. When the county Animal Services officials visited the property, they found equipment used in the strength training of dogs, at-home medications used to treat animal wounds, and an apparent dogfighting pit, as well as notes on preparing dogs for fights and dogfighting magazines. There was also evidence that many of the dogs had medical conditions commonly associated with dogfighting. This was sufficient evidence of the defendant’s specific intent, and the trial court properly denied the motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence.

(2) During direct examination of its expert witness, the State asked a leading question about the defendant’s intent. The defendant did not object at trial but complained on appeal that the question amounted to plain error. The court disagreed, noting that trial courts have the discretion to allow leading questions concerning evidence previously admitted without objection, as was the case here. The court further observed that plain error review is not available for discretionary decisions of the trial court, and the case “did not remotely approach” the circumstances where invocation of Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure was warranted to obtain review. Even assuming plain error review was available, the court found there was no error—plain or otherwise—and rejected this argument.

(3) The trial court ordered the defendant to pay Animal Services restitution in the amount of $70,000 for its care and keep of the animals and immediately converted the award to a civil judgment (presumably based on the 60-month minimum active portion of the sentence imposed in the case). Thirty dogs were seized from the defendant’s property, but he was only convicted of offenses relating to 17 of the animals. According to the defendant, the restitution award should have therefore been proportionally reduced. The court disagreed, observing that “[t]he trial court may impose restitution for ‘any injuries or damages arising directly and proximately out of the offense committed by the defendant,’” pointing to G.S. 15A-1340.34(c). Crew Slip op. at 9. Because the defendant’s crimes resulted in the removal of all the animals, he could properly be held responsible for the cost of caring for the animals.

The defendant also argued that the trial court erred in failing to consider his ability to pay before ordering restitution. While the trial court need not make express findings on the issue, G.S. 15A-1340.36(a) requires the judge to consider the defendant’s ability to pay among several other factors when deciding restitution. Here, there was evidence in the record concerning the defendant’s income, the price of a “good puppy,” and of the defendant’s living arrangements. “Based on this evidence, the trial court’s determination that the defendant had the ability to pay was within the court’s sound discretion and certainly not manifestly arbitrary or outside the realm of reason.” Crew Slip op. at 10-11.

Finally, the defendant argued the trial court improperly converted the restitution award to a civil judgment. The court agreed. The restitution statutes distinguish between offenses subject to the Crime Victim’s Rights Act (“VRA”) and offenses exempt from that law. G.S. 15A-1340.38 expressly authorizes a trial court to convert an award of restitution to a civil judgment in VRA cases. No similar statutory authorization exists for non-VRA cases. While some other offenses have separate statutory provisions permitting conversion of a restitution award to a civil judgment (see, e.g., G.S. 15-8 for larceny offenses), no such statute applied to the crimes of conviction here. The court noted that G.S. 19A-70 authorizes animal services agencies to seek reimbursement from a defendant for the expenses of seized animals and observed that the agency failed to pursue that form of relief. The court rejected the State’s argument that the trial court’s action fell within its inherent authority. The civil judgments were therefore vacated. The convictions and sentence were otherwise undisturbed.

State v. Moore, 365 N.C. 283 (Oct. 7, 2011)

The court reversed State v. Moore, 209 N.C. App. 551 (Feb. 15, 2011) (holding that the evidence was insufficient to support an award of restitution of $39,332.49), and held that while there was some evidence to support the restitution award the evidence did not adequately support the particular amount awarded. The case involved a conviction for obtaining property by false pretenses; specifically, the defendant rented premised owned by the victim to others without the victim’s permission. The defendant collected rent on the property and the “tenants” caused damage to it. At trial, a witness testified that a repair person estimated that repairs would cost “[t]hirty-something thousand dollars.” There was also testimony that the defendant received $1,500 in rent. Although the court rejected the State’s argument that testimony about costs of “thirty-something thousand dollars” is sufficient to support an award “anywhere between $30,000.01 and $39,999.99,” it concluded that the testimony was not too vague to support any award. The court remanded to the trial court to calculate the correct amount of restitution. 

State v. Mumford, 364 N.C. 394 (Oct. 8, 2010)

The court reversed State v. Mumford, 201 N.C. App. 594 (Jan. 5, 2010) (trial court erred in its order requiring the defendant to pay restitution; vacating that portion of the trial court’s order), and held that although the trial court erred by ordering the defendant to pay restitution when the defendant did not stipulate or otherwise unequivocally agree to the amount of restitution ordered, the error was not prejudicial. As to prejudice, the court reasoned: “[A]t the time the judgment is collected, defendant cannot be made to pay more than what is actually owed, that is, the amount actually due to the various entities that provided medical treatment to defendant’s victims. Because defendant will pay the lesser of the actual amount owed or the amount ordered by the trial court, there is no prejudice to defendant.”

Upon trial de novo in superior court, the defendant in this case was convicted of misdemeanor injury to personal property for throwing a balloon filled with black ink onto a painting during a protest at an arts event in Asheville. The defendant received a suspended 30-day sentence and was ordered to pay $4,425 in restitution. On appeal, the defendant argued that her motion to dismiss the injury to personal property charge should have been granted due to a fatal variance, and argued that the restitution amount was improperly based on speculative value. The appellate court rejected both arguments.

The charging document alleged that the defendant had damaged the personal property of the artist, Jonas Gerard, but the evidence at trial indicated that the painting was the property of the artist’s corporation, Jonas Gerard Fine Arts, Inc., an S corporation held in revocable trust, where Jonas Gerard was listed as both an employee and the sole owner. Although this evidence established that the artist and the corporation were separate legal entities, each capable of owning property, the court held that the state’s evidence sufficiently demonstrated that the artist named in the pleading was nevertheless a person who had a “special interest” in the property and was therefore properly named in the charging instrument. The painting was not yet complete, it was still in the artist’s possession at the time it was damaged, and the artist regarded himself and the corporation as functionally “one and the same” and he “certainly held out the paintings as his own.” Finding the facts of this case analogous to State v. Carr, 21 N.C. App. 470 (1974), the appellate court held that the charging document was “sufficient to notify Defendant of the particular piece of personal property which she was alleged to have damaged,” and the trial court did not err in denying the motion to dismiss for a fatal variance.

The restitution amount was also supported by competent evidence. A witness for the state testified that a potential buyer at the show asked what the painting would cost when completed and was told $8,850, which was the gallery’s standard price for paintings of that size by this artist. The artist also testified that the canvas was now completely destroyed, and the black ink could not be painted over. The trial court ordered the defendant to pay half that amount as restitution. The appellate court held that the fact that the painting “had not yet been purchased by a buyer does not mean that the market value assigned by the trial court for restitution was speculative.” The evidence presented at trial was sufficient to establish a fair market value for the painting prior to it being damaged, and the trial court’s restitution order would not be disturbed on appeal.

In this embezzlement case, the trial court did not err by ordering the defendant to pay restitution. On 13 February 2017, the defendant and the victim entered into a settlement agreement resolving civil claims arising from the defendant’s conduct. The agreement obligated the defendant to pay the victim $13,500 and contained a release cause. Subsequently, the defendant was charged by information with embezzlement. She subsequently entered an Alford plea. As part of a plea arrangement, the State agreed, in part, to a probationary sentence to allow the defendant to make restitution payments. Both parties agreed that the trial court would hold a hearing to determine the amount of restitution. At the restitution hearing, the defendant asserted that she did not owe restitution because the release clause in the civil settlement agreement discharged her obligation. The trial court determined $41,204.85 was owed. The trial court credited the defendant for paying $13,500 under the civil agreement and set the balance of restitution at the difference. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by ordering her to pay criminal restitution where the settlement agreement contained a binding release cause. Noting that the issue was one of first impression, the court held that the release clause in the civil settlement agreement does not bar imposition of criminal restitution.

The trial court improperly ordered the defendant to pay restitution for pecuniary losses arising from his alleged perpetration of charges in three indictments dismissed by the State pursuant to a plea agreement. The defendant appealed judgments entered upon his guilty pleas to seven counts of felony breaking and entering into seven different residences on different dates, and a civil judgment ordering he pay $23,113.00 in restitution to fourteen alleged victims identified in the State’s restitution worksheet. In return for the defendant’s pleas and his stipulation to restitution as provided in the State’s restitution worksheet, the State dismissed thirteen indictments against him, three of which contained the only charges linked to losses suffered by four of the fourteen alleged victims to whom the trial court ordered he pay restitution. The court concluded that “[b]ecause a trial court is only statutorily authorized to order restitution for losses attributable to a defendant’s perpetration of crimes for which he or she is convicted, . . . the trial court invalidly ordered defendant to pay restitution for pecuniary losses arising from his alleged perpetration of the charges in the three indictments the State dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement.” The court vacated the restitution order and remanded for resentencing on the issue of restitution.

In this assault case, no evidence was adduced at trial or sentencing to support the trial court’s restitution award of $1,962.80.

In this homicide case there was insufficient evidence to support restitution in the amount of $3,360.00 in funeral expenses to the victim’s family. No documentary or testimonial evidence supported the amount of restitution ordered. The record contains only the restitution worksheet, which is insufficient to support the restitution order.

 

In this animal cruelty case, the trial court did not err by imposing a restitution award in the amount of $10,693.43. There was sufficient competent evidence to support the amount of restitution ordered. The State provided written victim impact statements to the trial court during the sentencing hearing and the trial court heard oral victim impact statements and received an itemized worksheet of expenses as well as supporting documentation, including veterinary bills and receipts. These materials constitute sufficient competent evidence to support the restitution award. The trial court properly considered the defendant’s financial circumstances and found the award to be within his ability to pay. Specifically, the defendant testified regarding his employment history and other matters.

 

The trial court erred by ordering the defendant to pay $200 in restitution where no evidence was offered to support the amount of restitution ordered.

The trial court erred by ordering the defendant to pay $5,000 in restitution where no evidence supported that award. Only an unsworn statement by the prosecutor was offered in support of the restitution award.

The trial court’s restitution award of $5,000 was not supported by competent evidence.

In this injury to real property case, the trial court did not err by ordering the defendant to pay $7,408.91 in restitution. A repair invoice provided sufficient evidence to support the award of restitution and the restitution award properly accounted for all damage directly and proximately caused by the defendant’s injury to the property.

In the face of the State’s concession that there was no evidence supporting a restitution award, the court vacated the trial court’s restitution order and remanded for a rehearing on the issue.

In the face of the State’s concession that there was no evidence supporting a restitution award, the court vacated the trial court’s restitution order and remanded for a rehearing on the issue. The court noted: “In the interest of judicial economy, we urge prosecutors and trial judges to ensure that this minimal evidentiary threshold is met before entering restitution awards.”

The trial court did not err by requiring the defendant to pay $5,000 in restitution where trial evidence supported the restitution award and the trial court properly considered the defendant’s resources.

The trial court erred by ordering the defendant to pay restitution when the State failed to present any evidence to support the restitution order. The State conceded the error.

There was sufficient evidence to support a restitution order for $730. The victim testified that before being robbed he had “two sets of keys, snuff, a pocket knife, a bandana, [his] money clip,” and approximately $680 in cash. He later confirmed that $730 represented the money and the items taken during the crime.

The evidence supports the trial court’s restitution award for the value of a Honda Accord automobile. The prosecutor introduced documentation that the car was titled in the name of Moses Blunt and that the robbery victim paid $3,790 to Blunt to purchase the car. The prosecutor submitted both the title registration of the car, as well as a copy of the purchase receipt. Additionally, the victim testified at trial that he had paid $3,790 for the car but due to insurance issues, the car was still titled in his roommate’s name. Although the victim did not identify his roommate, the prosecutor’s introduction of the actual title registration supports the fact that Blunt was the title owner and that the car was worth $3,790 at the time of the transaction, which occurred shortly before the robbery.

In a drug case, the trial court erred by ordering the defendant to pay $1,200.00 as restitution for fees from a private lab (NarTest) that tested the controlled substances at issue. Under G.S. 7A-304(a)(7), the trial court "shall" order restitution in the amount of $600.00 for analysis of a controlled substance by the SBI. G.S. 7A-304(a)(8) allows the same restitution if a "crime laboratory facility operated by a local government" performs such an analysis as long as the "work performed at the local government's laboratory is the equivalent of the same kind of work performed by the [SBI]." The statute does not authorize restitution for analysis performed by an unlicensed private lab such as NarTest.

The trial court erred by ordering restitution when the defendant did not stipulate to the amounts requested and no evidence was presented to support the restitution worksheet.  

The trial court erred by ordering the defendant to pay restitution in connection with a conviction for possessing a weapon of mass death and destruction where the State conceded that the restitution had no connection to that conviction.

The trial court committed plain error by ordering the defendant to pay restitution when no evidence supported the amount ordered. The court noted that no objection is required to preserve for appellate review issues concerning restitution. It held that the prosecutor’s unsworn statements and the State’s restitution worksheet were not competent evidence to support the restitution ordered. The court rejected the notion that the defendant's silence or lack of objection to the restitution amount constituted a stipulation.

The trial court committed reversible error by ordering the defendant to pay restitution when the State presented no evidence to support the award. Although there was evidence that the victim’s home was damaged during the breaking and entering, there was no evidence as to the cost of the damage.

The restitution order was not supported by evidence presented at trial or sentencing. The prosecutor’s unsworn statement regarding the amount of restitution was insufficient to support the order.

Because no evidence was presented in support of restitution and the defendant did not stipulate to the amount, the trial court erred by ordering restitution. During sentencing, the prosecutor presented a restitution worksheet requesting restitution for the victim to compensate for stolen items. The victim did not testify, no additional documentation was submitted, and there was no stipulation to the worksheet.

The evidence was insufficient to support a restitution award. The State conceded that it did not introduce evidence to support the restitution request. However, it argued that the defendant stipulated to the amount of restitution when she stipulated to the factual basis for the plea and that the specific amounts of restitution owed were incorporated into the stipulated factual basis by reference to the restitution worksheets submitted to the court. The court rejected these arguments, concluding that a restitution worksheet, unsupported by testimony or documentation, cannot support a restitution order and that the defendant did not stipulate to the amounts awarded.

In a larceny of motor vehicle case, the restitution award was not supported by competent evidence. Restitution must be supported by evidence adduced at trial or at sentencing; the unsworn statement of the prosecutor is insufficient to support restitution. In this case, the trial court ordered the defendant to pay $8,277.00 in restitution based on an unverified worksheet submitted by the State. However, the evidence at trial showed that the value of the stolen items was $1,200.00 - $1,400.00.

The trial court erred by ordering restitution where no evidence was presented supporting the restitution worksheet. The defendant’s silence when the trial court orally entered judgment cannot constitute a stipulation to restitution. 

Restitution of $510 was not supported by the evidence. The prosecutor had presented a restitution worksheet stating that the victim sought $510 in restitution. The worksheet was not supported by documentation, the victim did not testify, and the defendant did not stipulate to the amount. The prosecutor’s statement that the amount represented “additional repairs and medical expenses” was insufficient to support the award.

The trial court erred in ordering restitution to the murder victims’ families when there was no direct and proximate causal link between the defendant’s actions and harm caused to those families. The defendant was convicted as an accessory after the fact to murder and none of the defendant’s actions obstructed the murder investigation or assisted the principals in evading detection, arrest, or punishment.

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