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.


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E.g., 07/22/2024
E.g., 07/22/2024

(1) When the defendant was convicted of drug trafficking, the sentence initially announced by the trial judge was “a mandatory 70 months” of active imprisonment. The following Monday (five days later), without the defendant being present, the court entered an amended judgment stating both the minimum and maximum sentence: 70 to 93 months. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to amend the sentence when it did because the defendant had already appealed by that point. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that, under G.S. 15A-1448(a)(3), the jurisdiction of the trial court is divested when notice of appeal has been given and the time for giving notice of appeal has expired. For an appeal to the appellate division, that time period is 14 days. N.C. R. App. P. 4(a)(2). Because only 5 days had passed at the time of change, the time for appeal had not expired, and the trial court therefore retained jurisdiction.

(2) The defendant argued in the alternative that amending the judgment in her absence deprived her of her right to be present at sentencing. The appellate court again disagreed, concluding that the amended judgment did not amount to a “substantive change” to the original sentence. Because the 93-month maximum that accompanies a 70-month minimum is statutorily required under G.S. 90-95(h)(4), it was not the product of judicial discretion. The record showed that the trial court understood from the outset that the sentence was statutorily mandatory, and the amendment was therefore clerical in nature and not a substantive change.

Because the trial court resentenced the defendant to a longer prison sentence without him being present, the court vacated and remanded for resentencing. After the defendant was sentenced, the Division of Adult Correction notified the court that the maximum prison term imposed did not correspond to the minimum prison term under Structured Sentencing. The trial court issued an amended judgment in response to this notice, resentencing the defendant, without being present, to a correct term that included a longer maximum sentence.

State v. Collins, 245 N.C. App. 288 (Feb. 2, 2016) aff'd on other grounds, 369 N.C. 60 (Sep 23 2016)

The trial court improperly sentenced the defendant in his absence. The trial court orally sentenced the defendant to 35 to 42 months in prison, a sentence which improperly correlated the minimum and maximum terms. The trial court’s written judgment sentenced the defendant to 35 to 51 months, a statutorily proper sentence. Because the defendant was not present when the trial court corrected the sentence, the court determined that a resentencing is required and remanded accordingly.

The trial court violated the defendant’s right to be present during sentencing by entering a written judgment imposing a longer prison term than that which the trial court announced in his presence during the sentencing hearing. In the presence of the defendant, the trial court sentenced him to a minimum term of 114 months and a maximum term of 146 months imprisonment. Subsequently, the trial court entered written judgment reflecting a sentence of 114 to 149 months active prison time. The court concluded: “Given that there is no indication in the record that defendant was present at the time the written judgment was entered, the sentence must be vacated and this matter remanded for the entry of a new sentencing judgment.”

The defendant’s right to be present when sentence is pronounced was not violated when the trial judge included in the judgment court costs and fees for community service that had not been mentioned in open court. The change in the judgment was not substantive. “[E]ach of the conditions imposed . . . was a non-discretionary byproduct of the sentence that was imposed in open court.” Further, the court noted, payment of costs does not constitute punishment and, therefore, the imposition of costs on the defendant outside of his presence did not infringe upon his right to be present when sentence is pronounced.

(1) Excluding the defendant from an in-chambers conference held prior to the sentencing hearing was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The in-chambers conference was recorded, the defendant was represented by counsel and given an opportunity to be heard and to make objections at the sentencing hearing, and the trial court reported the class level for each offense and any aggravating or mitigating factors on the record in open court. (2) Evidence of two awards from the Crime Victim’s Compensation Commission properly supported the trial court’s restitution award. However, because restitution exceeded the amounts stated in these awards, the court remanded for the trial court to amend the order accordingly.

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