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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

The Sixth Amendment’s speedy trial guarantee does not apply to the sentencing phase of a criminal prosecution. After pleading guilty to bail-jumping, the defendant was jailed for over 14 months awaiting sentence on that conviction. The defendant argued that the 14-month gap between conviction and sentencing violated his speedy trial right. Resolving a split among the courts on the issue, the Court held:

[T]he guarantee protects the accused from arrest or indictment through trial, but does not apply once a defendant has been found guilty at trial or has pleaded guilty to criminal charges. For inordinate delay in sentencing, although the Speedy Trial Clause does not govern, a defendant may have other recourse, including, in appropriate circumstances, tailored relief under the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Court reserved on the question of whether the speedy trial clause “applies to bifurcated proceedings in which, at the sentencing stage, facts that could increase the prescribed sentencing range are determined (e.g., capital cases in which eligibility for the death penalty hinges on aggravating factor findings).” Nor did it decide whether the speedy trial right “reattaches upon renewed prosecution following a defendant’s successful appeal, when he again enjoys the presumption of innocence.”

Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81 (Mar. 9, 2009)

Delay caused by appointed defense counsel or a public defender is not attributable to the state in determining whether a defendant’s speedy trial right was violated, unless the delay resulted from a systemic breakdown in the public defender system.

In this case involving charges of first-degree sex offense with a child and indecent liberties, the court found that the procedural circumstances were “unsettling” but did not constitute an infringement upon the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.  In May 2012, the defendant was indicted for offenses that allegedly occurred in March 2012.  The defendant’s trial was not calendared for approximately five years and, at a July 2017 hearing on the defendant’s speedy trial motion to dismiss, an assistant clerk of court testified that there had been no trial activity in the defendant’s case from the date of indictment in May 2012 to January 2017.  Applying the four-part test from Barker v. Wingo, the court found: (1) the length of delay between indictment and trial in this case was “striking and clearly raises a presumption” that the defendant’s speedy trial right may have been breached; (2) an assessment of the reason for the delay, largely attributed to a crowded docket and limited prosecutorial resources, “modestly [favored]” the defendant; (3) the defendant’s belated assertion of his right to a speedy trial, occurring nearly five years after his indictment, “weigh[ed] significantly against” the defendant; and (4) that the defendant did not suffer prejudice because of the delay.  Engaging in a “difficult and sensitive balancing process” of the four Barker factors, the court held that the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was not violated.

In this Guilford County case, the defendant was convicted by a jury of indecent liberties with a child in May 2019 for a 2011 incident involving his daughter’s 6-year-old friend. He was sentenced to 28-43 months in prison and ordered to enroll in satellite-based monitoring for life. (1) The defendant argued on appeal that his right to a speedy trial was violated by the seven-year delay between his arrest and trial. Applying the four-factor test from Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) (the length of delay; the reason for the delay; the defendant’s assertion of his right; and prejudice to the defendant), the Court of Appeals concluded that there was no speedy trial violation. The seven-year delay undoubtedly triggered the need to continue the Barker inquiry. As to the second factor, however, the record showed that the vast majority of the delay was attributable to the defendant’s motions to remove counsel—he had four lawyers before eventually proceeding pro se—or to a good faith delay on the part of the State resulting from the serious illness of the lead investigator. As to the third factor, the defendant did repeatedly, albeit improperly, assert his right to a speedy trial, but that alone, the Court of Appeals said, did not entitle him to relief. As to the fourth factor, the defendant asserted two ways he was prejudiced by the delay in his trial: that he hadn’t seen his daughter since his arrest, and that it was difficult to contact witnesses. The Court rejected the defendant’s assertion regarding his daughter, because the defendant was also incarcerated on other charges during the pendency of the charges at issue in this case, and he would therefore have been unable to see his daughter regardless. The Court likewise rejected the defendant’s assertion regarding witness availability, concluding that the defendant had merely asserted that the witnesses were “hard to get up with,” but not shown that they were actually unavailable. Weighing all the factors, the Court found no speedy trial violation.

(2) The defendant also argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a mistrial based on a juror’s contact with his mother during jury deliberations. The Court rejected that argument, concluding that the trial court properly determined through a thorough examination of the juror that the juror had not been improperly influenced by his conversation with his mother.

(3) Finally, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in imposing lifetime SBM because the State failed to establish that SBM was a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals declined to invoke Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to consider the merits of the argument, which was not raised in the trial court. As to the defendant’s alternative argument that his lawyer provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to SBM in the trial court, the Court of Appeals concluded that a constitutional claim of ineffective assistance was unavailable under earlier precedent, but a statutory claim was available under G.S. 7A-451(a)(18), because the statutory right to counsel includes the right to effective counsel. Applying the requisite analytical framework, the Court held that the defendant’s lawyer’s performance was deficient, and that the deficiency prejudiced the defendant. The Court therefore reversed the SBM order and remanded the matter for a hearing on the reasonableness of SBM.

In June 2012, the defendant was driving a vehicle that collided with a motorcycle, killing two victims. He was initially charged in 2012 with felony death by vehicle, reckless driving to endanger, driving left of center, driving while license revoked, and felony hit and run resulting in death. His first appointed lawyer withdrew in 2012, and his second appointed lawyer withdrew in 2017. Shortly thereafter in 2017, he was indicted for two counts of second-degree murder and attaining the status of violent habitual felon. In 2018, the defendant’s third lawyer filed a motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds. The trial court denied the motion and in October 2018 the defendant was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole. On appeal, the defendant argued that the six-year delay between his initial charge and his trial violated his right to a speedy trial under the federal and state constitutions. Analyzing his claim under the four-factor balancing test set forth in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), the Court of Appeals agreed. As to the first factor, the length of the delay, the Court held that the six-year delay here was clearly sufficient to create a presumption of prejudice to the defendant. As to the second factor, the reason for the delay, the Court first noted that the trial court did not properly recognize that in light of the presumption raised by the first factor, the burden shifted to the State to offer explanations for the delay. As to the substance of the information offered regarding the delay, the Court held that the trial judge plainly erred in allowing the defendant’s second lawyer to testify on behalf of the State to explain the delay when the defendant had not waived attorney-client privilege regarding his communications with that lawyer. Disregarding the evidence from that lawyer, the State offered no explanation or excuse for the delay, and thus failed to meet its burden. The Court declined to rely on factual findings from an earlier appellate case, State v. Farmer, ___ N.C. App. ___, 822 S.E.2d 556 (2018), regarding a “crowded docket” in Rowan County to support the State’s argument, as the record here lacked supporting evidence and in any event failed to account for more than two years of the six-year delay. As to the third factor, the defendant’s assertion of his right to a speedy trial, the Court concluded that the factor carried little weight. And as to the final factor, prejudice, the Court concluded that the defendant’s longtime imprisonment, lengthy delay before the most serious charges were even brought, and far greater sentence exposure supported his claim of prejudice, as he was unable to assist in his trial preparation and attempt to find potential witnesses and other information that would have been available earlier. Indeed, the court said, the delay was so substantial that its duration alone speaks to prejudice. The trial court erred in considering any alleged prejudice to the State due to the delay; the Sixth Amendment protects the defendant, not the State. Considering all of the Barker factors, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss and vacated the defendant’s judgments due to a violation of his constitutional rights to a speedy trial.

The plaintiff sued the State of North Carolina, City of Durham, various people who worked for the State Bureau of Investigation, the Durham Police Department, and the Durham County District Attorney’s office for a permanent injunction and money damages to redress harms allegedly suffered in connection with his pretrial detention, investigation, and prosecution. The plaintiff, then the criminal defendant, was arrested in 2002 for a home invasion involving an armed robbery and attempted sexual assault and was tried almost five years later. The Court of Appeals, in State v. Washington, 192 N.C. App. 277, vacated his conviction, finding a denial of his speedy trial rights under the United States and North Carolina Constitutions. The trial judge in this case granted the civil defendants’ motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff on his claim that the defendants violated his state constitutional right to a speedy trial. The Court of Appeals recognized that a victim of a constitutional violation may sue for some constitutional violations, such as a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures under the United States Constitution, but the right to sue for damages has not been extended to the deprivation of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The Court declined to recognize a private cause of action for the deprivation of the right to a speedy trial under the North Carolina Constitution. Noting that the plaintiff did not appeal the trial judge’s decision about the causes of action alleged by the plaintiff other than his state constitutional claim, the Court declined to address the other causes of action.

In this child sexual assault case, the court remanded for further findings with respect to the defendant’s speedy trial motion. Although the trial court was not obligated to consider the defendant’s pro se speedy trial motion while he was represented, because it did so, it erred by failing to consider all of the Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) factors and making appropriate findings. The court remanded for a proper Barker v. Wingo analysis and appropriate findings.

On an appeal from the denial of a motion to dismiss for violation of speedy trial rights in a case involving a trial delay of 3 years and 9 months, the court held that because the trial court failed to adequately weigh and apply the Barker v. Wingo factors and to fully consider the prima facie evidence of prosecutorial neglect, the trial court’s order must be vacated and the case remanded “for a full evidentiary hearing and to make proper findings and analysis of the relevant factors.” After reviewing the facts of the case vis-a-vis the Barker factors, the court noted:

[W]ith the limited record before us, Defendant tends to show his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial may have been violated. The length of the delay and the lack of appropriate reason for the delay tends to weigh in his favor. Defendant’s evidence regarding the prejudice he suffered in his pretrial incarceration and the prejudice to his ability to defend against his charges, if true, would tend to weigh in his favor, but requires a more nuanced consideration.

(1) In this impaired driving case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that his speedy trial rights were violated due to a four year delay between indictment and trial. Considering the speedy trial factors, the court found that the length of delay weighed in the defendant’s favor. The second factor—the reason for the delay—also weighed in the defendant’s favor. Here, the delay could have been avoided by reasonable effort by the State. It was undisputed that on the date the defendant failed to appear in court and on the date four months later when the prosecutor removed the case from the docket, the fact that the defendant was incarcerated was readily discernible by a search of the Department of Public Safety’s Offender Public Information website and through other online databases used by prosecutors. Thus, the State’s failure to discover the defendant’s whereabouts--in its own custody--resulted from the prosecutor’s negligence by not checking readily available information. With respect to the third factor—the defendant’s assertion of his right—trial counsel acknowledged that there was no record of receipt by the clerk’s office of any communication from the defendant until more than three years after the defendant’s case was removed from the court docket. Based on the evidence presented, the court rejected the defendant’s assertion that he had made prior attempts to assert his right. For example, while he testified that he had asserted his right in a letter to the Clerk, he was unable to produce a copy of the letter and no letter was found in the Clerk’s file. In light of the lack of evidence that the defendant’s claimed assertions of his speedy trial right reached the proper court officials or the prosecutor until three years after he first failed to appear in court, this factor was neutral. Turning to prejudice, the court concluded that, despite his arguments to the contrary, the defendant was unable to show actual, substantial prejudice. (2) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss pursuant to G.S. 15A-711. The State Supreme Court has held that failure to serve a G.S. 15A-711 motion on the prosecutor as required by the statute bars relief for a defendant. The court rejected the defendant’s assertion that certain letters he sent were properly filed written requests sufficient to satisfy the statute.

No violation of the defendant’s speedy trial right occurred. The court began by finding that the delay of two years and 10 months was extensive enough to trigger consideration of the other speedy trial factors. Rejecting the defendant’s argument to the contrary, the court held that with respect to the second factor--reason for the delay--the defendant has the burden of producing evidence establishing a prima facie case that the delay resulted from the neglect or willfulness of the State. Once that showing is made, the burden shifts to the State to rebut the defendant’s evidence. Here, the defendant failed to make the prima facie showing. The court noted that between the time of arrest and trial, the defendant was represented by five different attorneys, each of whom needed time to become familiar with the case and that a significant portion of the delay resulted from delays at the State Crime Lab. With respect to the third factor--the defendant’s assertion of a speedy trial right--the court noted that the defendant asserted his right in a timely pro se motion, later adopted by counsel. Turning to the last factor—prejudice--the court noted that the defendant’s primary claims of prejudice were supported by his own testimony and no other evidence. Conceding that the trial court did not find his testimony credible, the defendant argued that the trial court failed to give adequate consideration to the prejudice inherent in pretrial incarceration. The court was unpersuaded, noting that during the time that he was incarcerated on the present charges he also was incarcerated on unrelated felony charges. Balancing the factors, the court found no speedy trial violation.

In a case where the trial was delayed because of backlogs at the crime lab and because of issues with counsel, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s speedy trial motion, made shortly before trial. Applying the Barker v. Wingo four-part speedy trial analysis, the court began by noting that the 28-month delay between arrest and trial raises a question of reasonableness requiring the court to consider the additional Barker factors. As to the second factor--reason for the delay--it was undisputed that the last four months of delay resulted from issues with defense counsel. Delay caused by the defendant’s indecision about counsel, counsel’s lapse in communicating with the defendant, and counsel’s scheduling conflicts should not be weighed against the State. The primary cause of the delay was a backlog at the state crime lab, a matter over which the prosecutor had no control. Acknowledging that governmental responsibility for delay should be weighed against the State, the court concluded that the defendant failed to make a prima facie showing that either the prosecution or the crime lab negligently or purposefully underutilized resources available to prepare the State’s case for trial. Thus, the 18 months of delay caused by crime lab backlogs was a “neutral reason.” Turning to the third factor in the analysis—the defendant’s assertion of a speedy trial right—the court held that the “eleventh-hour nature of Defendant’s speedy trial motion carries minimal weight in his favor.” The court was also unpersuaded by the defendant’s argument with respect to the fourth factor in the analysis, prejudice.

In this child sexual abuse case, the defendant was not denied his right to a speedy trial. The more than three-year delay between indictment and trial is sufficiently long to trigger analysis of the remaining speedy trial factors. Considering those factors, the court found that the evidence “tends to show that the changes in the defendant’s representation caused much of the delay” and that miscommunication between the defendant and his first two lawyers, or neglect by these lawyers, also “seems to have contributed to the delay.” Also, although the defendant made pro se assertions of a speedy trial right, he was represented at the time and these requests should have been made by counsel. The court noted, however, that the defendant’s “failure of process does not equate to an absence of an intent to assert his constitutional right to a speedy trial.” Finally, the defendant failed to show prejudice caused by the delay. Given that DNA testing confirmed that he was the father of a child born to the victim, the defendant’s argument that the delay hindered his ability to locate alibi witnesses failed to establish prejudice.

State v. Carvalho, 243 N.C. App. 394 (Oct. 6, 2015) aff’d per curiam, 369 N.C. 309 (Dec 21 2016)

Applying the four-factor speedy trial test of Barker v. Wingo, the court concluded that no speedy trial violation occurred. The nine year gap between the time of indictment and the hearing on the speedy trial motion is presumptively prejudicial. However while extraordinary, this delay is not per se determinative and an examination of the remaining Barker factors is required. As to the second factor, reason for delay, the defendant failed to show that that the delay stemmed from the State’s negligence or willfulness. The “more significant elements” that contributed to delay included: changing the proceedings from capital to noncapital; plea discussions; forensic issues regarding an audiotape; securing the testimony of the state’s key witness; and the interconnectedness of the two murders. Regarding the third factor, assertion of the speedy trial right, the court noted that the defendant first asserted his right some eight years after he was indicted. Regarding the final factor, prejudice from delay, the court found that the defendant failed to show any affirmative proof of prejudice.

Although the issue does not appear to have been raised by the defendant on appeal in this second-degree murder case, the court noted: “[O]ur review of the record shows defendant was arrested on 1 September 2009 and was tried in August and September of 2013, almost four years later. . . . The record on appeal does not show any motions for speedy trial or arguments of prejudice from defendant.” The court continued, in what may be viewed as a warning about trial delays:

While we are unaware of the circumstances surrounding the delay in bringing defendant to trial, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances where such delays are in the interest of justice for defendant, his family, or the victim’s family, or in the best interests of our citizens in timely and just proceedings.

State v. Floyd, 238 N.C. App. 110 (Dec. 16, 2014) rev’d in part on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, 794 S.E.2d 460, 462 (Dec 21 2016)

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss on grounds of excessive pre-indictment delay. A challenge to a pre-indictment delay is predicated on an alleged violation of the due process clause. To prevail, a defendant must show both actual and substantial prejudice from the delay and that the delay was intentional on the part of the State in order to impair defendant’s ability to defend himself or to gain tactical advantage. Here, the defendant failed to show that he sustained actual and substantial prejudice as a result of the delay.

No speedy trial violation occurred when there was a 27-month delay between the indictments and trial. Among other things, the defendant offered no evidence that the State’s neglect or willfulness caused a delay and failed to show actual, substantial prejudice caused by the delay.

The defendant was not denied his speedy trial rights. The date of the offense and the initial charge was 7 March 2006. The defendant was tried upon a re-filed charge in district court on 13 Apr. 2009. The defendant never made a speedy trial motion in district court; his only speedy trial request was made in superior court on 4 February 2010. Because the defendant already had a trial in district court, the time of the delay runs from his appeal from district court on 13 Apr. 2009 until his superior court trial on 15 February 2010, a period of less than one year. Assuming arguendo that the delay exceeded one year, the claim still failed.

State v. Lee, 218 N.C. App. 42 (Jan. 17, 2012)

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges on grounds of a speedy trial violation. The time between arrest and trial was approximately twenty-two months. Although the defendant asserted that the State was responsible for the delay by not calendaring his competency hearing until nearly ten months after he completed a competency evaluation, the court could not determine what caused this scheduling delay. It noted that during this time the defendant filed numerous complaints with the State Bar concerning defense counsel and repeatedly asked the trial court to remove his counsel. Also, during this time one of the victims was out of the country receiving medical treatment for his injuries and was unavailable. Although troubled by the delay, the court concluded that given the defendant’s actions regarding appointed counsel and the availability of the victim, “we cannot say the delay was due to any willfulness or negligence on the part of the State, especially in light of the fact that defendant has made no showing of such on appeal.” The court went on to note that although the defendant repeatedly attempted to assert his speedy trial right, he failed to show actual and substantial prejudice resulting from the delay.

(1) G.S. 15A-711 is not a speedy trial statute. G.S. 15A-711 provides an imprisoned criminal defendant the right to formally request that the prosecutor make a written request for his or her return to the custody of local law enforcement officers in the jurisdiction in which the defendant has other pending charges. The temporary release of the defendant to the local jurisdiction may not exceed 60 days. If the prosecutor is properly served with the defendant’s request and fails to make a written request to the custodian of the institution where the defendant is confined within six months from the date the defendant’s request is filed with the clerk of court, the charges pending against the defendant must be dismissed. The State’s compliance with G.S. 15A-711 does not require that the defendant’s trial occur within a given time frame. The State satisfies its statutory duty when the prosecutor timely makes the written request for the defendant’s transfer, whether or not the trial actually takes place during the statutory period of six months plus the 60 days temporary release to local law enforcement officials. (2) Because the trial court failed to make the proper inquiry in response to the defendant’s motion under G.S. 15A-711 (the proper inquiry is whether the prosecutor made a timely written request for the defendant’s transfer to a local law enforcement facility), the court vacated and remanded for a new hearing.

(1) G.S. 15A-711(c) could not support the defendant’s statutory speedy trial claim where he had no other criminal charges pending against him at the time he was confined and awaiting trial. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s constitutional speedy trial claim. The defendant made no argument that the delay was caused by the neglect or willfulness of the prosecution; he did not properly assert his speedy trial right; and he failed to show actual prejudice.

The court rejected the defendant’s speedy trial claim, finding that any delay was caused by his failure to state whether he asserted or waived his right to counsel, requiring four hearings on the issue.

(1) Remanding for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court noted that G.S. 15A-711 does not guarantee a defendant the right to have a matter tried within a specific period of time and is not a "speedy trial" statute. (2) The court remanded for further action the trial court’s order dismissing the charges based on a violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial, finding that the trial court “reached its Sixth Amendment ruling under a misapprehension of the law and without conducting a complete analysis, including consideration of all the relevant facts and law in this case.” The court’s opinion details the required analysis.

Concluding that the defendant’s claim of pre-indictment delay was not covered by the Speedy Trial clause; reviewing the defendant’s claim of pre-indictment delay as a violation of due process and finding no prejudice.

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