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., 12/04/2021
E.g., 12/04/2021
State v. Melvin, 364 N.C. 589 (Dec. 20, 2010)

Reversing the court of appeals in 199 N.C. App. 469 (2009) (the trial court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury that it could convict the defendant of either first-degree murder or accessory after the fact to murder, but not both), the court held that although the trial court erred by failing to give the instruction at issue, no plain error occurred. Citing its recent decision in State v. Mumford, 364 N.C. 394, 398-402 (2010), the court held that because guilty verdicts of first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to that murder would be legally inconsistent and contradictory, a defendant may not be punished for both. The court went on to explain that mutually exclusive offenses may be joined for trial; if substantial evidence supports each offense, both should be submitted to the jury with an instruction that the defendant only may be convicted of one of the offenses, but not both. Having found error, the court went on to conclude that no plain error occurred in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt, the fact that the jury found the defendant guilty of both offenses, suggesting that it would have convicted him of the more serious offense, had it been required to choose between charges, and that the trial judge arrested judgment on the accessory after the fact conviction.

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

The court reversed State v. Mumford, 201 N.C. App. 594 (Jan. 5, 2010), and held that because a not guilty verdict under G.S. 20-138.1 (impaired driving) and a guilty verdict under G.S. 20-141.4(a3) (felony serious injury by vehicle) were merely inconsistent, the trial court did not err by accepting the verdict where it was supported with sufficient evidence. To require reversal, the verdicts would have to be both inconsistent and legally contradictory, also referred to as mutually exclusive verdicts (for example, guilty verdicts of embezzlement and obtaining property by false pretenses; the verdicts are mutually exclusive because property cannot be obtained simultaneously pursuant to both lawful and unlawful means). The court overruled State v. Perry, 305 N.C. 225 (1982) (affirming a decision to vacate a sentence for felonious larceny when the jury returned a guilty verdict for felonious larceny but a not guilty verdict of breaking or entering), and State v. Holloway, 265 N.C. 581 (1965) (per curiam) (ordering a new trial when the defendant was found guilty of felonious larceny, but was acquitted of breaking or entering and no evidence was presented at trial to prove the value of the stolen goods), to the extent they were inconsistent with its holding.

In this first-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense case, the trial court did not err in accepting the jury’s verdicts finding the defendant guilty of both offenses despite the fact that first-degree rape requires a finding of infliction of serious personal injury while second-degree rape does not.  Responding to the defendant’s argument that if the jury determined that he had inflicted serious injury on the victim it should have convicted him of first-degree forcible sexual offense rather than the lesser included offense of second-degree forcible sexual offense, the court explained that the verdicts were at most inconsistent rather than mutually exclusive and that there was sufficient evidence of each offense.  The court went on to reason that it was possible that the jury could have determined that the defendant’s infliction of serious personal injury upon the victim was done to accomplish the forcible rape but not the forcible sex offense.

The defendant was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder under the felony-murder rule. The underlying felony was statutory rape of a child under 13. And yet the jury acquitted the defendant of the charge of statutory rape of a child under 13.  The defendant appealed, arguing that statutory rape of a child under 13 could not support a felony-murder conviction because it lacks the necessary intent to support such a charge. He also argued that because the jury acquitted him of the predicate felony, his first-degree murder conviction must be vacated. The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments.

(1) The Court of Appeals determined that while the offense of statutory rape does not require that the defendant intended to commit a sexual act with an underage person, it does require that the defendant intend to commit a sexual act with the victim. The Court held that this intent satisfies the intent required for a crime to serve as the basis for a felony-murder charge. The Court distinguished the sort of intent required to engage in vaginal intercourse with a victim from the culpable negligence required to commit the offense of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury based on driving a vehicle while impaired, which the court held in State v. Jones, 353 N.C. 159 (2000), was insufficient to support a felony-murder charge. Statutory rape requires that the person be purposely resolved to participate in the conduct that comprises the criminal offense.

(2) The Court of Appeals determined that the jury verdicts finding the defendant (a) guilty of felony murder with statutory rape as the underlying felony but (b) not guilty of statutory rape were inconsistent but were not legally contradictory or, in other words, mutually exclusive. The Court of Appeals reasoned that a jury could rely on the act of committing statutory rape to support a felony murder conviction without also having a conviction of statutory rape. Indeed, the State could proceed to trial on such a felony murder theory without also charging statutory rape.

The Court noted that a defendant is not entitled to relief for a merely inconsistent verdict as it is not clear in such circumstances “‘whose ox has been gored.’” (Slip op. at ¶ 44 (quoting United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 65 (1984)). The jury may have thought the defendant was not guilty. Equally possibly, it may have reached an inconsistent verdict through mistake, compromise, or lenity. The defendant receives the benefit of the acquittal, but must accept the burden of conviction.

The jury did not return mutually exclusive verdicts when it found the defendant guilty of felony child abuse in violation of G.S. 14-318.4(a3) (the intentional injury version of this offense) and felony child abuse resulting in violation of G.S. 14-318.4(a4) (the willful act or grossly negligent omission version of this offense). The charges arose out of an incident where the victim was severely burned in a bathtub while under the defendant’s care. Citing State v. Mumford, 364 N.C. 394, 400 (2010), the court noted that criminal offenses are mutually exclusive if “guilt of one necessarily excludes guilt of the other.” The defendant argued that the mens rea component of the two offenses makes them mutually exclusive. The court concluded, however, that substantial evidence permitted the jury to find that two separate offenses occurred in succession such that the two charges were not mutually exclusive. Specifically, that the defendant acted in reckless disregard for human life by initially leaving the victim and her brother unattended in a tub of scalding hot water and that after a period of time, the defendant returned to the tub and intentionally held the victim in that water.

Guilty verdicts of trafficking in opium and selling and possessing with intent to sell and deliver a schedule III preparation of an opium derivative are not mutually exclusive. There is no support for the defendant's argument that a schedule III preparation of an opium derivative does not qualify as a "derivative . . . or preparation of opium" for purposes of trafficking.

State v. Wade, 213 N.C. App. 481 (July 19, 2011)

The trial court did not err by accepting a verdict of guilty of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury when the jury had acquitted the defendant of attempted first-degree murder. The verdicts were not mutually exclusive under State v. Mumford, 364 N.C. 394 (Oct. 8, 2010).

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict based on inconsistent verdicts. The jury found the defendant guilty of felonious larceny after a breaking or entering and of being a habitual felon but deadlocked on a breaking or entering charge. Citing, State v. Mumford, 364 N.C. 394 (Oct. 8, 2010), the court held that the verdicts were merely inconsistent and not mutually exclusive.

Guilty verdicts of breaking or entering and discharging a firearm into occupied property were not mutually exclusive. The defendant argued that he could not both be in the building and shooting into the building at the same time. The court rejected this argument noting that the offenses occurred in succession, the defendant would be guilty of the discharging offense regardless of whether or not he was standing on a screened-in porch at the time, and that in any event the defendant was not in the building when he was standing on the porch.

State v. Cole, 199 N.C. App. 151 (Aug. 18, 2009)

The trial court did not err in accepting seemingly inconsistent verdicts of guilty of misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and not guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon.

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