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.


Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 12/02/2023
E.g., 12/02/2023

In this Edgecombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions for second-degree murder and aggravated serious injury by vehicle, arguing error in the denial of his motion to suppress a warrantless blood draw and motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals found no error and affirmed. 

In June of 2015, defendant crossed the centerline of a highway and hit another vehicle head on, causing the death of one passenger. Officers responding to the scene interviewed defendant, and noted his responses seemed impaired and the presence of beer cans in his vehicle. A blood draw was performed at the hospital, although the officer ordering the draw did not read defendant his Chapter 20 implied consent rights or obtain a search warrant before the draw. The results of defendant’s blood draw showed a benzodiazepine, a cocaine metabolite, two anti-depressants, an aerosol propellant, and a blood-alcohol level of 0.02.  

Reviewing defendant’s argument that no exigent circumstances supported the warrantless draw of his blood, the Court of Appeals first noted that defense counsel failed to object to the admission of the drug analysis performed on defendant’s blood, meaning his arguments regarding that exhibit were overruled. The court then turned to the exigent circumstances exception to justify the warrantless search, noting that the investigation of the scene took significant time and defendant was not taken to the hospital until an hour and forty-five minutes afterwards. Acknowledging Supreme Court precedent “that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream cannot, standing alone, create an exigency in a case of alleged impaired driving sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant,” the court looked for additional justification in the current case. Slip Op. at 11. Here the court found such justification in the shift change occurring that would prevent the officer from having assistance, and the delay in going to obtain a warrant from the magistrate’s office that would add an additional hour to the process. These circumstances supported the trial court’s finding of exigent circumstances. 

The court then turned to defendant’s argument that insufficient evidence was admitted to establish he was impaired at the time of the accident. The record contained evidence that defendant had beer cans in his truck along with an aerosol can of Ultra Duster, and several witnesses testified as to defendant’s demeanor and speech after the accident. The record also contained a blood analysis showing defendant had five separate impairing substances in his system at the time of the accident, “alcohol, benzyl ethylene (a cocaine metabolite), Diazepam (a benzodiazepine such as Valium), Citalopram (an anti-depressant) and Sertraline (another anti-depressant called “Zoloft”).” Id. at 16. The court found that based on this evidence there was sufficient support for denying defendant’s motion.

The defendant was convicted of driving while impaired and appealed. He argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence gathered following his arrest on the basis that his arrest was not supported by probable cause. The Court of Appeals found no error.

(1) The Highway Patrol trooper who arrested the defendant testified about his training in the administration of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN) for the detection of impairment and the interpretation of the results on the test.  He testified about performing the HGN test on the defendant and his observation of all six indications of impairment.

The defendant argued on appeal that the rules of evidence applied to the suppression hearing and the trial court erred by permitting the trooper to testify as an expert witness on HGN because he was not qualified under Rule 702. The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument, citing Rules 104(a) and 1101(b)(1), which explicitly state that the evidence rules do not apply to the determination of preliminary questions concerning the admissibility of evidence—the very issues presented in a hearing on a motion to suppress. The Court further held that the trooper’s testimony regarding the HGN test was relevant to the determination of probable cause and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by considering this evidence.

(2) The defendant argued that several findings of fact were not supported by the evidence.  The Court rejected the defendant’s argument, as to all but one objected-to finding. The trial court’s finding that the trooper noted a strong odor of alcohol on the defendant’s person was supported by the trooper’s testimony and the affidavit and revocation report he prepared. The finding that the defendant “deceptively denied” consuming alcohol was supported by the trooper’s testimony that the defendant denied having anything to drink as contrasted with the evidence that the defendant had consumed alcohol. The finding that the alcosensor was in proper working order and properly calibrated was supported by the trooper’s testimony. The finding that the trooper formed an opinion that the defendant was appreciably impaired was supported by the trooper’s testimony that the defendant was impaired; the trooper’s omission of the modifier “appreciably” was “a mere slip of the tongue.” (Slip op at ¶ 19.)  And the trial court’s findings regarding the HGN test were supported by competent evidence.

The Court did not find evidentiary support for the finding that no other field tests were performed as a result of potential dangers from traffic.

The Court determined that the findings supported the trial court’s conclusion that the trooper had probable cause to arrest the defendant. Specifically, the Court pointed to the strong odor of alcohol, the positive alcosensor tests, and the HGN test revealing all six indications of impairment.

Although the trial court erred by admitting evidence of the numerical result of an Alco-sensor test during a pretrial hearing on the defendant’s motion to suppress, a new trial was not warranted. The numerical results were admitted only in the pre-trial hearing, not at trial and even without the numerical result, the State presented sufficient evidence to defeat the suppression motion.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the chemical analysis performed on the defendant’s breath with the Intoxilyzer 5000 on grounds that preventative maintenance was not performed on the machine at least every 4 months as required by the Department of Health and Human Services. Preventive maintenance was performed on July 14, 2006 and December 5, 2006. The court concluded that although the defendant’s argument might have had merit if the chemical analysis had occurred after November 14, 2006 (4 months after the July maintenance) and before December 5, 2006, it failed because the analysis at issue was done only 23 days after the December maintenance.

Show Table of Contents