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., 06/27/2024
E.g., 06/27/2024
State v. Snead, 368 N.C. 811 (Apr. 15, 2016)

Reversing a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, 239 N.C. App. 439 (2015), the court held, in this larceny case, that the State properly authenticated a surveillance video showing the defendant stealing shirts from a Belk department store. At trial Toby Steckler, a regional loss prevention manager for the store, was called by the State to authenticate the surveillance video. As to his testimony, the court noted:

Steckler established that the recording process was reliable by testifying that he was familiar with how Belk’s video surveillance system worked, that the recording equipment was “industry standard,” that the equipment was “in working order” on [the date in question], and that the videos produced by the surveillance system contain safeguards to prevent tampering. Moreover, Steckler established that the video introduced at trial was the same video produced by the recording process by stating that the State’s exhibit at trial contained exactly the same video that he saw on the digital video recorder. Because defendant made no argument that the video had been altered, the State was not required to offer further evidence of chain of custody. Steckler’s testimony, therefore, satisfied Rule 901, and the trial court did not err in admitting the video into evidence.

The court also held that the defendant failed to preserve for appellate review whether Steckler’s lay opinion testimony based on the video was admissible. 

In this New Hanover County case, defendant appealed his convictions for possession of burglary tools and attempted breaking and entering, arguing error in admitting evidence of a 2018 breaking and entering incident. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In November of 2020, defendant entered the backyard of a Wilmington home and attempted to open the door of a storage shed. The homeowner’s security camera alerted the homeowner, who then called 911. Defendant was later found by police in a neighbor’s yard with bolt cutters and a box cutter with a screwdriver head. During the trial, the prosecution introduced evidence of a 2018 incident where defendant pleaded guilty to breaking and entering a residential shed using a small knife. Despite defendant’s objections, the trial court admitted evidence of defendant’s guilty plea to the 2018 incident, as well as testimony from the investigating officer and surveillance video from the 2018 incident.  

On appeal, defendant first argued error by the trial court in admitting the testimony and video evidence of the 2018 incident. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the testimony and evidence were relevant and admissible under Rule 404(b) and not unfairly prejudicial under Rule 403. The court first examined defendant’s argument that the 2018 incident was not sufficiently similar to the 2020 incident to justify admitting the evidence. Using State v. Martin, 191 N.C. App. 462 (2008) as a guiding example, the court noted that here the similarities of breaking into a shed, after midnight, using similar tools, clearly met the Rule 404(b) requirement of similarity. Slip Op. at 12-13. The court also found the other two elements of Rule 404(b) were satisfied by the 2018 incident, as the prior incident had probative value for defendant’s intent to break into the shed, and the gap in time between the two incidents was not unusually long based on applicable precedent. After establishing admissibility under Rule 404(b), the court performed the Rule 403 analysis, finding no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s weighing of the danger of unfair prejudice verses probative value, and noting that the trial court carefully handled the process. 

Defendant’s second argument on appeal was that the 2018 video surveillance evidence was not properly authenticated. The court again disagreed, noting that under Rule of Evidence 901, tapes from surveillance cameras can be authenticated as “the accurate product of an automated process” as long as “[e]vidence that the recording process is reliable and that the video introduced at trial is the same video that was produced by the recording process” is admitted to support the video. Id. at 21, quoting State v. Snead, 368 N.C. 811, 814 (2016). Here the court found that the investigating officer’s testimony in support of the video satisfied the requirements for authentication. Additionally, the court noted that even if the video was not properly authenticated, defendant could not show prejudice due to the large amount of evidence supporting his conviction. 

Although admission of video evidence was error, it was not prejudicial error. An officer testified that the day after the incident in question he asked the manager of a convenience store for a copy of the surveillance video made by store cameras. The manager allowed the officer to review the video but was unable to copy it. The officer used the video camera function on his cell phone to make a copy of the surveillance footage, which was copied onto a computer. At trial, he testified that the copy of the cell phone video accurately showed the contents of the video that he had seen at the store. The store clerk also reviewed the video but was not asked any questions about the creation of the original video or whether it accurately depicted the events that he had observed on the day in question. The transcript reveals no testimony concerning the type of recording equipment used to make the video, its condition on the day in question, or its general reliability. No witness was asked whether the video accurately depicted events that he had observed, and no testimony was offered on the subject. As such, the State failed to offer a proper foundation for introduction of the video as either illustrative or substantive evidence. The court went on to find that introduction of the video was not prejudicial.

The trial court did not commit plain error by admitting store surveillance video in a safecracking case. Citing State v. Snead, 368 N.C. 811 (2016), the court held that the surveillance video was properly authenticated. The store manager testified that the surveillance system included 16 night vision cameras; he knew the cameras were working properly on the date in question because the time and date stamps were accurate; and a security company managed the system and routinely checked the network to make sure the cameras remained online. The store manager also testified that the video being offered into evidence at trial was the same video he viewed immediately following the incident and that it had not been edited or altered in any way. 

(1) The trial court properly admitted a videotape of a detective’s interview with the defendant for illustrative purposes. The detective testified that the video was a fair and accurate description of the interview. This met the requirements for authentication of a video used for illustrative purposes. (2) Citing the North Carolina Supreme Court’s recent decision in State v. Snead, the court held that a store surveillance video of a theft was properly authenticated. The State’s witness testified that the surveillance video system was functioning properly at the time and that the video introduced at trial was unedited.

State v. Cook, 218 N.C. App. 245 (Jan. 17, 2012)

For reasons discussed in the opinion, the court held that footage from a surveillance video was properly authenticated.

The trial court did not err by admitting a videotape of a controlled buy as substantive evidence where the State laid a proper foundation for the videotape. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State was required to proffer a witness to testify that the tape accurately depicted the events in question.

The trial court erred by allowing the State to introduce three photographs, which were part of a surveillance video, when the photographs were not properly authenticated. However, given the evidence of guilt, no plain error occurred.

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