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., 07/19/2024
E.g., 07/19/2024

In this Randolph County case,  the Court of Appeals upheld defendant’s conviction for solicitation to commit first-degree murder, finding no prejudicial error by the trial court.

In 2018, defendant, a high school student, confessed to his girlfriend that he had homicidal thoughts towards several of his fellow students, and attempted to recruit his girlfriend to help him act on them. His girlfriend showed the messages they exchanged to her mother and the school resource officer, leading to further investigation that found defendant had a cache of guns and knives, as well as a detailed list of persons he wished to kill and methods he would use. When the matter came to trial, the state offered testimony from 11 of the 13 persons on the kill list, and during closing arguments made reference to the “current events” that were presumably mass shootings at high schools. Defendant was subsequently convicted in 2020.

Reviewing the appeal, the court first considered (a) defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence, reviewing whether defendant solicited his girlfriend for the crime. The court found sufficient evidence of solicitation, explaining that solicitation is an “attempt to conspire,” and the offense does not require fully communicating the details of the plan. Instead, once defendant proposed the killings he had planned to his girlfriend, and attempted to recruit her to assist, the offense was complete, despite the fact that he did not fully share his detailed plans. Slip Op. at 12-13.

The court next considered (b), dismissing defendant’s argument that the indictment fatally varied from the jury instruction; the court found that this was actually an attempt to present an instructional error “within the Trojan horse of a fatal variance.” Id. at 15. Considering (c), the court disagreed with defendant’s allegation that Rules of Evidence 401 and 402 barred admission of defendant’s drawings and notes of the Joker and weapons, and testimony from 11 of the potential victims. The drawings were relevant to show defendant’s state of mind and evaluate the nature of the potential crime, and the testimony was relevant to show the potential victims were real people and that defendant had the specific intent to commit the crime. Id. at 17-18. The court also considered (d) whether Rule of Evidence 403 barred admission of this evidence as prejudicial, finding no abuse of discretion as “the evidence served a probative function arguably above and beyond inflaming [the jury’s passions].” Id. at 20.

Considering the final issue (e), whether the trial court should have intervened ex mero moto during the state’s closing argument, the court found error but not prejudicial error. The court found error in the state’s closing argument when the prosecutor “appealed to the jury’s sympathies by describing the nature of the Joker and insinuating that [d]efendant was planning a mass shooting.” Id. at 25. The court presumed that these statements were intended to suggest that defendant’s conviction would assist in preventing another mass shooting, but noted that they did not rise to the level of prejudicial error due to the other factual details in the argument, and the “multiple items of physical evidence and segments of testimony evidencing [d]efendant’s intent.” Id. at 28.

Although statements made by a law enforcement officer during a videotaped interrogation of the defendant were not relevant, the defendant failed to show prejudice warranting a new trial. The court distinguished cases holding that statements by a law enforcement officer during a videotaped interrogation of the defendant are relevant to provide context for the defendant’s answers, noting, among other things, that in this case the defendant never made any concessions or admissions during the interrogation; instead, he repeatedly denied involvement in the crime. For the same reason, the officer’s statements were not relevant to show his interrogation techniques. Finally, because the defendant never wavered from his denials, the officer’s statements were not relevant to show that the defendant conceded the truth or changed his story.

The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to redact portions of a transcript of the defendant’s interrogation where the challenged statements were relevant. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court should have redacted statements made by the detective, finding that they provided context for the defendant’s responses. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the detective’s statements during the interrogation that the defendant was lying constituted improper opinion testimony on the defendant’s credibility and that of the State’s witnesses. 

Evidence of events leading up to the assault in question was relevant to complete the story of the crime.

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