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

In this capital case, the trial court did not err by allowing the State to elicit testimony that defense counsel had previously hired the State’s expert to testify on behalf of another client. The defendant argued that this allowed the State to improperly vouch for its expert’s credibility. The State’s expert testified that he disagreed with a defense expert’s opinion that the defendant suffers from mild intellectual disability. In light of the differences between the experts’ opinions it was proper to elicit testimony regarding potential witness bias or lack thereof. The court noted:

Although the trial court might have been better advised to have exercised its discretionary authority pursuant to . . . Rule 403, to limit the scope of the prosecutor’s inquiry to whether [the State’s expert] had previously worked for counsel representing criminal defendants in general rather than specifically identifying one of defendant’s trial counsel as an attorney to whom [the expert] had provided expert assistance, we are unable to say, given the record before us in this case, that the challenged testimony constituted impermissible prosecutorial vouching for [the expert]’s credibility or that the trial court erred by refusing to preclude the admission of the challenged testimony.

In this sexual assault case involving allegations that the defendant, a high school wrestling coach, sexually assaulted wrestlers, the trial court abused its discretion by excluding, under Rule 403, evidence that one of the victims was biased. The evidence in question had a direct relationship to the incident at issue. Here, the defendant did not seek to introduce evidence of completely unrelated sexual conduct at trial. Instead, the defendant sought to introduce evidence that the victim told “police and his wife that he was addicted to porn . . . [and had] an extramarital affair[,] . . . [in part] because of what [Defendant] did to him.” The defendant sought to use this evidence to show that the victim “had a reason to fabricate his allegations against Defendant – to mitigate things with his wife and protect his military career.” Thus, there was a direct link between the proffered evidence and the incident in question. The court went on to hold, however, that because of the strong evidence of guilt, no prejudice resulted from the trial court’s error.

State v. King, 366 N.C. 68 (June 14, 2012)

The court affirmed State v. King, 214 N.C. App. 114 (Aug. 2, 2011) (holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the State’s expert testimony regarding repressed memory under Rule 403). The trial court had concluded that although the expert’s testimony was “technically” admissible under Howerton and was relevant, it was inadmissible under Rule 403 because recovered memories are of “uncertain authenticity” and susceptible to alternative possible explanations. The trial court found that “the prejudicial effect [of the evidence] increases tremendously because of its likely potential to confuse or mislead the jury.” The supreme court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the repressed memory evidence under Rule 403. The court noted that its holding was case specific:

We promulgate here no general rule regarding the admissibility or reliability of repressed memory evidence under either Rule 403 or Rule 702. As the trial judge himself noted, scientific progress is “rapid and fluid.” Advances in the area of repressed memory are possible, if not likely, and even . . . [the] defendant’s expert, acknowledged that the theory of repressed memory could become established and that he would consider changing his position if confronted with a study conducted using reliable methodology that yielded evidence supporting the theory. Trial courts are fully capable of handling cases involving claims of repressed memory should new or different scientific evidence be presented.

In this murder case, the trial court committed reversible error by excluding, under Rule 403, testimony by a defense expert that certain incriminating computer files had been planted on the defendant’s computer. Temporary internet files recovered from the defendant’s computer showed that someone conducted a Google Map search on the laptop while it was at the defendant’s place of work the day before the victim was murdered. The Google Map search was initiated by someone who entered the zip code associated with the defendant's house, and then moved the map and zoomed in on the exact spot where the victim’s body later was found.

Even if a psychiatrist was not testifying as an expert, the trial court nevertheless acted within its discretion by excluding his testimony under Rule 403.

State v. Jacobs, 363 N.C. 815 (Mar. 12, 2010)

Holding that State v. Wilkerson, 148 N.C. App. 310, rev’d per curiam, 356 N.C. 418 (2002) (bare fact of the defendant’s conviction, even if offered for a proper Rule 404(b) purpose, must be excluded under Rule 403), did not require exclusion of certified copies of the victim’s convictions. Unlike evidence of the defendant’s conviction, evidence of the victim’s convictions does not encourage the jury to acquit or convict on an improper basis.

In this sexual assault case involving allegations that the defendant, a high school wrestling coach, sexually assaulted wrestlers, the trial court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting 404(b) evidence that the defendant engaged in hazing techniques against his wrestlers. The evidence involved testimony from wrestlers that the defendant choked-out and gave extreme wedgies to his wrestlers, and engaged in a variety of hazing activity, including instructing upperclassmen to apply muscle cream to younger wrestlers’ genitals and buttocks. The evidence was “highly probative” of the defendant’s intent, plan, or scheme to carry out the charged offenses. The court noted however “that the State eventually could have run afoul of Rule 403 had it continued to spend more time at trial on the hazing testimony or had it elicited a similar amount of 404(b) testimony on ancillary, prejudicial matters that had little or no probative value regarding the Defendant’s guilt” (citing State v. Hembree, 367 N.C. 2 (2015) (new trial where in part because the trial court “allow[ed] the admission of an excessive amount” of 404(b) evidence regarding “a victim for whose murder the accused was not currently being tried”). However, the court concluded that did not occur here.

In this drug trafficking case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting statements made by a confidential informant about the defendant’s distribution of drugs to a law enforcement officer for the limited purpose of explaining the course of the investigation. The statements were relevant and explain the steps taken by officers during the investigation. Further, the limiting instruction demonstrated that the trial court thoughtfully considered the nature of the testimony and how it could potentially be used by the jury.

State v. Waring, 364 N.C. 443 (Nov. 5, 2010)

In a capital murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to introduce for illustrative purposes 18 autopsy photographs of the victim. Cynthia Gardner, M.D. testified regarding her autopsy findings, identified the autopsy photos, and said they accurately depicted the body, would help her explain the location of the injuries, and accurately depicted the injuries to which Dr. Gardner had testified. The photos were relevant and probative, not unnecessarily repetitive, not unduly gruesome or inflammatory, and illustrated both Gardner’s testimony and the defendant’s statement to the investigators. 

The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and attempted first-degree murder. The opinion describes in detail the beatings inflicted with a bat by the defendant and two others on the deceased and her fiancé, who was severely injured but survived. The sole issue on appeal was whether the trial judge erred in admitting roughly fifty photographs of the crime scene displaying the victims’ injuries and blood throughout the house. The defendant argued that the trial judge erred in allowing an excessive number of bloody and gruesome photographs that had little probative value and were unfairly prejudicial under Rule 403 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence. The Court of Appeals held that the trial judge did not abuse its discretion in admitting the photographs. The Court stated, “‘Even gory or gruesome photographs are admissible so long as they are used for illustrative purposes and are not introduced solely to arouse the jurors’ passions’” (quoting State v. Hennis, 323 N.C. 279 (1988)). The Court ruled that the trial judge, having conducted an in camera review of the photographs and considered the defendant’s objections, completed its task of reviewing the content and manner in which the photographs were to be used and that the admission of the photographs reflected a thoroughly reasoned decision. The Court further ruled that the defendant was unable to show that the photographs were prejudicial because of other overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt.

In this murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting photographs of the victim and crime scene. The trial court allowed the State to introduce approximately 20 photographs depicting various angles and details of the crime scene and the victim’s location and injuries. The photographs corroborated the defendant’s statement to officers that the victim was attacked at her kitchen, suffered a head injury, and was stabbed multiple times. The autopsy photographs illustrated the testimony of the medical examiner, who described the injuries as consistent with multiple particular weapons, the defensive characteristics of some injuries, and the deliberate and persistent nature of the attack.

In an armed robbery case, the trial court did not err by admitting three photographs of the defendant and his tattoos, taken at the jail after his arrest. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the photographs should have been excluded under Rule 403 because they showed him in a jail setting. The court noted that the photographs did not clearly show the defendant in jail garb or in handcuffs; they only showed the defendant in a white t-shirt in a cinderblock room with large windows. Furthermore, the trial court specifically found that it was unable to determine from the pictures that they were taken in a jail.

In this multiple murder case the trial court properly admitted crime scene and autopsy photographs of the victims’ bodies. Forty-two crime scene photos were admitted to illustrate the testimony of the crime scene investigator who processed the scene. The trial court also admitted crime scene diagrams containing seven photographs. Additionally autopsy photos were admitted. The court easily concluded that the photos were relevant. Furthermore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding the photographs admissible over the defendant’s Rule 403 objection.

 

The trial court did not commit plain error under Rules 401 or 403 by admitting photographs of the murder victim’s body. The trial court admitted 28 photographs and diagrams of the interior of the home where the victim was found, 12 of which depicted the victim’s body. The trial court also admitted 11 autopsy photographs. An officer used the first set of photos to illustrate the position and condition of the victim’s body and injuries sustained. A forensic pathology expert testified to his observations while performing the autopsy and the photographs illustrated the condition of the body as it was received and during the course of the autopsy. The photographs had probative value and that value, in conjunction with testimony by the officer and the expert was not substantially outweighed by their prejudicial effect.

The trial court did not err in admitting four objected-to photographs of the crime scene where the defendant did not did not object to 23 other crime scene photographs, the four objected-to photographs depicted different perspectives of the scene and focused on different pieces of evidence, the State used the photographs in conjunction with testimony for illustrative purposes only, and the photographs were not used to inflame the jury’s passions. 

In this first-degree murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting the victim’s skeletal remains, specifically her skull, ribs, and femur. The court considered each set of bones, starting with the skull. It noted that admission of a homicide victim’s skull was an issue of first impression. Generally, however, evidence used to identify a victim is relevant and admissible at trial. Here, the State argued, in part, that it needed witness Curtis, who found the skull, to identify it so that other witnesses could identify other pertinent bones. Curtis positively identified the skull as the one he found in the woods, based on the front teeth. Here, the skull is relevant to the State’s case, illustrated Curtis’s testimony, and was properly admitted under Rule 403.

            As to the rib bones, the court noted that evidence showing the nature and number of the victim’s injuries is probative. Here, the State used the rib bones to illustrate the victim’s injuries, which the medical examiner concluded caused death. They thus were more probative than prejudicial and were properly admitted under Rule 403.

            Considering the femur, the court noted that biological items used in DNA testing generally are admissible. Here, the State used the femur to establish the identity of the victim through DNA testing and it was properly admitted under Rule 403.

In a first-degree murder trial, the trial court did not err by admitting a jail letter that the defendant wrote to an accomplice in “Crip” gang code. In the letter, the defendant asked the accomplice to kill a third accomplice because he was talking to police. Rejecting the defendant’s argument that the evidence should have been excluded under Rule 403, the court determined that the fact that the defendant solicited the murder of a State’s witness was highly relevant and that the defendant’s gang membership was necessary to understand the context and relevance of the letter, which had to be translated by an accomplice. Additionally, the trial court repeatedly instructed the jury that they were only to consider the gang evidence as an explanation for the note.

In a homicide case in which the defendant asserted self-defense, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence that the defendant had been selling drugs in the vicinity of the shooting and was affiliated with a gang. The evidence showed that both the defendant and the victim were gang members. The court held that gang affiliation and selling drugs were relevant to show that the defendant could have had a different objective in mind when the altercation took place and could refute the defendant’s claim of self-defense.

Following State v. Little, 191 N.C. App. 655 (2008), and State v. Jackson, 139 N.C. App. 721 (2000), and holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to introduce evidence of the defendant’s prior conviction in a felon in possession case where the defendant had offered to stipulate to the prior felony. The prior conviction, first-degree rape, was not substantially similar to the charged offenses so as to create a danger that the jury might generalize the defendant’s earlier bad act into a bad character and raise the odds that he perpetrated the charged offenses of drug possession, possession of a firearm by a felon, and carrying a concealed weapon.

Trial judge was not required to view a DVD before ruling on a Rule 403 objection to portions of an interview of the defendant contained on it. Trial judge did not abuse his discretion by refusing to redact portions of the DVD. However, the court “encourage[d] trial courts to review the content of recorded interviews before publishing them to the jury to ensure that all out-of-court statements contained therein are either admissible for a valid nonhearsay purpose or as an exception to the hearsay rule in order to safeguard against an end-run around the evidentiary and constitutional proscriptions against the admission of hearsay.” The court also “remind[ed] trial courts that the questions police pose during suspect interviews may contain false accusations, inherently unreliable, unconfirmed or false statements, and inflammatory remarks that constitute legitimate points of inquiry during a police investigation, but that would otherwise be inadmissible in open court.” It continued: “[A]s such, the wholesale publication of a recording of a police interview to the jury, especially law enforcement’s investigatory questions, might very well violate the proscriptions against admitting hearsay or Rule 403. In such instances, trial courts would need to redact or exclude the problematic portions of law enforcement's investigatory questions/statements.”

State v. Young, 368 N.C. 188 (Aug. 21, 2015)

In this murder case the court held that the court of appeals erred by concluding that the trial court committed reversible error in allowing into evidence certain materials from civil actions. The relevant materials included a default judgment and complaint in a wrongful death suit stating that the defendant killed the victim and a child custody complaint that included statements that the defendant had killed his wife. The court of appeals had held that admission of this evidence violated G.S. 1-149 (“[n]o pleading can be used in a criminal prosecution against the party as proof of a fact admitted or alleged in it”) and Rule 403. The court held that the defendant did not preserve his challenge to the admission of the child custody complaint on any grounds. It further held that the defendant failed to preserve his G.S. 1-149 objection as to the wrongful death evidence and that his Rule 403 objection as to this evidence lacked merit. On the 403 issue as to the wrongful death evidence, the court rejected the court of appeals’ reasoning that substantial prejudice resulting from this evidence “irreparably diminished” defendant’s presumption of innocence and “vastly outweighed [its] probative value.” Instead, the court found that evidence concerning the defendant’s response to the wrongful death and declaratory judgment action had material probative value. Although the evidence posed a significant risk of unfair prejudice, the trial court “explicitly instructed the jury concerning the manner in which civil cases are heard and decided, the effect that a failure to respond has on the civil plaintiff’s ability to obtain the requested relief, and the fact that ‘[t]he entry of a civil judgment is not a determination of guilt by any court that the named defendant has committed any criminal offense.’”

State v. Ford, 245 N.C. App. 510 (Feb. 16, 2016)

In this voluntary manslaughter case, where the defendant’s pit bull attacked and killed the victim, the trial court did not err by admitting a rap song recording into evidence. The defendant argued that the song was irrelevant and inadmissible under Rule 403, in that it contained profanity and racial epithets which offended and inflamed the jury’s passions. The song lyrics claimed that the victim was not killed by a dog and that the defendant and the dog were scapegoats for the victim’s death. The song was posted on social media and a witness identified the defendant as the singer. The State offered the song to prove that the webpage in question was the defendant’s page and that the defendant knew his dog was vicious and was proud of that characteristic (other items posted on that page declared the dog a “killa”). The trial court did not err by determining that the evidence was relevant for the purposes offered. Nor did it err in determining that probative value was not substantially outweighed by prejudice.

State v. Triplett, 368 N.C. 172 (Aug. 21, 2015)

Reversing the court of appeals in this murder and robbery case, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by prohibiting the defendant from introducing a tape-recorded voice mail message by the defendant’s sister, a witness for the State, to show her bias and attack her credibility. Although the court found that the voice mail message was minimally relevant to show potential bias, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its Rule 403 balancing. Because the sister was not a key witness for the State, any alleged bias on her part “becomes less probative.” The trial court properly weighed the evidence’s weak probative value against the confusion that could result by presenting the evidence, which related to a family feud that was tangential to the offenses being tried.

This Davidson County case involved the sexual abuse of a girl at ages 10 and 13. The defendant was the child’s grandfather. In addition to assaulting the child, the defendant also abused the child’s mother, his daughter. The child’s mother reportedly traded sex with her daughter for drugs from the defendant. The child’s mother cooperated with the investigation. She pled guilty pursuant to Alford to attempted felony child abuse on the condition that she truthfully testify against the defendant at his trial. Defense counsel thoroughly questioned the child’s mother regarding her plea arrangement, but the trial court sustained an objection to questions relating to the Alford aspect of the plea. It ruled that the evidence that the child’s mother took an Alford plea was not relevant and, if it was relevant, that it “did not survive the [Rule 403] balancing test.” Slip op. at 4. The defendant was convicted of all counts at trial and sentenced to a minimum term of 1200 months. The trial court also ordered lifetime sex offender registration and satellite-based monitoring without objection from the defendant. He appealed, challenging the trial court’s decision to exclude evidence of the Alford nature of the plea. He also sought certiorari review of the SBM order, as he failed to preserve his direct appeal of that issue.

(1) The defendant’s objection to the evidentiary ruling was preserved. While the defendant failed to make an offer of proof by conducting voir dire of the witness, the plea transcript with the agreement between the State and the child’s mother was made a part of the record. Trial counsel’s extensive questioning about the plea deal also made the objection obvious from context, thus preserving the issue for appellate review.

(2) The defendant claimed that the Alford plea was relevant to the credibility of the witness and that the trial court erred in sustaining the objection to that line of questioning, causing prejudicial error. The court assumed that the Alford nature of the plea was relevant evidence, but found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s exclusion of the evidence under Rule 403 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence as potentially confusing to the jury:

Under the circumstances of this case, we agree with the trial court that evidence [the] mother entered an Alford plea would serve to confuse the jury regarding the legal details of her plea. In particular, someone would have to explain the meaning of an Alford plea, and [the] mother’s own understanding of the exact meaning of an Alford plea may have been different that the technical legal meaning or the intent Defendant assumes she had. Slip. op. at 14.

(3) The defendant failed to object on any basis to the order imposing SBM at the time of its entry and failed to give written notice of appeal of the order (as required for civil matters such as SBM orders). He sought review via petition for writ of certiorari and asked the court to invoke Rule 2 of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure to reach the merits of his unpreserved argument. The court declined both requests and dismissed the argument, finding the circumstances did not warrant the “extraordinary steps” of both granting certiorari and invoking Rule 2.  

Judge Murphy wrote separately to concur. According to him, the trial court erred in finding the Alford plea evidence irrelevant. The trial court further erred in conducting a Rule 403 balancing test after it found the evidence irrelevant and excluding the evidence on the basis of Rule 403 was an abuse of discretion. However, these errors were not prejudicial under the circumstances of the case.

State v. Alonzo, ___ N.C. App. __, 819 S.E.2d 584 (Aug. 21, 2018) modified and affirmed on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Feb 28 2020)

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by finding that the defendant’s proffered testimony was not relevant. The defendant was charged with committing sexual acts on his daughter Sandy while home from the military on compassionate leave. At trial, the defendant attempted to testify that the reason for his compassionate leave was the rape of his other daughter by a neighbor. The defendant argued that his testimony constituted substantive evidence showing that he did not sexually assault the victim during his compassionate leave and would have allowed him to impeach his ex-wife, Ms. Alonzo, who testified that she witnessed the abuse. Specifically, he asserted that his testimony informing the jury of the sexual assault of his other daughter proves that he “would have been sufficiently deterred” from molesting Sandy during that same time period as “Ms. Alonzo [was] watching him like a hawk.” He further asserted that the testimony would “discredit[] Ms. Alonzo’s testimony” that she saw him sexually assault Sandy, making her explanation for not contacting the police after witnessing his acts “less convincing.” The trial court excluded the testimony under Rules 401 and 403.

     The court made swift work of the defendant’s Rule 401 argument, concluding that his proposed testimony does not have a logical tendency to prove that Defendant would not have sexually molested Sandy. The court went on to conclude that even if the testimony was relevant, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding it under Rule 403. The court explained: “The testimony concerning the sexual assault of another child by an unrelated, third-party had the potential to confuse the jury, outweighing any probative value.”

     The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that his testimony could have been used to impeach Ms. Alonzo. Specifically, he argued that because Ms. Alonzo reported the sexual assault of their other daughter by a neighbor, she therefore would have reported any assault she witnessed him commit. Defendant further alleged that because Ms. Alonzo did not file any reports, the jury could have therefore determined there was no sexual assault. The court rejected this argument, concluding: “Ms. Alonzo turning in a neighbor for sexual assault is entirely different, psychologically and emotionally, than turning in her husband. Without an established correlation between turning in neighbors and husbands for sexual assault, Defendant’s proposed testimony does not ‘have a logical tendency to prove’ that Ms. Alonzo was incorrect or untruthful in her testimony.” Moreover, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding this testimony under Rule 403. The court explained: “As previously stated, testimony concerning the sexual assault of another child by an unrelated, third-party had the potential to confuse the jury, outweighing any probative value.”

When a trial court properly determines, pursuant to Evidence Rule 403, that the probative value of evidence about a victim’s sexual history is substantially outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice, the trial court does not err by excluding the evidence, regardless of whether it falls within the scope of the Rape Shield Rule. The defendant was convicted of second-degree sexual offense. On appeal he argued that the trial court erred by denying his ability to cross-examine the victim regarding the victim’s commission of sexual assault when he was a child. Specifically, the victim had told an officer that he had sexually assaulted his half-sister when he was eight or nine years old and thereafter was placed in a facility until he reached 18 years old. The defendant asserted that the victim’s statement about this assault was admissible for impeachment because it was inconsistent with the victim’s previous statements to law enforcement about how and when he was removed from his home as a child. The trial court found that the victim’s statement about sexually assaulting his sister was evidence of prior sexual behavior protected by the Rape Shield Law and also was inadmissible because any probative value is substantially outweighed by the likelihood of unfair prejudice and confusion to the jury. The court declined to address the defendant’s argument that a prior sexual assault committed by a victim is not protected under the Rape Shield law, concluding instead that the trial court properly excluded the evidence under Rule 403. The sexual behavior at issue occurred more than a decade earlier and involved no factual elements similar to the charges in question. The incident is disturbing and highly prejudicial and the circumstances of the victim’s removal from his family home as a child are of remote relevance to the offense charged. Moreover, other evidence, including testimony that the defendant’s DNA matched a swab taken from the victim shortly after the assault, render the victim’s inconsistent statements about facts less relevant to the contested factual issues at trial, namely the defendant’s denial that any sexual encounter occurred. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that exclusion of this evidence impermissibly prevented the jury from hearing evidence that the victim was not a virgin of the time of the offense, contrary to his statement to the defendant that he was a virgin. 

State v. Bishop, 241 N.C. App. 545 (June 16, 2015) rev’d on other grounds, 368 N.C. 869 (Jun 10 2016)

In this cyberbullying case based on electronic messages, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence the defendant’s Facebook posts that, among other things, stated that “there’s no empirical evidence that your Jesus ever existed.” The comments were relevant to show the defendant’s intent to intimidate or torment the victim, as well as the chain of events causing the victim’s mother to contact the police. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the posts were overly inflammatory.

In this murder case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the probative value of a recorded telephone call made by the defendant to his father was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. During the call, the defendant’s father asked: “Now who you done shot now?” and “That same gun, right?”

The trial court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting the defendant’s recorded interview with a police detective. Noting that the fact that evidence is prejudicial to the defendant does not make it unfairly so, the court concluded that the evidence’s probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

In a first-degree murder trial, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to exclude, under Rule 403, evidence of the defendant’s mid-trial escape attempt. The court reasoned: “[T]he jury may have inferred from the fact that defendant attempted to escape that defendant was guilty of the charges against him. That inference is precisely the inference that makes evidence of flight relevant and it is not an unfair inference to draw.”

State v. Jones, 223 N.C. App. 487 (Nov. 20, 2012) aff’d, 367 N.C. 299 (Mar 7 2014)

In an identity theft case where the defendant was alleged to have used credit card numbers belonging to several victims, the trial court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting evidence that the defendant also was in possession of debit and EBT cards belonging other persons to show intent.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting a recording of phone calls between the defendant and other persons that were entirely in Spanish. The defendant argued that because there was one Spanish-speaking juror, the jurors should have been required to consider only the certified English translation of the recording. 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting, for purposes of corroboration, a testifying witness’s prior consistent statement. The court noted that although the statement was prejudicial to the defendant’s case, mere prejudice is not the determining factor under Rule 403; rather, the issue is whether unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value. 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 403 by admitting the defendant’s statement to an arresting officer that if the officer had come later the defendant “would have been gone and you would have never saw me again.”

In a murder case involving a shooting, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing a detective to give lay opinion testimony concerning the calibers of bullets recovered at the crime scene. Although the testimony was prejudicial, the trial judge correctly ruled that its probative value (helping the jury understand the physical evidence) was not substantially outweighed by the degree of prejudice.

The trial judge did not err under Rule 403 in excluding evidence of the victim’s alleged false accusation that another person had raped her. The circumstances surrounding that accusation were different from those at issue in the trial and the evidence could have caused confusion.

(1) In this sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by excluding the defendant’s evidence that the victim had previously been sexually active that her parents punished her for this activity. The defendant did not argue that the victim’s past sexual activity was admissible under one of the four exceptions to the Rape Shield statute. Rather, he argued that her past sexual activity and parental punishment for it was relevant to show that she had a motive to fabricate accusations against him. Here, the evidence showed that the victim had not engaged in sexual activity for several months prior to the incident at issue. The victim’s parents knew that she had been sexually active for several years prior to the incident and the victim testified that she was not worried about being punished for engaging in sexual conduct. No evidence tied her past sexual activity or parental punishment to the incident in question. Additionally, unlike other cases where evidence of sexual activity was deemed admissible, this case did not turn primarily on the victim’s testimony. Here, there was other “compelling physical evidence submitted by the State” including, among other things, DNA evidence and GPS records. (2) The trial court did not violate the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense by excluding irrelevant evidence.

The trial court committed plain error during the habitual felon phase of a trial by admitting into evidence plea transcripts for the defendant’s prior felony convictions without redacting irrelevant information pertaining to the defendant's prior drug use, mental health counseling, and lenient sentencing. However, no prejudicial error occurred. The court expressly declined to determine whether admission of the transcripts violated G.S. 15A-1025.

Admission of the defendant’s statements did not violate Evidence Rule 410 where it did not appear that the defendant thought that he was negotiating a plea with the prosecuting attorney or with the prosecutor’s express authority when he made the statements at a court hearing. Instead, the statements were made in the course of the defendant’s various requests to the trial court.

G.S. 15A-1025 (the fact that the defendant or counsel and the prosecutor engaged in plea discussions or made a plea arrangement may not be received in evidence) was violated when the prosecutor asked the defendant whether he was charged with misdemeanor larceny as a result of a plea bargain.

State v. Jacobs, 370 N.C. 661 (Apr. 6, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 798 S.E.2d 532 (2017), the court reversed, holding that at the trial court erred by excluding defense evidence of the victim’s history of STDs. The case involved allegations that the defendant had sexual relations with the victim over a period of several years. Evidence showed that the victim had contracted Trichomonas vaginalis and the Herpes simplex virus, Type II, but that testing of the defendant showed no evidence of those STDs. At trial the defense proffered as an expert witness a doctor who was a certified specialist in infectious diseases who opined, in part, that given this, it was unlikely that the victim and the defendant had engaged in unprotected sexual activity over a long period of time. The trial court determined that the defendant could not introduce any STD evidence unless the State open the door. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by excluding this evidence. The Supreme Court reversed and ordered a new trial. The Rule 412(b)(2) exception allows for admission of “evidence of specific instances of sexual behavior offered for the purpose of showing that the act or acts charged were not committed by the defendant.” The court concluded:

The proposed expert’s conclusions regarding the presence of STDs in the victim and the absence of those same STDs in defendant affirmatively permit an inference that defendant did not commit the charged crime. Furthermore, such evidence diminishes the likelihood of a three-year period of sexual relations between defendant and [the victim]. Therefore, the trial court erred in excluding this evidence pursuant to Rule 412 and there is “a reasonable possibility that, had the error not been committed, a different result would have been reached at trial.”

When a trial court properly determines, pursuant to Evidence Rule 403, that the probative value of evidence about a victim’s sexual history is substantially outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice, the trial court does not err by excluding the evidence, regardless of whether it falls within the scope of the Rape Shield Rule. The defendant was convicted of second-degree sexual offense. On appeal he argued that the trial court erred by denying his ability to cross-examine the victim regarding the victim’s commission of sexual assault when he was a child. Specifically, the victim had told an officer that he had sexually assaulted his half-sister when he was eight or nine years old and thereafter was placed in a facility until he reached 18 years old. The defendant asserted that the victim’s statement about this assault was admissible for impeachment because it was inconsistent with the victim’s previous statements to law enforcement about how and when he was removed from his home as a child. The trial court found that the victim’s statement about sexually assaulting his sister was evidence of prior sexual behavior protected by the Rape Shield Law and also was inadmissible because any probative value is substantially outweighed by the likelihood of unfair prejudice and confusion to the jury. The court declined to address the defendant’s argument that a prior sexual assault committed by a victim is not protected under the Rape Shield law, concluding instead that the trial court properly excluded the evidence under Rule 403. The sexual behavior at issue occurred more than a decade earlier and involved no factual elements similar to the charges in question. The incident is disturbing and highly prejudicial and the circumstances of the victim’s removal from his family home as a child are of remote relevance to the offense charged. Moreover, other evidence, including testimony that the defendant’s DNA matched a swab taken from the victim shortly after the assault, render the victim’s inconsistent statements about facts less relevant to the contested factual issues at trial, namely the defendant’s denial that any sexual encounter occurred. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that exclusion of this evidence impermissibly prevented the jury from hearing evidence that the victim was not a virgin of the time of the offense, contrary to his statement to the defendant that he was a virgin. 

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by precluding the defendant from cross-examining the State’s expert witness about information in the treatment records regarding the child’s sexual activity with partners other than the defendant. The defendant unsuccessfully sought to cross-examine an expert who testified that the victim suffered from PTSD about information she learned regarding the victim’s sexual activity with other individuals. During voir dire the expert testified that any information about the victim’s consensual sexual activity with others did not play a role and was not relevant to her PTSD diagnosis. The trial court found the evidence to be irrelevant. The court noted that having so found, the trial court was not required to proceed under a Rule 403 balancing test.

In this sexual assault case involving allegations that the defendant, a high school wrestling coach, sexually assaulted wrestlers, the trial court erred by excluding evidence that one of the victims was biased. The defendant sought to introduce evidence showing that the victim had a motive to falsely accuse the defendant. The trial court found the evidence irrelevant because it did not fit within one of the exceptions of the Rape Shield Statute. The court concluded that this was error, noting that the case was “indistinguishable” “in any meaningful way” from State v. Martin, __ N.C. App. __, 774 S.E.2d 330 (2015) (trial court erred by concluding that evidence was per se it admissible because it did not fall within one of the Rape Shield Statute’s exceptions). The court went on to hold, however, that because of the strong evidence of guilt, no prejudice resulted from the trial court’s errors.

(1) In this child sex case, evidence that the victim was discovered watching a pornographic video, offered by the defendant to show the victim’s sexual knowledge, is not evidence of sexual activity barred by the Rape Shield Statute. (2) Evidence offered by the defendant of the child victim’s prior allegations and inconsistent statements about sexual assaults committed by others who were living in the house were not barred by the Rape Shield Statute, and the trial court erred by excluding this evidence. False accusations do not fall within the scope of the Rape Shield Statute and may be admissible to attack the victim’s credibility. The court was careful however not to “hold the statements necessarily should have been admitted into evidence at trial;” it indicated that whether the victim’s “prior allegations and inconsistent statements come into the evidence at trial should be determined on retrial subject to a proper Rule 403 analysis.”

In this sexual offense with a student case, the trial court committed reversible error by concluding that the defendant’s evidence was per se inadmissible under the Rape Shield Rule. The case involved charges that the defendant, a substitute teacher, had the victim perform oral sex on him after he caught her in the boys’ locker room. At trial the defendant sought to introduce evidence that when he found the victim in the locker room, she was performing oral sex on football players. He sought to introduce this evidence to show that the victim had a motive to falsely accuse him of sexual assault. After an in camera hearing the trial court concluded that the evidence was per se inadmissible because it did not fit under the Rape Shield Rule’s four exceptions. Citing case law, the court determined that “that there may be circumstances where evidence which touches on the sexual behavior of the complainant may be admissible even though it does not fall within one of the categories in the Rape Shield Statute.” Here, the defendant’s defense was that he did not engage in any sexual behavior with the victim but that she fabricated the story to hide the fact that he caught her performing oral sex on the football players in the locker room. The court continued:

Where the State’s case in any criminal trial is based largely on the credibility of a prosecuting witness, evidence tending to show that the witness had a motive to falsely accuse the defendant is certainly relevant. The motive or bias of the prosecuting witness is an issue that is common to criminal prosecutions in general and is not specific to only those crimes involving a type of sexual assault.

       The trial court erred by concluding that the evidence was inadmissible per se because it did not fall within one of the four categories in the Rape Shield Statute. Here, the trial court should have looked beyond the four categories to determine whether the evidence was, in fact, relevant to show [the victim]’s motive to falsely accuse Defendant and, if so, conducted a balancing test of the probative and prejudicial value of the evidence under Rule 403 or was otherwise inadmissible on some other basis (e.g., hearsay). (footnote omitted).

In a rape case, the trial court erred by excluding defense evidence that the victim and her neighbor had a consensual sexual encounter the day before the rape occurred. This prior sexual encounter was relevant because it may have provided an alternative explanation for the existence of semen in her vagina; “because the trial court excluded relevant evidence under Rule 412(b)(2), it committed error.” However, the court went on to conclude that no prejudice occurred, in part because multiple DNA tests identified the defendant as the perpetrator.

In the context of an appeal from a contempt proceeding, the court held that by asking the victim at trial about a possible prior instance of rape between the victim and a cousin without first addressing the relevance and admissibility of the question during an in camera hearing, defense counsel violated the Rape Shield Statute.

The trial court did not err by sustaining the State’s objection under the Rape Shield Statute. After the victim had already testified that she was unsure whether her aborted child was fathered by the defendant or her boyfriend, the defense questioned a witness in order to show that the victim had sexual relations with a third man. Introducing such evidence would not have shown that the alleged acts were not committed by defendant given evidence that already had been admitted. Additional evidence would have only unnecessarily humiliated and embarrassed the victim while having little probative value. 

(1) In a child sex case, the trial judge did not err by limiting the defendant’s cross-examination of the prosecuting witness regarding inconsistent statements about her sexual history, made to the police and medical personnel. The evidence did not fit within any exception to Rule 412. The court went on to hold that any probative value of the evidence for impeachment purposes was outweighed by its prejudicial effect. (2) The trial court did not err by refusing to admit the victim’s unredacted medical records containing statements regarding her prior sexual history, given that the records had little if any probative value.

The trial judge did not err under Rule 412 in excluding evidence of the victim’s prior sexual activity with a boy named C.T. and with her boyfriend. As to the activity with C.T., the defendant failed to offer evidence that it occurred during the in camera hearing (when the victim denied having sex with C.T.), or at trial. Additionally, the defendant failed to establish the relevance of the sexual activity when it allegedly occurred shortly before the incidents at issue but the victim’s scarring indicated sexual activity that had occurred a month or more earlier. As to the sexual activity with the boyfriend, the defendant failed to present evidence during the in camera hearing that the activity could have caused the victim’s internal scarring.

In a child sex case, the defendant proffered evidence of a third person’s sexual abuse of the victim as an alternative explanation for the victim’s physical trauma. The trial judge properly excluded this evidence under Rule 412(b)(2) because it did not show that the third person’s abuse involved penetration and thus an alternative explanation for the trauma to the victim’s vaginal area.

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