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., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021
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. 

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