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
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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