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., 07/20/2024
E.g., 07/20/2024
State v. Bass, 371 N.C. 535 (Oct. 26, 2018)

On appeal from a decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 802 S.E.2d 477 (2017), the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court properly excluded specific instances of the victim’s violent conduct for the purpose of proving that he was the first aggressor. The charges arose from the defendant’s shooting of the victim. The defendant asserted self-defense. In his case in chief, the defendant sought to introduce testimony describing specific instances of violent conduct by the victim, specifically testimony from three witnesses about times when they had experienced or witnessed the victim’s violent behavior. The trial court excluded this evidence but allowed each witness to testify to his or her opinion of the victim’s character for violence and the victim’s reputation in the community. Construing the relevant evidence rules, the Supreme Court determined that character is not an essential element of self-defense. Therefore, with regard to a claim of self-defense, the victim’s character may not be proved by evidence of specific acts. Here, the excluded evidence consisted of specific incidents of violence committed by the victim. Because Rule 405 limits the use of specific instances of past conduct to cases in which character is an essential element of the charge, claim, or defense, the trial court properly excluded testimony regarding these specific prior acts of violence by the victim.

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

In a murder and attempted armed robbery trial, the trial court erred when it excluded the defendant’s proposed testimony that he knew of certain violent acts by the victim and of the victim’s time in prison. This evidence was relevant to the defendant’s claim of self-defense to the murder charge and to his contention that he did not form the requisite intent for attempted armed robbery because “there is a greater disincentive to rob someone who has been to prison or committed violent acts.” The evidence was admissible under Rule 404(b) because it related to the defendant’s state of mind. 

State v. McKoy, 2022-NCCOA-60, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Feb. 1, 2022) aff’d, 71A22, ___ N.C. ___ (Sep 1 2023)

In this Durham County case, the defendant was found guilty by a jury of voluntary manslaughter. The charge arose out of the defendant’s shooting of Augustus Brandon, a long-time acquaintance that the defendant generally tried to avoid because of his perceived criminal and gang activity. In December 2016, the defendant was driving when he saw Brandon drive past him. Brandon turned his car around, followed the defendant, pulled in front of him, and then stopped his car in front of the defendant’s. When Brandon began approaching the defendant’s car, which had become stuck in a ditch, the defendant “just panicked” and fired his semi-automatic rifle three times, hitting Brandon once in the back and once in the back of the head, killing him. Mr. Brandon was unarmed. At trial, the jury was instructed on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter. The jury returned a verdict of voluntary manslaughter. 

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by granting the State’s motion in limine regarding text messages and photographs on the victim’s cell phone. The State had asserted that the evidence—which pertained to the victim’s past violent acts and ownership and use of guns—would be more prejudicial than probative because specific acts of conduct are impermissible to prove a victim’s propensity for violence. The defendant argued that the State had opened the door to admission of the cell-phone evidence by introducing testimony about Brandon’s personality through his parents’ testimony, and that the evidence was admissible to impeach the victim’s father’s testimony that he did not previously know his son had possessed a gun.

The Court of Appeals concluded over a dissent that even if the cell-phone evidence was excluded in error, any error would not be sufficiently prejudicial to warrant a new trial, because the defendant did not show a reasonable possibility that a different result would have been reached had the error not occurred. Other admissible evidence supported the defendant’s theory of self-defense, including the defendant’s own testimony about Brandon’s reputation for “gang bang[ing] and tot[ing] guns,” a previous incident in which Brandon showed the defendant a video of himself shooting a gun, and the fact that he was “terrified” at the time of the shooting. ¶ 23. Additionally, the evidence showed that even if the defendant was honestly in fear for his life, the degree of force he used was more than reasonably necessary—Brandon was unarmed and running away from the defendant when he was shot, and the defendant testified that he never saw Brandon holding a gun that day. In the absence of prejudicial error, the defendant’s conviction stood.

Judge Tyson dissented to say that he would have concluded that the State opened the door to the admission of the photos and texts from the victim’s phone when it introduced testimony from Brandon’s parents about his lack of guns and reputation for peacefulness and being a “happy guy.” The exclusion of that evidence, he argued, prejudiced the defendant’s right to present his defense by easing the State’s burden of proving that the defendant used unreasonable force.

In this murder case, the trial court did not err by excluding the defendant’s proffered evidence about the victim’s gang membership. The defendant asserted that the evidence was relevant to self-defense. However, none of the proffered evidence pertained to anything that the defendant actually knew at the time of the incident.

State v. McGrady, 232 N.C. App. 95 (Jan. 21, 2014) review granted, 367 N.C. 505 (Jun 11 2014)

In murder case involving a claim of self-defense, the trial court did not err by excluding the defense expert testimony, characterized by the defendant as pertaining to the victim’s proclivity toward violence. The court noted that where self-defense is at issue, evidence of a victim’s violent or dangerous character may be admitted under Rule 404(a)(2) when such character was known to the accused or the State’s evidence is entirely circumstantial and the nature of the transaction is in doubt. The court concluded that the witness’s testimony did not constitute evidence of the victim’s character for violence. On voir dire, the witness testified only that that the victim was an angry person who had thoughts of violence; the witness admitted having no information that the victim actually had committed acts of violence. Additionally, the court noted, there was no indication that the defendant knew of the victim’s alleged violent nature and the State’s case was not entirely circumstantial. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s ruling deprived him of a right to present a defense, noting that right is not absolute and defendants do not have a right to present evidence that the trial court, in its discretion, deems inadmissible under the evidence rules. 

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