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., 06/20/2024
E.g., 06/20/2024
State v. Bowman, 372 N.C. 439 (Aug. 16, 2019)

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 818 S.E.2d 718 (2018), the Supreme Court held that the trial court violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him. In this murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a firearm by a felon case, the trial judge erred by limiting the defendant’s ability to question the State’s principal witness about whether she expected to receive a favorable plea offer for drug trafficking charges pending in Guilford County in exchange for her testimony against the defendant in Forsyth County. In a voir dire hearing, the defendant showed that prosecutors in the two counties had been in touch by email and discussed a possible plea deal for the witness in Guilford based on her testimony at the defendant’s trial. By limiting the witness’s testimony about this possible deal, the trial court prohibited the jury from considering evidence that could have shown bias on the witness’s part, and thus violated the defendant’s confrontation rights. The court distinguished previous cases in which it had deemed similar errors harmless, reasoning that this involved a limit on the testimony of the State’s principal witness. Moreover there was no physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime and no other witness placing him at the scene. As a result, the court concluded that the trial judge’s error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision to vacate the verdict and order a new trial.

Justice Ervin, joined by Justice Newby, dissented, writing that the trial judge allowed ample cross-examination of the witness about her pending charges in Guilford County, and that the limitations the court imposed were an appropriate exercise of its discretion to control the scope and extent of cross-examination to prevent confusion and eliminate undue repetition.

In this Wake County case, defendant appealed his convictions for first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, and associated crimes, arguing error in (1) the limitation of his cross-examination of the State’s psychiatry expert, and (2) denial of his request for a special jury instruction on insanity. The Court of Appeals majority found no error.  

During a violent period in August of 2015, defendant stole two vehicles, robbed and shot a man at a motel, robbed and shot another man at a pawn shop, kidnapped and raped a fifteen-year-old girl, and robbed a food store. Defendant was ultimately arrested in New York driving one of the stolen vehicles, and extradited back to North Carolina, where he was committed to Central Regional Hospital for an examination on his capacity to proceed to trial. Initially defendant was found incapable of proceeding, and he was involuntarily committed in February of 2018. In February of 2020, the State moved to have defendant forcibly medicated, and the trial court held a hearing under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003). At the Sell hearing, the State’s expert testified about defendant’s mental illness and whether he should be forcibly medicated, but the hearing was continued, and defendant began voluntarily taking his medication again before the hearing was concluded. Defendant came to trial in July 2020 and presented the defense of insanity. Defense counsel sought to cross-examine the State’s expert on her testimony during the Sell hearing. The State objected under Rule of Evidence 403, and the trial court directed defense counsel to avoid any questions related to the Sell hearing or forcible medication. When the parties met for the charge conference, defense counsel requested an addition to N.C.P.I. – Crim. 304.10 (regarding insanity), referring to commitment procedure if he was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity. The State objected to this addition, and agreed to avoid misrepresenting how quickly defendant might be released during closing argument. Defense counsel went on to provide the same argument requested in the special jury instruction during closing argument. Defendant was found guilty of all charges, and appealed. 

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals noted that defendant’s argument was focused on “[the expert’s] testimony that defendant needed to be forcibly medicated to regain his capacity to proceed.” Slip Op. at 13. The State used this expert’s testimony to rebut defendant’s defense of insanity, and defense counsel had attempted to impeach the expert with her testimony from the Sell hearing that defendant needed forcible medication. The court rejected defendant’s argument that excluding this line of questioning violated defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights, pointing out the jury was aware of defendant’s mental illness and the expert’s history of evaluating defendant, and “defendant was not limited in attacking [the expert’s] credibility or asking about the differences between her previous testimony at the hearing and her subsequent testimony at trial.” Id. at 16. The court went further, explaining that even if the Sell hearing and forcible medication were relevant, the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighed its probative value.  

Reviewing (2) defendant’s special jury instruction request, the court again disagreed, noting “[h]ere, the pattern jury instruction on commitment procedures, N.C.P.I. – Crim. 304.10, sufficiently encompasses the substance of the law.” Id. at 18. Holding that defendant’s situation did not justify altering the instruction, the court explained “[d]efendant’s case is neither so exceptional nor extraordinary such that the pattern jury instruction on commitment procedures fails to adequately encompass the law or risks misleading the jury.” Id.

Judge Hampson dissented and would have allowed cross-examination on the Sell hearing. 

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his confrontation clause rights were violated when the trial court released an out-of-state witness from subpoena. The State subpoenaed the witness from New York to testify at the trial. The witness testified at trial and the defendant had an opportunity to cross-examine him. After the witness stepped down from the witness stand, the State informed the trial court judge that the defense had attempted to serve a subpoena on the witness the day before. The State argued that the subpoena was invalid. The witness refused to speak with the defense outside of court and the trial court required the defense to decide whether to call the individual as a witness before 2:00 p.m. that day. When the appointed time arrived, the defense indicated it had not yet decided whether it would be calling the individual as a witness and the trial court judge released the witness from the summons. The defendant’s confrontation rights were not violated where the witness was available at trial and the defendant had the opportunity to cross-examine him. Additionally, under G.S. 15A-814, the defendant’s subpoena was invalid. 

The trial court did not violate the defendant’s confrontation rights by barring him from cross-examining two of the State's witnesses, Moore and Jarrell, about criminal charges pending against them in counties in different prosecutorial districts than the district in which defendant was tried. The court noted that the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation generally protects a defendant’s right to cross-examine a State's witness about pending charges in the same prosecutorial district as the trial to show bias in favor of the State, since the jury may understand that pending charges may be used by the State as a weapon to control the witness. However, the trial judge has wide latitude to impose reasonable limits on such cross-examination based on, for example, concern that such interrogation is only marginally relevant. Here, the defendant failed to provide any evidence of discussions between the district attorney's office in the trial county and district attorneys' offices in the other counties where the two had pending charges. Additionally, Jarrell testified on cross-examination and Moore testified on voir dire that each did not believe testifying in this case could help them in any way with proceedings in other counties. On these facts, the court concluded that testimony regarding the witnesses' pending charges in other counties was, at best, marginally relevant. Moreover, the court noted, both Jarrell and Moore were thoroughly impeached on a number of other bases separate from their pending charges in other counties.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him was violated when the trial court refused to permit defense counsel to cross examine the defendant’s accomplices about conversations they had with their attorneys regarding charge concessions the State would make to them if they testified against the defendant. The court held that the accomplices’ private conversations with their attorneys were protected by the attorney-client privilege and that the privilege was not waived when the accomplices took the stand to testify against the defendant.

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