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., 06/27/2024
E.g., 06/27/2024

In a plurality opinion the Court affirmed the holding below that the defendant’s confrontation clause rights were not violated when the State’s DNA expert testified to an opinion based on a report done by a non-testifying analyst. The defendant Sandy Williams was charged with, among things, sexual assault of L.J. After the incident in question L.J. was taken to the emergency room, where a doctor performed a vaginal exam and took vaginal swabs. The swabs and other evidence were sent to the Illinois State Police (ISP) Crime Lab for testing and analysis. An analyst confirmed the presence of semen in the swabs. About six months later, the defendant was arrested on unrelated charges and a blood sample was drawn from him pursuant to a court order. An analyst extracted a DNA profile from the sample and entered it into ISP Crime Lab database. Meanwhile, L.J.’s swabs from the earlier incident were sent to Cellmark Diagnostic Laboratory for DNA analysis. Cellmark returned the swabs to the ISP Crime Lab, having derived a DNA profile for the person whose semen was recovered from L.J. At trial, ISP forensic biologist Sandra Lambatos testified as an expert for the State. Lambatos indicated that it is a commonly accepted practice in the scientific community for one DNA expert to rely on the records of another DNA analyst to complete her work and that Cellmark’s testing and analysis methods were generally accepted in the scientific community. Over a defense objection, Lambatos then testified to the opinion that the DNA profile received from Cellmark matched the defendant’s DNA profile from the blood sample in the ISP database. Cellmark’s report was not introduced into evidence. Also, while Lambatos referenced documents she reviewed in forming her opinion, she did not read the contents of the Cellmark report into evidence. At the conclusion of Lambatos’ testimony, the defendant moved to strike the evidence of Cellmark’s testing based upon a violation of his confrontation clause rights. The motion was denied and the defendant was convicted. On appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court the defendant again argued that Lambatos’ testimony violated his rights under Crawford and Melendez-Diaz. The Illinois court disagreed, reasoning that because the Cellmark report supplied a basis for Lambatos’ opinion, it was not admitted for the truth of the matter asserted. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed. Justice Alito wrote the plurality opinion, which was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy and Breyer. The plurality determined that no confrontation clause violation occurred for two reasons. First, the Cellmark report fell outside of the scope of the confrontation clause because it was not introduced for the truth of the matter asserted. In this respect, the plurality was careful to distinguish the Court’s prior decisions in Bullcoming and Melendez-Diaz, which it characterized as involving forensic reports that were introduced for that purpose. Second, the plurality concluded that no confrontation clause violation occurred because the report was non-testimonial. Justice Thomas concurred in judgment only. He agreed that the report was non-testimonial, though he reached this conclusion through different reasoning. Thomas disagreed with that portion of the plurality opinion concluding that the report was not introduced for the truth for the matter asserted. Justices Kagan, Scalia, Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented, noting among other things, the “significant confusion” created by the fractured opinion.

In a straightforward application of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (June 25, 2009) (holding that forensic laboratory reports are testimonial and thus subject to Crawford), the Court held that substitute analyst testimony in an impaired driving case violated Crawford. The defendant was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Evidence against him included a forensic laboratory report certifying that his blood-alcohol concentration was well above the threshold for aggravated DWI. At trial, the prosecution did not call the analyst who signed the certification. Instead, the State called another analyst who was familiar with the laboratory’s testing procedures, but had neither participated in nor observed the test on the defendant’s blood sample. The New Mexico Supreme Court determined that, although the blood-alcohol analysis was “testimonial,” the Confrontation Clause did not require the certifying analyst’s in-court testimony. Instead, New Mexico’s high court held, live testimony of another analyst satisfied the constitutional requirements. The Court reversed, holding that “surrogate testimony of that order does not meet the constitutional requirement.” 

Forensic laboratory reports are testimonial and thus subject to the rule of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004). For a detailed analysis of this case, see the paper entitled “Melendez-Diaz & the Admissibility of Forensic Laboratory Reports & Chemical Analyst Affidavits in North Carolina Post-Crawford.

State v. Pabon [Duplicated], 273 N.C.App. 645, 850 S.E.2d 512 (Oct. 6, 2020) modified and affirmed on other grounds, 2022-NCSC-16, 867 S.E.2d 632 (Feb 11 2022)

In this Cabarrus County case, the defendant was convicted of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree rape. After developing a friendship with the victim, he drugged her without her knowledge, took her to a friend’s house and raped her. The defendant appealed, raising numerous challenges.

(1) The defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions and that his motion to dismiss should have been granted. He did not raise an argument about the rape conviction on appeal. Any argument as to the sufficiency of evidence for that offense was therefore deemed abandoned and waived. As to the kidnapping conviction, the defendant argued he could not be sentenced for both kidnapping and the rape as a matter of double jeopardy, since the rape was used to elevate the kidnapping to first degree. “The proper remedy in the event of conviction of first-degree kidnapping and the sexual assault that constitutes an element of first-degree kidnapping is to arrest judgement on the first-degree kidnapping and resentence the defendant for second-degree kidnapping.” Slip op. at 10-11 (citation omitted). While the defendant correctly noted this rule, the court found it inapplicable to the defendant’s case. The State’s evidence showed at least two distinct sexual assaults. In addition to the rape, the defendant also committed a separate sexual battery, and that offense was used to elevate the kidnapping offense to first-degree (and not the rape). Following the sexual battery in one room, the defendant moved the victim to another room to commit the rape. This showed separate and distinct offenses. The trial court also correctly instructed the jury on these principles and its instructions required the jury to find a separate and distinct sexual battery in support of the first-degree kidnapping. Because the defendant was not convicted of the underlying sexual battery used to support the first-degree kidnapping, double jeopardy did not preclude separate punishments for the distinct rape and kidnapping.

(2) The was also sufficient evidence to support the aggravating factor that the defendant took advantage of a position of trust to accomplish the crimes. The Court of Appeals noted it “has upheld a finding of the ‘trust or confidence’ factor in very limited factual circumstances.” Id. at 18 (citation omitted). Here, the State presented sufficient evidence of the factor in aggravation. The defendant was a family friend and was close with the victim. Evidence showed the defendant gave the victim’s family Christmas gifts, checked on family members, frequently spent time with the victim and advised her on various matters, among other connections. This was sufficient to demonstrate a position of trust over the victim which the defendant exploited in order to commit the crimes.

(3) The two sisters of the victim testified to prior instances of sexual assault by the defendant towards each of them. The trial court admitted this evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b) of the Rules of Evidence as proof of a common plan or scheme by the defendant. The defendant raped one of the sisters in a nearly identical manner as the victim and committed sexual battery upon the other sister “in a manner indicating an intent to go further.” Id. at 21. Like with the victim, the defendant developed a position of trust with each of the sisters before committing sexual assaults on them. The trial court therefore correctly determined the prior bad acts were substantially similar to the circumstances of the current offense. The assaults occurred 10 and 8 years before the events of the current case. The court agreed with the trial judge that this evidence was not too remote in time to satisfy the requirements of Rule 404(b):

Our Supreme Court has held that ‘[w]hen similar acts have been performed continuously over a period of years, the passage of time serves to prove, rather than disprove, the existence of a plan’ rendering the prior bad acts ‘not too remote to be considered as evidence of defendant’s common scheme to abuse the victim sexually.’ Id. at 22 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original).

 The evidence showed the defendant’s acts were continuous over the course of time and therefore not too remote in time to be admitted under Rule 404(b). The trial court also conducted the necessary balancing under Rule 403 of the Rules of Evidence to determine the testimony was not more prejudicial than probative and instructed the jury about the limited purpose of the evidence. The admission of this evidence was therefore not error or an abuse of discretion.

(4) The defendant argued that the admission of toxicology results by way of a substitute analyst violated his Sixth Amendment rights to confrontation. The court disagreed, noting the rule on substitute analyst testimony:

[A]n expert witness may testify as to the testing or analysis conducted by another expert if: (i) that information is reasonably relied on by experts in the field in forming their opinions; and (ii) the testifying expert witness independently reviewed the information and reached his or her own conclusion in this case. Id. at 26 (citation omitted).

The evidence showed that the substitute analyst reviewed the results of the testing done by the non-testifying analysts and formed his own opinion about the results. “Thus, [the analyst’s] opinion was based on his own analysis and not merely surrogate testimony for an otherwise inadmissible lab report . . .” Id. at 31. Under these circumstances, the defendant was not entitled to cross-examine the analysts who actually performed the testing. According to the court, "when an expert gives an opinion, the opinion is the substantive evidence, and the expert is the witness whom the defendant has the right to confront.” Id. Because the expert opinion was properly admitted and the defendant was able to cross-examine that expert, there was no violation of the defendant’s confrontation rights.

(5a) The indictment for second-degree rape identified the victim only by reference to her initials, and the defendant argued this constituted a fatal indictment defect for failure to identify the victim.  He pointed to a recent case holding that “Victim #1” was insufficient to identify the victim. State v. McKoy, 196 N.C. App. 650, 654 (2009), foreclosed this argument. Citing from that case, the court observed: 

[W]here the statutes defining second-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense require the offenses to be against ‘another person,’ the indictments charging these offenses do not need to state the victim’s full name, nor do they need to add periods after each letter in initials in order to accomplish the common sense understanding that initials represent a person. Id.

Unlike the situation where the indictment names only a “victim,” the use of initials sufficed to identify the victim and did not constitute a fatal defect. [Jeff Welty blogged about the use of initials in charging documents here.]

(5b) The first-degree kidnapping indictment was also not defective. The defendant claimed a fatal flaw based on the indictment’s failure to identify the specific crime constituting the sexual assault for purposes of first-degree kidnapping. There is no requirement that an indictment for first-degree kidnapping identify the felony used to enhance the offense to first-degree. The indictment was otherwise sufficient to put the defendant on notice and was valid in all respects. 

(6) The trial court’s instructions to the jury on the existence of the aggravating factor violated G.S. § 15A-1340.16(d). That statute provides in pertinent part that evidence used at trial to support the existence of an element of the offense may not thereafter be used to prove a factor in aggravation. The jury instructions permitted the jury to consider “all of the evidence,” rather than limiting its consideration to evidence not used to support the intent requirements for the two crimes. The defendant did not object to the instructions at the time and alleged plain error on appeal. Plain error requires that the defendant demonstrate “a reasonable possibility that, had the instruction been given, the jury would have failed to find the existence of the aggravating factor.” Id. at 36. The court noted that occupying a position of trust is not an element of either of the crimes at issue and rejected the contention that the same evidence was used to prove both the intent to commit the crimes and the aggravating factor. The defendant could not demonstrate the possibility of a different result absent the instructions on the aggravating factor, and accordingly could not demonstrate prejudice for plain error.

(7) The defendant’s argument that his objections to an order requiring him to enroll in satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) were improperly overruled were abandoned on appeal, because the defendant failed to raise any argument for this issue.

A majority of the court determined there were no reversible error in the trial and the convictions were affirmed.

Judge Murphy dissented in part. He wrote separately to note his disagreement with the majority’s analysis of the Confrontation Clause issue. Judge Murphy would have granted a new trial based on the Sixth Amendment violation and would have held the plain error jury instruction issue in (5) above, as well as the SBM issue in (6), were therefore moot. He otherwise concurred in the majority’s judgment.

State v. Brent, 367 N.C. 73 (June 27, 2013)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the court held that by failing to make a timely objection at trial and failing to argue plain error in the Court of Appeals, the defendant failed to preserve the question of whether substitute analyst testimony in a drug case violated his confrontation rights. The court noted that at trial the defendant objected to the testimony related to the composition of the substance only outside the presence of the jury; he did not object to admission of either the expert’s opinion or the raw data at the time they were offered into evidence. He thus failed to preserve the issue for review. Furthermore, the defendant failed to preserve his challenge to admission of the raw data by failing to raise it in his brief before the Court of Appeals. Moreover, the court concluded, even if the issues had been preserved, under Ortiz-Zape, the defendant would lose on the merits.

State v. Hough, 367 N.C. 79 (June 27, 2013)

With one Justice not taking part in the decision and the others equally divided, the court, per curiam, left undisturbed the decision below, State v. Hough, 202 N.C. App. 674 (Mar. 2, 2010). In the decision below, the Court of Appeals held that no Crawford violation occurred when reports done by non-testifying analyst as to composition and weight of controlled substances were admitted as the basis of a testifying expert’s opinion on those matters. [Author’s note: Because the Justices were equally divided, the decision, although undisturbed, has no precedential value.]

State v. Ortiz-Zape, 367 N.C. 1 (June 27, 2013)

Reversing the Court of Appeals’ decision in an unpublished case, the court held that no confrontation clause violation occurred when an expert in forensic science testified to her opinion that the substance at issue was cocaine and that opinion was based upon the expert’s independent analysis of testing performed by another analyst in her laboratory. At trial the State sought to introduce Tracey Ray of the CMPD crime lab as an expert in forensic chemistry. During voir dire the defendant sought to exclude admission of a lab report created by a non-testifying analyst and any testimony by any lab analyst who did not perform the tests or write the lab report. The trial court rejected the defendant’s confrontation clause objection and ruled that Ray could testify about the practices and procedures of the crime lab, her review of the testing in this case, and her independent opinion concerning the testing. However, the trial court excluded the non-testifying analyst’s report under Rule 403. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the Ray’s testimony violated the confrontation clause. The NC Supreme Court disagreed. The court viewed the US Supreme Court’s decision in Williams v. Illinois as “indicat[ing] that a qualified expert may provide an independent opinion based on otherwise inadmissible out-of-court statements in certain contexts.” Noting that when an expert gives an opinion, the expert opinion itself, not its underlying factual basis, constitutes substantive evidence, the court concluded:

Therefore, when an expert gives an opinion, the expert is the witness whom the defendant has the right to confront. In such cases, the Confrontation Clause is satisfied if the defendant has the opportunity to fully cross-examine the expert witness who testifies against him, allowing the factfinder to understand the basis for the expert’s opinion and to determine whether that opinion should be found credible. Accordingly, admission of an expert’s independent opinion based on otherwise inadmissible facts or data of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field does not violate the Confrontation Clause so long as the defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine the expert. We emphasize that the expert must present an independent opinion obtained through his or her own analysis and not merely “surrogate testimony” parroting otherwise inadmissible statements (quotations and citations omitted).

Turning to the related issue of whether an expert who bases an opinion on otherwise inadmissible facts and data may, consistent with the Confrontation Clause, disclose those facts and data to the factfinder, the court stated:

Machine-generated raw data, typically produced in testing of illegal drugs, present a unique subgroup of . . . information. Justice Sotomayor has noted there is a difference between a lab report certifying a defendant’s blood-alcohol level and machine-generated results, such as a printout from a gas chromatograph. The former is the testimonial statement of a person, and the latter is the product of a machine. . . . Because machine-generated raw data, if truly machine-generated, are not statements by a person, they are neither hearsay nor testimonial. We note that representations[ ] relating to past events and human actions not revealed in raw, machine-produced data may not be admitted through “surrogate testimony.” Accordingly, consistent with the Confrontation Clause, if of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field, raw data generated by a machine may be admitted for the purpose of showing the basis of an expert’s opinion.

Turning to the case at hand, the court noted that here, the report of the non-testifying analyst was excluded under Rule 403; thus the only issue was with Ray’s expert opinion that the substance was cocaine. Applying the standard stated above, the court found that no confrontation violation occurred. Providing additional guidance for the State, the court offered the following in a footnote: “we suggest that prosecutors err on the side of laying a foundation that establishes compliance with Rule . . . 703, as well as the lab’s standard procedures, whether the testifying analyst observed or participated in the initial laboratory testing, what independent analysis the testifying analyst conducted to reach her opinion, and any assumptions upon which the testifying analyst’s testimony relies.” Finally, the court held that even if error occurred, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt given that the defendant himself had indicated that the substance was cocaine.

State v. Brewington, 367 N.C. 29 (June 27, 2013)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the Court held that no Crawford violation occurred when the State proved that the substance at issue was cocaine through the use of a substitute analyst. The seized evidence was analyzed at the SBI by Assistant Supervisor in Charge Nancy Gregory. At trial, however, the substance was identified as cocaine, over the defendant’s objection, by SBI Special Agent Kathleen Schell. Relying on Gregory’s report, Schell testified to the opinion that the substance was cocaine; Gregory’s report itself was not introduced into evidence. Relying on Ortiz-Zape, the court concluded that Schell presented an independent opinion formed as a result of her own analysis, not mere surrogate testimony.

State v. Craven, 367 N.C. 51 (June 27, 2013)

 The court held that admission of lab reports through the testimony of a substitute analyst (Agent Schell) violated the defendant’ confrontation clause rights where the testifying analyst did not give her own independent opinion, but rather gave “surrogate testimony” that merely recited the opinion of non-testifying testing analysts that the substances at issue were cocaine. Distinguishing Ortiz-Zape, the court held that here the State’s expert did not testify to an independent opinion obtained from the expert’s own analysis but rather offered impermissible surrogate testimony repeating testimonial out-of-court statements made by non-testifying analysts. With regard to the two lab reports at issue, the testifying expert was asked whether she agreed with the non-testifying analysts’ conclusions. When she replied in the affirmative, she was asked what the non-testifying analysts’ conclusions were and the underlying reports were introduced into evidence. The court concluded: “It is clear . . . that Agent Schell did not offer—or even purport to offer—her own independent analysis or opinion [of the] . . . samples. Instead, Agent Schell merely parroted [the non-testifying analysts’] . . . conclusions from their lab reports.” Noting that the lab reports contained the analysts’ certification prepared in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution, the court easily determined that they were testimonial. The court went on to find that this conclusion did not result in error with regard to the defendant’s conspiracy to sell or deliver cocaine conviction. As to the defendant’s conviction for sale or delivery of cocaine, the six participating Justices were equally divided on whether the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, as to that charge the Court of Appeals’ decision holding that the error was reversible remains undisturbed and stands without precedential value. However, the court found that the Court of Appeals erroneously vacated the conviction for sale or delivery and that the correct remedy was a new trial. 

State v. Hurt, 367 N.C. 80 (June 27, 2013)

In a substitute analyst case, the court per curiam and for the reasons stated in Ortiz-Zape, reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision in State v. Hurt, 208 N.C. App. 1 (2010) (applying Crawford to a non-capital Blakely sentencing hearing in a murder case and holding that Melendez-Diaz prohibited the introduction of reports by non-testifying forensic analysts pertaining to DNA analysis).

State v. Williams, 367 N.C. 64 (June 27, 2013)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the court held that any confrontation clause violation that occurred with regard to the use of substitute analyst testimony was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt where the defendant testified that the substance at issue was cocaine. When cocaine was discovered near the defendant, he admitted to the police that a man named Chris left it there for him to sell and that he had sold some that day. The substance was sent to the crime lab for analysis. Chemist DeeAnne Johnson performed the analysis of the substance. By the time of trial however, Johnson no longer worked for the crime lab. Thus, the State presented Ann Charlesworth of the crime lab as an expert in forensic chemistry to identify the substance at issue. Over objection, she identified the substance as cocaine. The trial court also admitted, for the purpose of illustrating Charlesworth’s testimony, Johnson’s lab reports. At trial, the defendant reiterated what he had told the police. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that Charlesworth’s substitute analyst testimony violated the defendant’s confrontation rights. The NC Supreme Court held that even if admission of the testimony and exhibits was error, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the defendant himself testified that the seized substance was cocaine.

State v. Burrow, 366 N.C. 326 (Dec. 14, 2012)

The court vacated and remanded State v. Burrow, 218 N.C. App. 373 (Feb. 7, 2012), after allowing the State’s motion to amend the record to include a copy of the State’s notice under G.S. 90-95 indicating an intent to introduce into evidence a forensic report without testimony of the preparer. In the opinion below, the court of appeals had held that the trial court committed plain error by allowing the State to admit a SBI forensic report identifying the substance at issue as oxycodone when neither the preparer of the report nor a substitute analyst testified at trial.

State v. Locklear, 363 N.C. 438 (Aug. 28, 2009)

A Crawford violation occurred when the trial court admitted opinion testimony of two non-testifying experts regarding a victim’s cause of death and identity. The testimony was admitted through the Chief Medical Examiner, an expert in forensic pathology, who appeared to have read the reports of the non-testifying experts into evidence, rather than testifying to an independent opinion based on facts or data reasonable relied upon by experts in the field. For a more detailed discussion of this case, see my blog post.

In this Columbus County case, defendant appealed her conviction for second-degree murder based on driving while impaired (DWI) and reckless driving, arguing error in (1) denying her motion to suppress the results of a blood sample, (2) admitting a lab report prepared by an expert who did not testify, and (3) admitting evidence under Rule of Evidence 404(b) of previous DWIs and bad driving. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In February of 2018, defendant caused a tractor-trailer to crash because she was driving very slowly in the right-hand lane of a highway. The driver of the tractor-trailer was killed when the cab caught fire after the accident. Several witnesses noted defendant’s slow responses and movements, and a State Highway Patrol trooper noticed cans of aerosol duster in her purse. The trooper took defendant to a hospital and she consented to a blood draw. Before trial defendant filed a motion to suppress the blood draw based on violations of G.S. 20-16.2, and a motion to limit Rule 404(b) evidence of prior DWIs and bad driving, but the trial court denied both motions. During the trial, the State offered two lab reports based on the blood sample, showing defendant had Difluoroethane (a substance from aerosol dusters), Xanax, and several other prescription drugs in her blood. Defense counsel objected to the lab reports on Sixth Amendment grounds as the testifying expert was not the scientist who authored the reports, but the trial court admitted them into evidence.

Reviewing (1), the Court of Appeals first noted that defendant’s objection to the blood sample at trial was based upon G.S. 20-16.2 (implied consent to chemical analysis), not on Fourth Amendment constitutional grounds. Here, the court pointed to State v. Davis, 364 N.C. 297 (2010), for the proposition that defendant’s failure to raise the constitutional issue by objection at trial resulted in her waiving the argument. Because defendant also did not renew the statutory argument on appeal, the court declined to address either issue. 

Moving to (2), the court explained “this case is not one in which the expert witness testifying in court did not personally participate in the testing.” Slip Op. at 14. Instead, the expert witness called by the State had participated in the lab analysis even though she was not listed as the author of the report, and she had reviewed the results as if she had conducted the tests herself. The court held that defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were not violated because “[a]s an expert with personal knowledge of the processes involved and personal participation in the testing, [the State’s expert] was the witness whom Defendant had a right to cross-examine, and she was indeed subject to cross-examination at trial.” Id. at 15. 

Reaching (3), the court explained defendant’s argument rested upon the Rule 404(b) evidence failing the Rule of Evidence 403 balancing test, arguing the probative value did not outweigh the prejudicial nature of the evidence. The court noted each of the incidents were probative of malice and knowledge of the danger of defendant’s actions. When considering prejudice, the court explained that “[n]one of the prior incidents related to any particularly shocking or emotional facts that would have inflamed the jurors” and held the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion. Id. at 18. 

In this Robeson County case, defendant appealed his conviction for driving while impaired, arguing the trial court erred by admitting a toxicology report without authentication and allowing the arresting officer to testify to defendant’s specific blood alcohol concentration. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error by the trial court.

In September of 2018, defendant was stopped by an officer due to a partially obstructed license plate; after stopping defendant, the officer noticed glassy eyes and slurred speech, leading to a horizontal gaze and nystagmus (“HGN”) test. Defendant performed poorly on the test, and a later toxicology blood test found that defendant’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.27. At trial, the arresting officer testified about the results of the HGN test, saying “[t]here’s a probability that he’s going to be a .08 or higher, 80% according to the test that was done.” Slip Op. at 3. Also during the trial, the SBI agent responsible for preparing the report on defendant’s toxicology test was not available to testify, so another agent performed an administrative and technical review of the report and was permitted to testify as an expert about the results. The report was admitted despite defendant’s objection.

Reviewing defendant’s appeal, the court first noted that Rule 703 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence does not require the testifying expert to be the person who performed the test, explaining “[a]n expert may properly base his or her opinion on tests performed by another person, if the tests are of the type reasonably relied upon by experts in the field.” Id. at 5, quoting State v. Fair, 354 N.C. 131, 162 (2001). Here the report was admitted as the basis of the testifying expert’s opinion, not as substantive evidence, within the scope of applicable precedent around Rule 703. The court also noted that defendant had ample opportunity to cross-examine the expert on the basis of her opinion and her credibility in front of the jury, avoiding any confrontation clause issues.

The court found that admitting the arresting officer’s testimony regarding defendant’s specific blood alcohol level after conducting an HGN test was error, but harmless error. There are two bases under G.S. § 20-138.1 to convict a defendant for impaired driving; subsection (a)(1) and (a)(2) are distinct and independent grounds for conviction of the same offense. Id. at 10, citing State v. Perry, 254 N.C. App. 202 (2017). The court noted that overwhelming evidence of both prongs was present in the record, and specifically the second prong, driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, was supported by expert testimony unrelated to the officer’s testimony. Finding no reasonable possibility the jury could have reached a different conclusion, the court upheld the verdict.

State v. Bucklew [Duplicated], ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-659 (Dec. 7, 2021) temp. stay granted, 380 N.C. 288, 866 S.E.2d 900 (Jan 12 2022)

In this Martin County case, the defendant was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, felony serious injury by vehicle and driving while impaired for his driving of a vehicle after consuming prescription medications, crossing into oncoming traffic, hitting two other vehicles, and seriously injuring another driver.

(1) The defendant, who was seriously injured in the crash and was taken to the hospital, had a “few coherent moments” in which he agreed to allow his blood to be withdrawn and analyzed for evidence of impairment. The defendant subsequently moved to suppress evidence of the blood analysis on the basis that there was not probable cause to believe he was driving while impaired, the blood was withdrawn without a warrant, and there were no exigent circumstances. The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals found no error. The Court first determined that the following evidence established probable cause: (a) a witness called 911 to report erratic driving by the defendant before the defendant crashed his vehicle into two other vehicles; (b) there were no skid marks at the scene to indicate that the defendant attempted to stop his vehicle; (c) the defendant admitted to taking oxycodone, valium, and morphine earlier in the day; and (d) after the crash, the defendant was lethargic, had slurred speech, droopy eyelids, and a blank stare. The Court then concluded that exigent circumstances existed as the officer did not have time to obtain a search warrant given the extent of the defendant’s injuries; indeed, the hospital postponed administering necessary pain medication to the defendant until after the State withdrew his blood. After the blood draw, the defendant was air-lifted to another hospital for a higher level of care.

(2) The defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to take judicial notice of the National Weather Station’s weather conditions (the “Weather Report”) on the date of the collision. The Court of Appeals disagreed, reasoning that the Weather Report was not a document of indisputable accuracy for purposes of Rule 201(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence because it did not state the level of rain that was occurring at the time of the crash. Thus, the Court of Appeals reasoned, the trial court was not required to take judicial notice of the report under Rule 201(d), but was free to use its discretion pursuant to Rule 201(c). And, the Court of Appeals concluded, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to take judicial notice of the Weather Report.

(3), (4) The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred in admitting testimony from an analyst regarding the analysis of defendant’s blood, the analyst’s report, and the accompanying chain of custody report. The Court of Appeals found no error. The Court determined that the analyst’s testimony and his report were admissible because, even though the analyst relied on data collected by and tests performed by others, the analyst himself analyzed and reviewed the data, forming his own independent expert opinion and writing his own report. The Court further held that the trial court did not err by admitting the chain of custody report because the State established an adequate chain of custody through testimony of the law enforcement officer who submitted the blood and the analyst who prepared the report.

(5) The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. Defendant’s erratic driving, the severity of the crash, his admission to taking medications, his impaired behavior, and the results of the analysis of defendant’s blood provided substantial evidence of impaired driving. Defendant’s driving in an erratic and reckless manner while impaired and crashing into another vehicle without appearing to have braked, seriously injuring the other driver provided substantial evidence of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. Finally, the serious injury to the other driver caused by defendant’s impaired driving provided substantial evidence of felony serious injury by vehicle.

Judge Dietz concurred in the judgment, writing separately to state that he would have resolved the suppression issue solely based on the evidence of impairment establishing probable cause and the exigency resulting from the need to draw blood before medical professionals administered additional medications.

The defendant was arrested for impaired driving. Because of his extreme intoxication, he was taken to a hospital for medical treatment. The defendant was belligerent and combative at the hospital, and was medicated in an effort to calm his behavior. After the defendant was medically subdued, a nurse withdrew his blood. She withdrew some blood for medical purposes and additional blood for law enforcement use. No warrant had been issued authorizing the blood draw. The defendant moved to suppress evidence resulting from the warrantless blood draw on constitutional grounds. The trial court granted the motion, suppressing evidence of the blood provided to law enforcement and the subsequent analysis of that blood. The State appealed from that interlocutory order, certifying that the evidence was essential to the prosecution of its case. The North Carolina Supreme Court, in State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678 (2017), affirmed the trial court’s ruling suppressing the State’s blood analysis, and remanded the case for additional proceedings. 

While the case was pending before the state supreme court, the State filed a motion for disclosure of the defendant’s medical records on the date of his arrest, which included records of the hospital’s analysis of his blood. The motion was granted, and the medical records were disclosed.

After the case was remanded, the State proceeded to try the defendant on charges of habitual impaired driving and driving while license revoked for impaired driving. The defendant moved to dismiss the charges and to suppress the evidence of his medical records. The trial court denied the motions, and the defendant was convicted.

The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress and admitted his medical records, which contained the results of a blood alcohol test performed by the hospital. A manager from the hospital’s records department testified regarding the management of hospital records, and a medical technologist testified about the hospital’s methods and procedures for conducting laboratory tests. In addition, an expert witness in blood testing testified for the State that he relied upon the medical records in forming a conclusion about the defendant’s blood alcohol level. The court determined that the records were properly admitted because (1) they were created for medical treatment purposes and kept in the ordinary course of business and thus were nontestimonial for purposes of the Confrontation Clause; (2) even if the records were testimonial, they were admissible as the basis of a testifying expert’s independent opinion; and (3) the admission of the records was not prejudicial in light of the substantial additional evidence that the defendant was driving while impaired.

In this murder and attempted murder case, the trial court did not err in allowing a substitute expert witness to testify to another expert’s conclusions on cell site location data connected to the defendant. The defendant complained that his rights to confront the witness were violated by the absence at trial of the expert that prepared the report. Rejecting this challenge, the court observed:  

Our courts have consistently held that an expert witness may testify as to the testing or analysis conducted by another expert if: (i) that information is reasonably relied on by experts in the field in forming their opinion; and (ii) the testifying expert witness independently reviewed the information and reached his or her own conclusions in this case.

Here, that standard was met—the substitute expert explained the process of cell site analysis and his review of the first expert’s report, and he gave an independent opinion about the defendant’s cell data. The defendant was able to cross-examine the substitute expert with the first expert’s report. He was also given notice ahead of trial of the State’s intention to rely on a substitute expert witness.  There was therefore no error in admitting the testimony, and the convictions were unanimously affirmed.

In this drug case, the court held—with one judge concurring in result only—that the trial court did not err by admitting evidence of the identification and weight of the controlled substances from a substitute analyst. Because Erica Lam, the forensic chemist who tested the substances was not available to testify at trial, the State presented Lam’s supervisor, Lori Knops, who independently reviewed Lam’s findings to testify instead. The defendant was convicted and he appealed, asserting a confrontation clause violation. The court found that no such violation occurred because Knops’s opinion resulted from her independent analysis of Lam’s data. As to the identity of the substances at issue, Knops analyzed the data and gave her own independent expert opinion that the substance was heroin and oxycodone. With respect to the weight of the substances, Knops’s opinion was based on her review of Lam’s “weights obtained on that balance tape.” Because weight is machine generated, it is non-testimonial.

In a murder case, the defendant’s right of confrontation was not violated when Dr. Jordan, an expert medical examiner, testified that in his opinion the cause of death was methadone toxicity. As part of his investigation, Jordan sent a specimen of the victim’s blood to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for analysis. During trial, Jordan testified that in his opinion the cause of death was methadone toxicity and that his opinion was based upon the blood toxicology report from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. When defense counsel raised questions about the test showing methadone toxicity, the trial court allowed the State to call as a witness Jarod Brown, the toxicologist at the State Medical Examiner’s Officer who analyzed the victim’s blood. Noting the evolving nature of the confrontation question presented, the court concluded that even assuming arguendo that Jordan’s testimony was erroneous, any error was cured by the subsequent testimony and cross-examination of Brown, who performed the analysis. 

In a drug case, the trial court did not err by allowing one analyst to testify to the results of an analysis done by another non-testifying analyst. The analysis at issue identified the pills as oxycodone. The defendant did not object to the analyst’s testimony at trial or to admission of the underlying report into evidence. Because the defendant and defense counsel stipulated that the pills were oxycodone, no plain error occurred.

(1) Admission of a forensic report identifying a substance as a controlled substance without testimony of the preparer violated the defendant’s confrontation clause rights. (2) The trial court erred by allowing a substitute analyst to testify that a substance was a controlled substance based on the same forensic report where the substitute analyst did not perform or witness the tests and merely summarized the conclusions of the non-testifying analyst.

(1) The defendant’s confrontation rights were not violated when the State’s expert testified about DNA testing on the victim’s rape kit done by a non-testifying trainee. The trainee worked under the testifying expert’s direct observation and supervision and the findings were his own. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his constitutional rights were violated when a second DNA expert testified that she matched a DNA extract on a specimen taken from the defendant to the profile obtained from the rape kit. Having found that the first expert properly testified about the rape kit profile, the court rejected this argument. (3) No violation of the defendant’s confrontation clause rights occurred when the second expert testified that the probability of an unrelated, randomly chosen person who could not be excluded from the DNA mixture taken from the rape kit was extremely low. The defendant argued that the population geneticists who made the probability determination were unavailable for cross-examination about the reliability of their statistical methodology. The court concluded that admission of the statistical information was not error where the second expert was available for cross-examination and gave her opinion that the DNA profile from the rape kit matched the defendant’s DNA profile and the statistical information on which she relied was of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the field. Even assuming that unavailability of the purported population geneticists who prepared the statistical data violated the defendant’s rights, the error did not rise to the level of plain error.

Assuming arguendo that the defendant properly preserved the issue for appeal, no confrontation clause violation occurred when the State’s expert forensic pathologist, Dr. Deborah Radisch, testified about the victim’s autopsy and gave her own opinion concerning cause of death. Distinguishing State v. Locklear, 363 N.C. 438 (Aug. 28, 2009), and Bullcoming v. New Mexico, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 2705 (June 23, 2011), and following State v. Blue, 207 N.C. App. 267 (Oct. 5, 2010), the court noted that Dr. Radisch was present for the autopsy and testified as to her own independent opinion as to cause of death.

(1) In a triple murder case, no confrontation clause violation occurred when the State’s expert medical examiner was allowed to testify in place of the pathologist who performed the autopsies. The medical examiner provided her own expert opinion and did not simply regurgitate the non-testifying examiner’s reports. The testifying expert made minimal references to the autopsy reports, which were never introduced into evidence, and her testimony primarily consisted of describing the victims’ injuries as depicted in 28 autopsy photographs. She described the type of wounds, the pain they would have inflicted, whether they would have been fatal, and testified to each victim’s cause of death. With regard to one victim who had been sexually assaulted, the expert explained, through use of photographs, that the victim had been asphyxiated, how long it would have taken for her to lose consciousness, and that the blood seen in her vagina could have been menstrual blood or the result of attempted penetration. The expert’s testimony as to the impact of the various trauma suffered by the victims was based primarily on her inspection of the photographs that were admitted into evidence and her independent experience as a pathologist. Although the expert referred to the non-testifying pathologist’s reports, she did not recite findings from them. To the extent that she did, no prejudice resulted given her extensive testimony based strictly on her own personal knowledge as a pathologist, including the effect of the victims’ various injuries and their cause of death. Finally, the court concluded, even if any error occurred, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. (2) The court noted in a footnote that the autopsy photographs were properly admitted as the basis of the testifying expert’s opinion and therefore admission of them did not violate the defendant’s confrontation rights.

Holding, in a drug case, that although the trial court erred by allowing the State’s expert witness to testify as to the identity and weight of the “leafy green plant substance” where the expert’s testimony was based on analysis performed by a non-testifying forensic analyst, the error was not prejudicial in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt. 

The trial court did not err by allowing the Chief Medical Examiner to testify regarding an autopsy of a murder victim when the Medical Examiner was one of three individuals who participated in the actual autopsy. The Medical Examiner testified to his own observations, provided information rationally based on his own perceptions, and did not testify regarding anyone else’s declarations or findings.

Even if the defendant’s confrontation clause rights were violated when the trial court allowed a substitute analyst to testify regarding DNA testing done by a non-testifying analyst, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Applying Locklear and Mobley, both discussed above, the court concluded that testimony of a substitute analyst identifying a substance as cocaine base violated the defendant’s confrontation clause rights. The court characterized the substitute analyst’s testimony as “merely reporting the results of [non-testifying] experts.” Rather than conduct her own independent review, the testifying analyst’s review “consisted entirely of testifying in accordance with what the underlying report indicated.” For more discussion of this case, see the blog post

No Crawford violation occurred when a substitute analyst testified to her own expert opinion, formed after reviewing data and reports prepared by non-testifying expert. For a more detailed discussion of this case, see my blog post

A Crawford violation occurred when the State’s expert gave an opinion, in a drug trafficking case, as to the weight of the cocaine at issue, based “solely” on a laboratory report by a non-testifying analyst. For a more detailed discussion of this case, see my blog post

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