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., 06/20/2024
E.g., 06/20/2024

In this child abuse case the Court held that statement by the victim, L.P., to his preschool teachers were non-testimonial. In the lunchroom, one of L.P.’s teachers, Ramona Whitley, observed that L.P.’s left eye was bloodshot. She asked him “[w]hat happened,” and he initially said nothing. Eventually, however, he told the teacher that he “fell.” When they moved into the brighter lights of a classroom, Whitley noticed “[r]ed marks, like whips of some sort,” on L.P.’s face. She notified the lead teacher, Debra Jones, who asked L.P., “Who did this? What happened to you?” According to Jones, L.P. “seemed kind of bewildered” and “said something like, Dee, Dee.” Jones asked L.P. whether Dee is “big or little;” L.P. responded that “Dee is big.” Jones then brought L.P. to her supervisor, who lifted the boy’s shirt, revealing more injuries. Whitley called a child abuse hotline to alert authorities about the suspected abuse. The defendant, who went by the nickname Dee, was charged in connection with the incident. At trial, the State introduced L.P.’s statements to his teachers as evidence of the defendant’s guilt, but L.P. did not testify. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The Ohio Supreme Court held that L.P.’s statements were testimonial because the primary purpose of the teachers’ questioning was not to deal with an emergency but rather to gather evidence potentially relevant to a subsequent criminal prosecution. That court noted that Ohio has a “mandatory reporting” law that requires certain professionals, including preschool teachers, to report suspected child abuse to government authorities. In the Ohio court’s view, the teachers acted as agents of the State under the mandatory reporting law and obtained facts relevant to past criminal conduct. The Supreme Court granted review and reversed. It held:

In this case, we consider statements made to preschool teachers, not the police. We are therefore presented with the question we have repeatedly reserved: whether statements to persons other than law enforcement officers are subject to the Confrontation Clause. Because at least some statements to individuals who are not law enforcement officers could conceivably raise confrontation concerns, we decline to adopt a categorical rule excluding them from the Sixth Amendment’s reach. Nevertheless, such statements are much less likely to be testimonial than statements to law enforcement officers. And considering all the relevant circumstances here, L.P.’s statements clearly were not made with the primary purpose of creating evidence for [the defendant’s] prosecution. Thus, their introduction at trial did not violate the Confrontation Clause.

The Court reasoned that L.P.’s statements occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse. The Court continued, concluding that “[t]here is no indication that the primary purpose of the conversation was to gather evidence for [the defendant]’s prosecution. On the contrary, it is clear that the first objective was to protect L.P.” In the Court’s view, “L.P.’s age fortifies our conclusion that the statements in question were not testimonial.” It added: “Statements by very young children will rarely, if ever, implicate the Confrontation Clause.” The Court continued, noting that as a historical matter, there is strong evidence that statements made in similar circumstances were admissible at common law. The Court noted, “although we decline to adopt a rule that statements to individuals who are not law enforcement officers are categorically outside the Sixth Amendment, the fact that L.P. was speaking to his teachers remains highly relevant.” The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that Ohio’s mandatory reporting statutes made L.P.’s statements testimonial, concluding: “mandatory reporting statutes alone cannot convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed primarily at gathering evidence for a prosecution.”

Michigan v. Bryant, 562 U.S. 344 (Feb. 28, 2011)

Justice Sotomayor, writing for the Court, held that a mortally wounded shooting victim’s statements to first-responding officers were non-testimonial under Crawford. In the early morning, Detroit police officers responded to a radio dispatch that a man had been shot. When they arrived at the scene, the victim was lying on the ground at a gas station. He had a gunshot wound to his abdomen, appeared to be in great pain, and had difficulty speaking. The officers asked the victim what happened, who had shot him, and where the shooting occurred. The victim said that the defendant shot him about 25 minutes earlier at the defendant’s house. The officers’ 5-10 minute conversation with the victim ended when emergency medical personnel arrived. The victim died within hours. At trial, the victim’s statements to the responding officers were admitted and the defendant was found guilty of, among other things, murder.

          The Court held that because the statements were non-testimonial, no violation of confrontation rights occurred. The Court noted that unlike its previous decisions in Davis and Hammon, the present case involved a non-domestic dispute, a victim found in a public location suffering from a fatal gunshot wound, and a situation where the perpetrator’s location was unknown. Thus, it indicated, “we confront for the first time circumstances in which the ‘ongoing emergency’ . . . extends beyond an initial victim to a potential threat to the responding police and the public at large.” Slip Op. at 12. This new scenario, the Court noted, “requires us to provide additional clarification . . . to what Davis meant by ‘the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.’” Id. It concluded that when determining whether this is the primary purpose of an interrogation, a court must objectively evaluate the circumstances in which the encounter occurs and the parties’ statements and actions. Id. It explained that the existence of an ongoing emergency “is among the most important circumstances informing the ‘primary purpose’ of an interrogation.” Id. at 14. As to the statements and actions of those involved, the Court concluded that the inquiry must focus on both the declarant and the interrogator.

          Applying this analysis to the case at hand, the Court began by examining the circumstances of the interrogation to determine if an ongoing emergency existed. Relying on the fact that the victim said nothing to indicate that the shooting was purely a private dispute or that the threat from the shooter had ended, the Court found that the emergency was broader than those at issue in Davis and Hammon, encompassing a threat to the police and the public. Id. at 27. The Court also found it significant that a gun was involved. Id. “At bottom,” it concluded, “there was an ongoing emergency here where an armed shooter, whose motive for and location after the shooting were unknown, had mortally wounded [the victim] within a few blocks and a few minutes of the location where the police found [the victim].” Id. The Court continued, determining that given the circumstances of the emergency, it could not say that a person in the victim’s situation would have had the primary purpose of establishing past facts relevant to a criminal prosecution. Id. at 29. As to the motivations of the police, the Court concluded that they solicited information from the victim to meet the ongoing emergency. Id. at 30. Finally, it found that the informality of the situation and interrogation further supported the conclusion that the victim’s statements were non-testimonial.

          Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, agreeing that the statements were non-testimonial but resting his conclusion on the lack of formality that attended them. Justices Scalia and Ginsburg dissented. Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

State v. Miller, 371 N.C. 273 (June 8, 2018)

On discretionary of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 801 S.E.2d 696 (2017), in this murder case the court reversed, holding that the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that certain evidence was admitted in violation of the defendant’s confrontation rights. The defendant was charged with murdering his estranged wife. Approximately 9 months before the murder, an officer responded to a call at the victim’s apartment regarding a domestic dispute. The officer made initial contact with the victim at a location outside of her apartment. The victim told the officer that the defendant entered her apartment through an unlocked door and kept her there against her will for two hours. The victim said that during this period she and the defendant argued and that a physical struggle occurred. Although the officer did not recall seeing any signs that the victim had sustained physical injury, he noticed a tear and stress marks on her shirt. The officer accompanied the victim to her apartment to check the premises to make sure the defendant was not still there. The defendant was later charged and convicted of domestic criminal trespass. At the defendant’s murder trial the trial court admitted, over the defendant’s confrontation clause objection, the officer’s testimony about the statements the victim made to him in the incident 9 months before the murder. The Court of Appeals found, among other things, that the victim’s statements were testimonial. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the victim’s statements were nontestimonial. The victim made the statements during an ongoing emergency caused by the defendant’s entry into her apartment and decision to both detain and physically assault her. The information she provided to the officer caused him to enter the apartment to ensure that the defendant, whose location was unknown, had departed and no longer posed a threat to the victim’s safety. The victim’s statements to the officer “served more than an information-gathering purpose.” Additionally, the conversation was informal and took place in an environment that cannot be described as tranquil.

State v. McKiver, 369 N.C. 652 (June 9, 2017)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that the statements made by an anonymous 911 caller informing the police of a possible incident involving a firearm and describing the suspect were nontestimonial. The circumstances surrounding the caller’s statements objectively indicate that the primary purpose was to enable law enforcement to meet an ongoing emergency. The primary purpose of the call was to inform the police of a possible dispute involving an unidentified man brandishing a firearm outside the caller’s home on a public street in a residential subdivision. The caller reacted by going to her home and staying away from the window and an officer retrieved his patrol rifle before entering the scene. “As is evident from the precautions taken by both the caller and the officers on the scene, they believed the unidentified suspect was still roving subdivision with a firearm, posing a continuing threat to the public and law enforcement.” To address this threat, an officer requested that the dispatcher place a reverse call to the caller to get more information about the individual at issue and, once received, quickly relayed that information to other officers to locate and apprehend the suspect. [Author’s note: For more information about the Confrontation Clause, see my judges’ benchbook chapter here.]

In this Wayne County case, defendant appealed his conviction for concealment of the death of a child who did not die of natural causes, arguing the State failed to satisfy the corpus delicti rule and error in permitting testimony that the child’s mother was convicted of second-degree murder. The Court of Appeals found no error and determined the corpus delicti rule was satisfied.  

In October of 2016, the mother and child in question moved into a house in Goldsboro with defendant and several other individuals. After the child disappeared, investigators interviewed defendant two times. In the second interview, defendant admitted overhearing the mother and another roommate discuss the child’s death and that they needed to dispose of the body. Defendant also described taking the mother and roommates to a house where they purchased methamphetamines, and events at the house that seemed to show the mother disposing of the body. Defendant told law enforcement “that he felt bad that he did not call for help, and one of his biggest mistakes was failing to tell people about [the child’s] death or report it to law enforcement.” Slip Op. at 7. At trial, text messages were admitted showing defendant and one of the roommates discussed covering up the child’s death. The prosecutor also asked a line of questions to one witness that revealed the mother was in prison for second-degree murder. Defendant moved for a mistrial several times and made a motion to dismiss, arguing insufficient evidence to satisfy the corpus delicti rule as the child’s body was never found, but the trial court denied the motions. 

Taking up defendant’s corpus delicti argument, the Court of Appeals first explained the rule’s requirement for corroborative evidence when an extrajudicial confession is the substantial evidence relied on to prove a crime. The court noted the N.C. Supreme Court adopted the “trustworthiness version” of the rule, meaning “the adequacy of corroborating proof is measured not by its tendency to establish the corpus delicti but by the extent to which it supports the trustworthiness of the admissions.” Slip Op. at 12-13, quoting State v. DeJesus, 265 N.C. App. 279 (2019). Having established the standard, the court looked to the substantial evidence supporting the trustworthiness of the confession and supporting each element of the crime charged, determining that the trial court properly denied the motion to dismiss. 

The court next considered defendant’s arguments that the testimony regarding the mother’s conviction for second-degree murder was (1) irrelevant under Rule of Evidence 401, (2) unfairly prejudicial under Rule of Evidence 403, and (3) constituted a violation of the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. and N.C. Constitutions. For (1), the court found relevancy “because it was relevant to whether [the child] was dead.” Id. at 21. Considering (2), the court found that since substantial evidence established the child died of unnatural causes, testimony regarding the mother’s conviction for murder was not unfairly prejudicial. Finally, for (3), the court noted that defendant’s argument that the mother’s guilty plea represented testimony was not directly addressed by North Carolina case law, but found an unpublished 4th Circuit per curiam opinion holding that a guilty plea was not testimonial evidence. The court also noted that no statement in the record seemed to alert the jury that the mother offered a guilty plea, and even if there was such a statement, it would represent harmless error based on the other evidence of the child’s death of unnatural causes. 

Chief Judge Stroud concurred in the result only by separate opinion, disagreeing with the analysis of admitting the testimony under Rules 401 and 403, but not considering the error prejudicial. 

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.

The defendant fired a gun from his car toward a park where over a dozen people were playing basketball and hanging out. He was later found asleep in his car in a ditch by a Highway Patrol officer, who arrested him for driving while impaired. He was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by admitting three phone calls the defendant made from the jail because they contained hearsay and violated the defendant’s confrontation rights. (1) As to the hearsay argument, the court of appeals concluded that any error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt. (2) As to the alleged violation of the Confrontation Clause, the court adopted the reasoning of a case from the Fourth Circuit, United States v. Jones, 716 F.3d 851 (4th Cir. 2013), and concluded that, despite automated warnings indicating that the calls were being recorded and monitored, the statements made by the woman the defendant was talking to on the jail phone were not intended to bear witness against him, and were therefore not testimonial. Because the statements were not testimonial, their admission did not violate the Confrontation Clause. (3) Next, the court declined to consider whether the trial court committed plain error by admitting, without objection, video interviews in which the defendant discussed prior assault and rape charges with the police. Again, in light of the overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt, the defendant failed to show how the admission of the evidence resulted in a miscarriage of justice or an unfair trial. (4) At sentencing, the trial court did not err by sentencing the defendant as a Class B1 felon upon jury’s general verdict of guilty of second-degree murder when no evidence or jury instruction supported the depraved-heart malice that makes the crime a Class B2 felony. As in State v. Lail, 251 N.C. App. 463 (2017), it was readily apparent from the evidence here that the jury found the defendant guilty of a Class B1 second-degree murder. (5) Finally, the court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that his stipulation to a prior conviction identified as “M-PUBLIC DISTURBANCE” as a Class 1 misdemeanor was ambiguous in light of the multiple potential classifications of disorderly conduct. To the contrary, under State v. Arrington, 371 N.C. 518 (2018), when a defendant stipulates to a prior conviction of a particular offense classification, he or she also stipulates to the facts underlying that conviction. The trial court has no duty to enquire further in the absence of clear record evidence suggesting the defendant stipulated to an incorrect classification, and there was no such evidence here.

In this case involving armed robbery and other charges, the victim’s statements to a responding officer were nontestimonial. When officer Rigsby arrived at the victim’s home to investigate the robbery call, the victim was shaken up, fumbling over his words, and speaking so fast that it sounded like he was speaking another language. Once the victim calmed down he told the officer that a group of black men robbed him, that one of them put a snubnosed revolver to the back of his head, one wore a clown mask, the suspects fled in a silver car, and one of the robbers was wearing red clothing. Shortly thereafter, another officer informed Rigsby that she had found a vehicle and suspects matching the description provided by 911 communications. Rigsby immediately left the victim to assist that officer. Although the suspects had fled the victim’s home, an ongoing emergency posing danger to the public existed. The victim’s statements to Rigsby were nontestimonial because they were provided to assist police in meeting an ongoing emergency and to aid in the apprehension of armed, fleeing suspects.

State v. Clonts, ___ N.C. App. ____, 802 S.E.2d 531 (June 20, 2017) aff’d per curiam, ___ N.C. ___, 813 S.E.2d 796 (Jun 8 2018)

A witness’s pretrial deposition testimony, taken in preparation of the criminal case, was clearly testimonial for purposes of the Confrontation Clause. 

In this child sexual assault case, no confrontation clause violation occurred where the victim’s statements were made for the primary purpose of obtaining a medical diagnosis. After the victim revealed the sexual conduct to his mother, he was taken for an appointment at a Children’s Advocacy Center where a registered nurse conducted an interview, which was videotaped. During the interview, the victim recounted, among other things, details of the sexual abuse. A medical doctor then conducted a physical exam. A DVD of the victim’s interview with the nurse was admitted at trial. The court held that the victim’s statements to the nurse were nontestimonial, concluding that the primary purpose of the interview was to safeguard the mental and physical health of the child, not to create a substitute for in-court testimony. Citing Clark, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that state law requiring all North Carolinians to report suspected child abuse transformed the interview into a testimonial one. 

In this driving while license revoked case, the court held that DMV records were non-testimonial. The documents at issue included a copy of the defendant’s driving record certified by the DMV Commissioner; two orders indefinitely suspending his drivers’ license; and a document attached to the suspension orders and signed by a DMV employee and the DMV Commissioner. In this last document, the DMV employee certified that the suspension orders were mailed to the defendant on the dates as stated in the orders, and the DMV Commissioner certified that the orders were accurate copies of the records on file with DMV. The court held that the records, which were created by the DMV during the routine administration of its affairs and in compliance with its statutory obligations to maintain records of drivers’ license revocations and to provide notice to motorists whose driving privileges have been revoked, were non-testimonial.

In a sex offender residential restriction case, the court held that because GPS tracking reports were non-testimonial business records, their admission did not violate the defendant’s confrontation rights. The GPS records were generated in connection with electronic monitoring of the defendant, who was on post-release supervision for a prior conviction. The court reasoned:

[T]he GPS evidence admitted in this case was not generated purely for the purpose of establishing some fact at trial. Instead, it was generated to monitor defendant’s compliance with his post-release supervision conditions. The GPS evidence was only pertinent at trial because defendant was alleged to have violated his post-release conditions. We hold that the GPS report was non-testimonial and its admission did not violate defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights.

(1) In a larceny by merchant case, statements made by a deceased Wal-Mart assistant manager to the store’s loss prevention coordinator were non-testimonial. The loss prevention coordinator was allowed to testify that the assistant manager had informed him about the loss of property, triggering the loss prevention coordinator’s investigation of the matter. The court stated:

[The] statement was not made in direct response to police interrogation or at a formal proceeding while testifying. Rather, [the declarant] privately notified his colleague . . . about a loss of product at the Wal-Mart store. This statement was made outside the presence of police and before defendant was arrested and charged. Thus, the statement falls outside the purview of the Sixth Amendment. Furthermore, [the] statement was not aimed at defendant, and it is unreasonable to believe that his conversation with [the loss prevention coordinator] would be relevant two years later at trial since defendant was not a suspect at the time this statement was made.

(2) Any assertions by the assistant manager contained in a receipt for evidence form signed by him were non-testimonial. The receipt—a law enforcement document—established ownership of the baby formula that had been recovered by the police, as well as its quantity and type; its purpose was to release the property from the police department back to the store.

State v. Glenn, 220 N.C. App. 23 (Apr. 17, 2012)

A non-testifying victim’s statement to a law enforcement officer was testimonial. In the defendant’s trial for kidnapping and other charges, the State introduced statements from a different victim (“the declarant”) who was deceased at the time of trial. The facts surrounding the declarant’s statements were as follows: An officer responding to a 911 call concerning a possible sexual assault at a Waffle House restaurant found the declarant crying and visibly upset. The declarant reported that while she was at a bus stop, a driver asked her for directions. When she leaned in to give directions, the driver grabbed her shirt and told her to get in the vehicle. The driver, who had a knife, drove to a parking lot where he raped and then released her. The declarant then got dressed and walked to the Waffle House. The trial court determined that because the purpose of the interrogation was to resolve an ongoing emergency, the declarant’s statements were nontestimonial. Distinguishing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Michigan v. Bryant, the court of appeals disagreed. The court noted that when the officer arrived “there was no ongoing assault, the declarant had no signs of trauma, no suspect was present, and the officer did not search the area for the perpetrator or secure the scene. The officer asked the declarant if she wanted medical attention (she refused) and what happened. Thus, the court concluded, the officer “assessed the situation, determined there was no immediate threat and then gathered the information.” Furthermore, the declarant told the officer that the perpetrator voluntarily released her. The court concluded that even if the officer believed there was an ongoing emergency when he first arrived, he determined that no ongoing emergency existed when he took the statement. The court also determined that there was no ongoing threat to the victim, law enforcement or the public. It noted that the defendant voluntarily released the declarant and drove away and there was no indication that he would return to harm her further. As for danger to the officer, the court found no evidence that the defendant was ever in the Waffle House parking lot or close enough to harm the officer with his weapon, which was a knife not a gun. The court also concluded that because “the evidence suggested defendant’s motive was sexual and did not rise to the level of endangering the public at large.” Regarding the overall circumstances of the encounter, the court noted that because there was only one officer, “the circumstances of the questioning were more like an interview,” in which the officer asked what happened and the declarant narrated the events. It continued, noting that since the declarant “had no obvious injuries, and initially refused medical attention, the primary purpose of her statement could not have been to obtain medical attention.” Furthermore, she “seemed to have no difficulty in recalling the events, and gave [the officer] a detailed description of the events, implying that her primary purpose was to provide information necessary for defendant’s prosecution.” In fact, the court noted, she told the officer that she wanted to prosecute the suspect. The court concluded that the statement was “clearly” testimonial:

[T]here was no impending danger, because the driver released [the declarant] and [the declarant] was waiting at a restaurant in a presumably safe environment. In addition, [the officer] questioned her with the requisite degree of formality because the questioning was part of an investigation, outside the defendant’s presence. [The officer] wanted to determine “what happened” rather than “what is happening.” Furthermore, [the declarant’s] statement deliberately recounted how potentially criminal events from the past had progressed and the interrogation occurred after the described events ended. Finally, [the declarant] gave the officer a physical description of the driver, how he was dressed, his approximate age, and the type of vehicle he was driving. For a criminal case, this information would be “potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.” (citations omitted).

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