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., 02/22/2024
E.g., 02/22/2024

In this Wake County case, defendant appealed his convictions for statutory rape, statutory sexual offense, and indecent liberties with a child, arguing the admission of hearsay cellphone records violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. The Court of Appeals agreed, vacating the judgment and remanding for a new trial. 

In 2022, defendant came to trial for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl during the summer of 2019. At trial, the State offered cellphone records showing calls between a number associated with defendant and a number associated with the victim as Exhibits #2 and #3. Defendant was subsequently convicted of all charges, and defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals issued an opinion on October 17, 2023, which was subsequently withdrawn and replaced by the current opinion. 

Considering defendant’s Sixth Amendment argument, the court quoted State v. Locklear, 363 N.C. 438 (2009), for the concept that the Confrontation Clause “bars admission of direct testimonial evidence, ‘unless the declarant is unavailable to testify and the accused had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the declarant.’” Slip Op. at 7-8. When determining whether a defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were violated, courts apply a three-part test: “(1) whether the evidence admitted was testimonial in nature; (2) whether the trial court properly ruled the declarant was unavailable; and, (3) whether defendant had an opportunity to cross-examine the declarant.” Id. at 8. Here, “[t]he trial court’s findings answered the first and second factors . . . in the affirmative and the third factor in the negative,” meaning “the evidence should have been excluded.” Id. at 9. 

The court went on to explain why the admission of the two exhibits was improper under the residual exception in Rule of Evidence 803(24), noting that “[t]he primary purpose of the court-ordered production of and preparation of the data records retained and provided by Verizon was to prepare direct testimonial evidence for Defendant’s trial.” Id. at 13. Because defendant was “not given the prior opportunity or at trial to challenge or cross-examine officials from Verizon, who had purportedly accumulated this evidence . . . their admission as such violated Defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause.” Id

After establishing that admission of the exhibits was error, the court explained that the State could not meet the burden of showing the error was “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” as required for constitutional errors. Id. at 14. As a result, the court vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial. 

In this Edgecombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions of obtaining property by false pretenses and exploitation of a disabled or elderly person in a business relationship. The Court of Appeals found no error and affirmed defendant’s convictions. 

Defendant approached an 88-year-old woman at her home and offered to assist her with home improvement work. After claiming to perform several tasks and having the homeowner agree to invoices, an investigation determined that defendant did not perform the work he claimed, and he was indicted for the charges in this matter. Before the criminal trial, the elderly homeowner filed for a civil no-contact order against defendant. Defendant did not appear at the hearing and did not cross-examine any witnesses; the no-contact order was entered against defendant at the conclusion of the hearing. Defendant subsequently filed motions attempting to inspect the property in question, and the trial court denied those motions. The homeowner died prior to the criminal trial and the trial court entered an order admitting her testimony from the no-contact civil hearing. 

Defendant’s appeal asserted two errors by the trial court: (1) admission of the testimony of the homeowner from the civil hearing, and (2) denial of his motion to inspect the property. The Court of Appeals first considered the admission of testimony and the confrontation clause issues involved, applying the three-prong test articulated in State v. Clark, 165 N.C. App. 279 (2004). The court determined that defendant did have a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine the homeowner in the civil hearing, but he did not take advantage of that opportunity. Because that hearing was on matters substantially similar to the criminal trial, defendant waived his opportunity by not cross-examining the homeowner. The similarity of matters also supported the court’s hearsay analysis, as it found that the testimony was admissible under the exception in North Carolina Rule of Evidence 804(b)(1). The court also found that the admission of the no-contact order did not represent plain error under N.C.G.S. § 1-149 and was not a violation of defendant’s due process rights. 

Considering defendant’s second issue, the court explained that there is no general right to discovery in a criminal case, and defendant identified no clear grounds for discovery to be required in this matter. AlthoughState v. Brown, 306 N.C. 151 (1982), provides criminal defendants may have a right to inspect a crime scene under limited circumstances, the court distinguished defendant’s situation from Brown. Specifically, defendant performed the work here himself and was not deprived of the ability to find exculpatory evidence, as he would have firsthand knowledge of the work and locations in question. The court found no right to inspect the property in this case and no error by the trial court in denying defendant’s request. 

No violation of the defendant’s confrontation rights occurred when the trial court admitted an unavailable witness’s testimony at a proceeding in connection with the defendant’s Alford plea under the Rule 804(b)(1) hearsay exception for former testimony. The witness was unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine her at the plea hearing. 

State v. Ross, 216 N.C. App. 337 (Oct. 18, 2011)

Defense counsel’s cross-examination of a declarant at a probable cause hearing satisfied Crawford’s requirement of a prior opportunity for cross-examination. 

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