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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

(1) In this murder, robbery and assault case, the trial court properly found that a witness was unavailable to testify under Evidence Rule 804 and the Confrontation Clause. The witness, Montes, was arrested in connection with the crimes at issue. She cooperated with officers and gave a statement that incriminated the defendant. She agreed to appear in court and testify against the defendant, but failed to do so. Her whereabouts were unknown to her family, her bondsman and the State. The State successfully moved to allow her recorded statement into evidence on grounds that she was unavailable and that the defendant forfeited his constitutional right to confrontation due to his own wrongdoing. The defendant was convicted and appealed. Considering the issue, the court noted that the evidence rule requires that a finding of unavailability be supported by evidence of process or other reasonable means. To establish unavailability under the Confrontation Clause, there must be evidence that the State made a good-faith effort to obtain the witness’s presence at trial. Here, the State delivered a subpoena for Montes to her lawyer, and Montes agreed to appear in court to testify against the defendant. These findings support a conclusion both that the State used reasonable means and made a good-faith effort to obtain the witness’s presence at trial. 

(2) The trial court properly found that the defendant forfeited his Confrontation Clause rights through wrongdoing. The relevant standard for determining forfeiture by wrongdoing is a preponderance of the evidence and the State met this burden. Here, the defendant made phone calls from jail showing an intent to intimidate Montes into not testifying, and threatened another testifying witness. Additionally, his mother and grandmother, who helped facilitate his threatening calls to Montes, showed up at Montes’ parents’ house before trial to engage in a conversation with her about her testimony. The trial court properly found that the net effect of the defendant’s conduct was to pressure and intimidate Montes into not appearing in court and not testifying.

The trial court properly applied the forfeiture by wrongdoing exception to the Crawford rule. At the defendant’s trial for first-degree murder and kidnapping, an eyewitness named Wilson was excused from testifying further after becoming distraught on the stand. The trial court determined that Wilson’s testimony would remain on the record under the forfeiture by wrongdoing exception and denied the defendant’s motion for a mistrial. At a hearing on the issue Wilson disclosed that, as they were being transported to the courthouse for trial, the defendant threatened to kill Wilson and his family. A detention officer testified that she heard the threat. Also, in a taped interview with detectives and prosecutors, Wilson repeatedly expressed concern for his life and the lives of his family members. Finally, the defendant made several phone calls that showing an intent to intimidate Wilson. In one call to his grandmother, the defendant repeatedly referred to Wilson as “nigger” and said he would “straighten this nigger out”. During the phone calls, the defendant joked about the “slick moves” he used to prevent Wilson from testifying. In other calls, the defendant instructed acquaintances to come to court to intimidate Wilson while he was testifying. One of those acquaintances said he would be in court on the morning of 2 March 2011. On that date, Wilson, who already had been hesitant and fearful on the stand, became even more emotional and “broke down” upon seeing a young man dressed in street clothes indicative of gang attire enter the courtroom. These facts were sufficient to establish that the defendant intended to and did intimidate Wilson. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that application of the doctrine was improper because Wilson never testified that he chose to remain silent out of fear of the defendant. The court stated: “It would be nonsensical to require that a witness testify against a defendant in order to establish that the defendant has intimidated the witness into not testifying. Put simply, if a witness is afraid to testify against a defendant in regard to the crime charged, we believe that witness will surely be afraid to finger the defendant for having threatened the witness, itself a criminal offense.”

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