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., 07/22/2024
E.g., 07/22/2024

In this Catawba County case, defendant appealed his convictions for statutory rape, indecent liberties with a child, and incest with a child, arguing error in excluding a handwritten note that defendant attempted to introduce to attack the alleged victim’s credibility. The Court of Appeals majority agreed with defendant, ordering a new trial. 

In April of 2020, the alleged victim ran away from home, eventually telling police that she left because she was angry at defendant for cancelling a sleepover with her friends. She alleged several incidents of sexual abuse by defendant, and a forensic examination found evidence of past sexual trauma. At trial, defendant attempted to attack the victim’s credibility by introducing a handwritten note that she snuck out of her bedroom window one night to meet her boyfriend. Defendant argued the note showed (1) lack of credibility and (2) a possible perpetrator of the assaults, the boyfriend. After voir dire about the note and an extended discussion with the parties, the trial court held the note was inadmissible, noting it was more prejudicial than probative. 

Taking up the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals majority first established that defendant adequately preserved the objection to the trial court’s ruling, despite a confusing exchange between defense counsel and the trial court regarding the objection. The court then explained the abuse of discretion, holding that “[t]he trial court applied the wrong legal standard because: (1) it failed to engage in the requisite [Rule] 403 balancing; and (2) it failed to find that the Note’s probative value was substantially outweighed by the possibility of unfair prejudice.” Slip Op. at 12 (cleaned up). Because the credibility of the alleged victim was the primary issue at trial, impeachment of her was central to defendant’s case, and “[t]he contradictions within the Note and created by the Note are highly probative of Complainant’s credibility.” Id. at 13. As a result of the trial court’s error, defendant was prejudiced and the court ordered a new trial. 

Judge Tyson dissented, and would have applied the plain error standard to reviewing defendant’s argument as it was not properly preserved; the judge also would have held that the Rule 403 conclusion excluding the note was not an abuse of discretion had it been preserved. The lengthy dissent also discusses Rule 412 and defendant’s objections to certain expert testimony. 

The basic facts of this case are as follows: Marvin Price closed his account at the Mountain Credit Union, withdrawing $25,000 in cash. He put $300 to $400 in his wallet and the remainder in an envelope. When he arrived home and got out of his car, he was robbed at gunpoint by Michael Angram, who asked Price, “Where is the $25,000?” Price claimed that he deposited it at another bank, although he had not actually done so, and Michael Angram took the wallet only. In a separate case, Michael Angram was convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon. The defendant in this case is Michael Angram’s brother. He was tried jointly with Ms. Robinson, who worked at the credit union and with whom the defendant had a child, on charges of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and aiding and abetting robbery with a dangerous weapon. They were acquitted of conspiracy and found guilty of aiding and abetting. This appeal concerned the defendant only.

The question addressed by the Court of Appeals was whether the State offered sufficient evidence to withstand the defendant’s motion to dismiss, which the trial judge had denied. At trial, the State called Michael Angram, who testified that he did not remember the robbery and did not know why he had been convicted. He did not testify to anything incriminating about the defendant. The State then called a detective to impeach Michael Angram. The detective testified that Michael Angram said that the defendant told him about the $25,000 bank withdrawal and drove him to Price’s home. The Court of Appeals recognized that the detective’s testimony was limited to impeaching Michael Angram’s credibility. The only substantive evidence offered by the State was that Ms. Robinson had a relationship with the defendant, that she was working at the credit union along with three other employees when Price withdrew the $25,000, and that she talked on the phone with the defendant while Price was at the credit union. The State argued that the jury could infer from this evidence that Ms. Robinson told the defendant of the withdrawal and that the defendant then arranged with his brother to rob Price. The Court found that while circumstantial evidence may support conviction of a crime, the State’s argument was speculative. The Court concluded that without the information from the detective’s testimony, which was not admitted for substantive purposes, there was not substantial evidence to withstand the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The Court concluded that the trial judge should have granted the defendant’s motion and reversed the judgment. [Note: The Court found it unnecessary to address the defendant’s other issue on appeal—that the trial judge erred in permitting the detective to testify about Michael Angram’s statements because the State was aware that Michael Angram would not be forthcoming as a witness; the real purpose of the detective’s testimony was to get otherwise inadmissible hearsay before the jury in violation of State v. Hunt, 324 N.C. 343 (1989); and the testimony was unduly prejudicial and not cured by the trial judge’s limiting instruction.]

(1) The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting a recording of a witness’s interview with the police for corroboration and impeachment. The witness in question testified for the State. Although much of her testimony was consistent with her earlier interview, it diverged in some respects. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State had called the witness in pretext so as to be able to introduce her prior inconsistent statements as impeachment. In this respect it noted the trial court’s finding that her testimony was “90 percent consistent with what she said before.” Additionally the trial court gave appropriate limiting instructions. The court went on to reject the defendant’s argument that admitting the recording for both corroboration and impeachment is “logically contradictory and counterintuitive,” noting that the State did not introduce a single pretrial statement for both corroboration and impeachment; rather, it introduced a recording of the witness’s interview, which included many pretrial statements, some of which tended to corroborate her testimony and some of which tended to impeach her testimony. (2) The trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing a detective to read portions of the transcript of the recording. The defendant argued that the trial court’s decision to allow the detective to read portions of the transcript that the State believed were not clearly audible from the recording intruded upon the province of the jury. The court concluded, however, that because the detective interviewed the witness, she had personal knowledge of the interview and could testify about it at trial. Additionally, the trial court gave a proper limiting instruction.

In a murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to impeach two witnesses with their prior inconsistent statements to the police. Both witnesses testified that they were at the scene but did not see the defendant. The State then impeached them with their prior statements to the police putting the defendant at the scene, with one identifying the defendant as the shooter. Both of the witnesses’ statements to the police were material and both witnesses admitted having made them. Use of the inconsistent statements did not constitute subterfuge on the State’s part to present otherwise inadmissible evidence, where there was no evidence indicating that the State was not genuinely surprised by the witnesses’ testimony.

Because the witness admitted having made a prior statement to the police, it was not error to allow the State to impeach her with the prior inconsistent statement when she claimed not to remember what she had said and the trial court gave a limiting instruction. The court distinguished the case from one in which the witness denies having made the prior statement. Even if use of the prior inconsistent statement was error, no prejudice resulted.

The trial court did not err by admitting a witness’s out of court statements. When a State’s witness gave trial testimony inconsistent with his prior statements to the police, the State cross-examined him regarding his prior statements. After the witness denied making the statements, the trial court overruled a defense objection and admitted, for purposes of impeachment by the State, a transcript of the witness’s prior statements. The court rejected the argument that this constituted improper use of extrinsic evidence for impeachment. The rule against using extrinsic evidence to impeach a witness on collateral matters prohibits the introduction of the substance of a prior statement to impeach a witness’s denial that he or she made the prior statement because the truth or falsity of that denial was a collateral matter. However, when the witness not only denies making the prior statements but also testifies inconsistently with them, the rule does not prohibit impeaching a witness’s inconsistent testimony with the substance of the prior statements. Here, the substance of the witness’s prior statements properly was admitted to impeach his inconsistent testimony, not his denial. 

The State properly impeached the defendant with prior inconsistent statements. In this murder case, the defendant claimed that the child victim drowned in a bathtub while the defendant met with a drug dealer. Although the defendant gave statements prior to trial, he never mentioned that meeting. At trial, the State attempted to impeach him with this fact. The court noted that to qualify as inconsistent, the prior statement must have eliminated “a material circumstance presently testified to which would have been natural to mention in the prior statement.” The court noted that the defendant voluntarily gave the police varying explanations for why the child stopped breathing (he threw up and then stopped breathing after falling asleep; he drowned in the tub). An alleged meeting while the child was in the tub would have been natural to include in these prior statements. Thus, the court concluded, his prior inconsistent statements were properly used for impeachment.

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