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., 06/22/2024
E.g., 06/22/2024
State v. Locklear, 363 N.C. 438 (Aug. 28, 2009)

In this capital murder case, the trial court did not err in admitting evidence that the defendant committed another murder 32 months earlier. Evidence of the prior murder was admitted to show knowledge, plan, opportunity, modus operandi, and motive. The court found the two crimes sufficiently similar and rejected the defendant’s argument that because the trial court declined to join the offenses for trial, they lacked the necessary similarity. The court noted that remoteness is less significant when the prior bad act is used to show intent, motive, knowledge, or lack of accident and that it generally goes to weight not admissibility.

The defendant was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and other charges and appealed. He argued the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress, his motion to dismiss, and in admitting certain evidence. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed. 

The trial court did not err in admitting evidence of a prior similar crime to prove the defendant’s identity under Rules of Evidence 401, 403, and 404. Evidence was presented at trial showing that the defendant committed crimes similar to those for which he was being tried (although he was not formally charged with these other bad acts). The defendant argued there was insufficient evidence that he committed the alleged acts and that the evidence violated the ban on propensity evidence in Rule 404(b). Rejecting this contention, the court found that the modus operandi of the prior crime was substantially similar to the current case and was admissible to show the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator. Specifically, the incidents shared the following characteristics:

(1) [T]he perpetrator wore a Jason-style white hockey mask with holes in it, similar to the one seized from defendant in Colorado; (2) the targets were all suspected drug dealers or living with suspected drug dealers; (3) the attacks all took place at night in the victims’ homes; (4) defendant had an accomplice; and (5) the incidents had both temporal and geographic proximity, most of them taking place within a month or two of each other, and within the same city.

Additionally, forensics from the incident recounted by the 404(b) witness matched the gun found on the defendant in Colorado. “All of this evidence supports a reasoned conclusion defendant was the perpetrator in this incident, and the common modus operandi helps establish his identity in the crimes he was charged with.” This was relevant evidence, and the court did not abuse its discretion in determining the evidence was more probative than prejudicial.

(1) In this non-capital first-degree murder case where the defendant was convicted of murdering a former girlfriend Sellars, the trial court did not err by admitting 404(b) testimony from the defendant’s former girlfriend Crisp and former wife Lewis about assaults that the defendant committed on them. The evidence was admitted to show motive, intent, modus operandi, and identity. The requirement of similarity was satisfied. Among other things, the trial court’s findings of fact identified “location similarities between the incidents.” The defendant’s assaults of Crisp and Lewis occurred in isolated areas, and Sellars’ remains were found on one of the roads in an isolated area where the defendant assaulted Crisp. With respect to remoteness, the defendant’s assaults on Crisp occurred from 1990-1993; the assaults on Lewis occurred from 1996-1999; and Sellars’ death occurred in 2012, 13 years after the last assault. Subtracting 4 years that the defendant spent in prison, leaves a 9 year gap. The court concluded that assaults on multiple victims over time with relatively short gaps in between show a pattern of behavior, and that the evidence satisfied the temporal proximity requirement of the Rule 404(b) analysis. The court went on to find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the 404 evidence satisfied Rule 403.

(2) The trial court did not err by instructing the jury that it could use of evidence of the defendant’s prior assaults on the victim to show identity. Multiple witnesses testified regarding the defendant’s abuse of the victim prior to her murder and the defendant’s prior assaults on her arose in the context of a relationship in which the defendant used violence to control her behavior. This evidence was properly admitted to show identity.

In this case where the defendant was convicted of stalking victim Lorrie, with whom the defendant had a dating relationship, the trial court did not commit plain error by introducing 404(b) evidence from Holly, the defendant’s ex-girlfriend. The defendant argued that the trial court erred in failing to exclude Holly’s testimony that the defendant had assaulted her in the past, that she was afraid of the defendant, and that the defendant told Holly “he would never be arrested again” and “he would not be taken alive.” The court disagreed, finding that Holly’s testimony established that Lorrie was in reasonable fear of the defendant. Holly testified to texting Lorrie about the assault and warning Lorrie to be careful, and that Holly herself was afraid of the defendant. This testimony demonstrates both that Lorrie had a legitimate basis for her fear of the defendant and that her fear was reasonable as required by the stalking statute. Similarly, the court noted, the defendant’s statements to Holly¾that “he would never be arrested again” and “he would not be taken alive”¾were made in reference to the assault and further illustrate a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to fear for her safety.

In this case where the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder for killing her boyfriend, the trial court did not err by introducing 404(b) evidence pertaining to an incident between the defendant and another boyfriend, Walker, which occurred 14 months before the events in question. The court found strong similarities between the incidents, noting that both involved the defendant and her current boyfriend; the escalation of an argument that led to the use of force; the defendant’s further escalation of the argument; and the defendant’s deliberate decision to obtain a knife from the kitchen. Given these similarities, the court found that the Walker evidence was probative of the defendant’s motive, intent, and plan. Next, the court found that the prior incident was not too remote.

State v. Foust, 220 N.C. App. 63 (Apr. 17, 2012)

In a rape case, the trial court did not err by admitting evidence that the defendant assaulted a male visiting the victim’s home and called the victim a whore and slut upon arriving at her house and finding a male visitor. Rejecting the defendant’s argument that these incidents bore no similarity to the rape at issue, the court noted that the victim was present for both incidents and that her state of mind was relevant to why she did not immediately report the rape.

In a case in which the defendant was found guilty of felonious child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury and first-degree murder, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting 404(b) evidence showing that the defendant engaged in continual and systematic abuse of her other children to show a common plan, scheme, system or design to inflict cruel suffering for the purpose of punishment, persuasion, and sadistic pleasure; motive; malice; intent; and lack of accident.

In a murder case, evidence of an assault committed by the defendant two days before the murder was admissible to show identity when ballistics evidence showed that the same weapon was used in both the murder and the assault. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the probative value of the prior assault was diminished because of the dissimilarity of the incidents.

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