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 New Hanover County case, defendant appealed his convictions for possession of burglary tools and attempted breaking and entering, arguing error in admitting evidence of a 2018 breaking and entering incident. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In November of 2020, defendant entered the backyard of a Wilmington home and attempted to open the door of a storage shed. The homeowner’s security camera alerted the homeowner, who then called 911. Defendant was later found by police in a neighbor’s yard with bolt cutters and a box cutter with a screwdriver head. During the trial, the prosecution introduced evidence of a 2018 incident where defendant pleaded guilty to breaking and entering a residential shed using a small knife. Despite defendant’s objections, the trial court admitted evidence of defendant’s guilty plea to the 2018 incident, as well as testimony from the investigating officer and surveillance video from the 2018 incident.  

On appeal, defendant first argued error by the trial court in admitting the testimony and video evidence of the 2018 incident. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the testimony and evidence were relevant and admissible under Rule 404(b) and not unfairly prejudicial under Rule 403. The court first examined defendant’s argument that the 2018 incident was not sufficiently similar to the 2020 incident to justify admitting the evidence. Using State v. Martin, 191 N.C. App. 462 (2008) as a guiding example, the court noted that here the similarities of breaking into a shed, after midnight, using similar tools, clearly met the Rule 404(b) requirement of similarity. Slip Op. at 12-13. The court also found the other two elements of Rule 404(b) were satisfied by the 2018 incident, as the prior incident had probative value for defendant’s intent to break into the shed, and the gap in time between the two incidents was not unusually long based on applicable precedent. After establishing admissibility under Rule 404(b), the court performed the Rule 403 analysis, finding no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s weighing of the danger of unfair prejudice verses probative value, and noting that the trial court carefully handled the process. 

Defendant’s second argument on appeal was that the 2018 video surveillance evidence was not properly authenticated. The court again disagreed, noting that under Rule of Evidence 901, tapes from surveillance cameras can be authenticated as “the accurate product of an automated process” as long as “[e]vidence that the recording process is reliable and that the video introduced at trial is the same video that was produced by the recording process” is admitted to support the video. Id. at 21, quoting State v. Snead, 368 N.C. 811, 814 (2016). Here the court found that the investigating officer’s testimony in support of the video satisfied the requirements for authentication. Additionally, the court noted that even if the video was not properly authenticated, defendant could not show prejudice due to the large amount of evidence supporting his conviction. 

In this Mecklenburg County case, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon for shooting and killing Oren Reed. Reed’s aunt found his body in a pool of blood inside the backdoor of his home around 5 p.m. on November 21, 2013. The doorframe for the backdoor was splintered, and glass and bullet shells were on the ground. The State introduced evidence at trial that the previous day someone had kicked in the side door to Chris Townsend’s house, breaking the door frame, and had stolen a revolver and bullets. Other evidence showed that the stolen gun, found in defendant’s possession when he was arrested, was used to fire 22 of the 23 spent cartridges at Reed’s residence. An expert testified that two of the bullets recovered from Reed’s body shared similar class and characteristics as bullets fired from this gun. 

(1) On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court committed plain error by admitting evidence of the break-in at the Townsend residence. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument, reasoning that the evidence was relevant because it tended to show how the defendant gained possession of the murder weapon. The evidence also was admissible under N.C. R. Evid. 404(b) as it showed the natural development of the facts and completed the story of the murder and because there were substantial similarities between the two incidents.

(2) The defendant also argued on appeal that the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury on the doctrine of recent possession, which allows a jury to infer that the possessor of recently stolen property stole the property. The defendant argued that this inference was not relevant to whether he broke into Reed’s house and killed him and that it likely caused the jury to convict the defendant of felony-murder based on the break-in to Townsend’s home. The Court of Appeals determined that, even presuming the trial court erred in instructing the jury that it could consider the doctrine of recent possession in deciding whether the defendant was guilty of first-degree murder, the defendant failed to show the instruction had a probable impact on the verdict. The Court reasoned that even if the recent possession instruction could have caused the jury to improperly convict the defendant of felony-murder, the instruction did not have a probable impact on first-degree murder verdict because the jury also found the defendant guilty based on malice, premeditation and deliberation.

In this felony breaking and entering, larceny, and felon in possession case, evidence that the defendant committed a similar breaking and entering was properly admitted under Rule 404(b).  In addition, certain statements made by the victim of the similar breaking and entering were admissible as a present sense impression, and there was sufficient evidence of the felon in possession offense.  Regarding the 404(b) issue, the court determined that evidence of the other similar breaking and entering being committed by a person wearing a red and black hoody was properly admitted as circumstantially establishing that the defendant, who was wearing a red and black hoody when arrested on the same day as the break-ins, was the perpetrator in both incidents.  An officer’s testimony about the statements made by the victim of the other break-in were admissible under the present sense impression exception to the hearsay rule because the statements were made within minutes of the victim perceiving the break-in and described or explained the event.  Finally, the evidence of the felon in possession offense was sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss as it showed that three guns were stolen during the break-in and that the defendant was the perpetrator.

State v. Campbell, 243 N.C. App. 563 (Oct. 20, 2015) rev’d on other grounds, 369 N.C. 599 (Jun 9 2017)

In a case involving a breaking or entering of a church, counsel was not ineffective by failing to challenge the admissibility of evidence that the defendant broke into a home on the night in question. The court noted that because the issue pertains to the admission of evidence no further factual development was required and it could be addressed on appeal. It went on to hold that the evidence was admissible under Rule 404(b) to show that the defendant’s intent in entering the church was to commit a larceny therein and to contradict his testimony that he entered the church for sanctuary. The evidence also was admissible under Rule 403. As to the defendant’s argument that counsel should have requested a limiting instruction that the jury could not consider the evidence to show his character and propensity, the court agreed that a limiting instruction would have mitigated any potential unfair prejudice. But it held: “any resulting unfair prejudice did not substantially outweigh the evidence’s probative value, given the temporal proximity of the breaking or entering offenses and the evidence’s tendency to show that defendant’s intent in entering the church was to commit a larceny therein.” Because the defendant failed to show that admission of the evidence was error he could not prevail on his ineffective assistance claim.

In the defendant’s trial for breaking and entering into his ex-wife’s Raleigh residence and for burning her personal property, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting 404(b) evidence of an argument the defendant had with the victim and of a prior break-in at the victim’s Atlanta apartment for which the defendant was not investigated, charged, or convicted. The victim testified that in June 2008, while at her apartment in Raleigh, the defendant became angry and threw furniture and books, shoved a television, and broke a lamp. A few months later, the victim’s Atlanta apartment was burglarized and ransacked. Her couch was shredded, a lamp was broken, the floor was covered in an oily substance, her personal belongings were strewn about, and her laptop and car title were stolen. Police could not locate any fingerprints or DNA evidence tying the defendant to the crime; no eyewitnesses placed the defendant at the scene. In January 2009, the crime at issue occurred when the victim’s apartment in Raleigh was burglarized and ransacked. Her clothes and other personal belongings were strewn about and covered in liquid, her furniture was cut, her electronics destroyed, the floor was covered in liquid, her pictures were slashed, and a fire was lit in the fireplace, in which pictures of the defendant and the victim, books, shoes, picture frames, and photo albums had been burned. The only stolen item was a set of jewelry given to her by the defendant. As with the earlier break-in, the police could not locate any forensic evidence or eyewitnesses tying the defendant to the crime. The court found it clear from the record that the evidence established “a significant connection between defendant and the three incidents.” The court went on to find that the prior bad acts were properly admitted to show common plan or scheme, identity, and motive.

Evidence of a break-in by the defendant, occurring after the break-in in question, was properly admitted under Rule 404(b). DNA evidence sufficiently linked the defendant to the break-in and the evidence was probative of  intent, identity, modus operandi, and common scheme or plan. 

In a case involving charges arising out of a drug store break-in in which controlled substances were stolen, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting 404(b) testimony from an accomplice that a few days before the break-in at issue, the same perpetrators broke into a different pharmacy but did not obtain any narcotics. The incidents were sufficiently similar, occurred only a few days apart, and involved the same accomplices.

In a murder and armed robbery case, the trial court did not commit plain error by admitting 404(b) evidence that the defendant broke into and stole from two houses near the time of the victim’s death. The evidence was relevant to illustrate the defendant’s motive for stealing from the victim—to support an addiction to prescription pain killers.

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