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., 06/21/2024
E.g., 06/21/2024
State v. Maready, 362 N.C. 614 (Dec. 12, 2008)

The defendant was convicted of second-degree murder involving impaired driving. No plain error occurred when the trial judge admitted, under Rule 404(b), the defendant’s prior traffic-related convictions that were more than sixteen years old. The court rejected the implication that it previously had adopted a bright line rule that it was plain error to admit traffic-related convictions that occurred more than sixteen years before the date of a second-degree vehicular murder. Of the defendant’s six previous DWI convictions, four occurred in the sixteen years before the events at issue, including one within six months of the event at issue. Those convictions “constitute part of a clear and consistent pattern of criminality highly probative of his mental state.” Although temporal proximity is relevant to the assessments of probative value under 404(b), remoteness generally affects the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility, especially when the prior conduct tends to show state of mind as opposed to common scheme or plan.

In this Columbus County case, defendant appealed her conviction for second-degree murder based on driving while impaired (DWI) and reckless driving, arguing error in (1) denying her motion to suppress the results of a blood sample, (2) admitting a lab report prepared by an expert who did not testify, and (3) admitting evidence under Rule of Evidence 404(b) of previous DWIs and bad driving. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In February of 2018, defendant caused a tractor-trailer to crash because she was driving very slowly in the right-hand lane of a highway. The driver of the tractor-trailer was killed when the cab caught fire after the accident. Several witnesses noted defendant’s slow responses and movements, and a State Highway Patrol trooper noticed cans of aerosol duster in her purse. The trooper took defendant to a hospital and she consented to a blood draw. Before trial defendant filed a motion to suppress the blood draw based on violations of G.S. 20-16.2, and a motion to limit Rule 404(b) evidence of prior DWIs and bad driving, but the trial court denied both motions. During the trial, the State offered two lab reports based on the blood sample, showing defendant had Difluoroethane (a substance from aerosol dusters), Xanax, and several other prescription drugs in her blood. Defense counsel objected to the lab reports on Sixth Amendment grounds as the testifying expert was not the scientist who authored the reports, but the trial court admitted them into evidence.

Reviewing (1), the Court of Appeals first noted that defendant’s objection to the blood sample at trial was based upon G.S. 20-16.2 (implied consent to chemical analysis), not on Fourth Amendment constitutional grounds. Here, the court pointed to State v. Davis, 364 N.C. 297 (2010), for the proposition that defendant’s failure to raise the constitutional issue by objection at trial resulted in her waiving the argument. Because defendant also did not renew the statutory argument on appeal, the court declined to address either issue. 

Moving to (2), the court explained “this case is not one in which the expert witness testifying in court did not personally participate in the testing.” Slip Op. at 14. Instead, the expert witness called by the State had participated in the lab analysis even though she was not listed as the author of the report, and she had reviewed the results as if she had conducted the tests herself. The court held that defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were not violated because “[a]s an expert with personal knowledge of the processes involved and personal participation in the testing, [the State’s expert] was the witness whom Defendant had a right to cross-examine, and she was indeed subject to cross-examination at trial.” Id. at 15. 

Reaching (3), the court explained defendant’s argument rested upon the Rule 404(b) evidence failing the Rule of Evidence 403 balancing test, arguing the probative value did not outweigh the prejudicial nature of the evidence. The court noted each of the incidents were probative of malice and knowledge of the danger of defendant’s actions. When considering prejudice, the court explained that “[n]one of the prior incidents related to any particularly shocking or emotional facts that would have inflamed the jurors” and held the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion. Id. at 18. 

In this Vance County case, defendant appealed his convictions for second-degree murder, felony hit and run, DWI, reckless driving, failure to reduce speed, and failure to comply with license restrictions, arguing improperly admitted expert testimony and evidence of a prior DWI charge, a fatally defective indictment for the license restriction charge, and sentencing errors. The Court of Appeals found no error for the evidence issues but agreed that the indictment for the license restriction charge was defective and the sentencing issues were valid, remanding the matter for resentencing.  

In May of 2018, highway patrol troopers responded to the scene of an accident in Henderson where an SUV ran into the back of a sedan and seriously injured the passengers. The SUV was found several yards away from the sedan, wrecked into a fence, with a cold six-pack in the front seat and no driver inside. After a canine search, defendant was found hiding under a boxcar nearby, with the keys to the SUV in his pocket. When defendant’s blood alcohol level was sampled it was 0.15. At trial, a state trooper who was not one of the investigating officers testified as an expert regarding the speed of the SUV and whether it exceeded the speed limit. The trial court also admitted evidence of a pending 2017 DWI charge against defendant under Rule of Evidence 404(b). Defendant’s objections to both were overruled. 

The Court of Appeals first took up the expert testimony issue, turning to State v. McGrady, 368 N.C. 880 (2016), to explain the wide discretion granted to a trial court under Rule of Evidence 702(a) when determining whether to admit expert testimony. Slip Op. at 7-8. Here, the trooper was unable to use a scientific method for determining speed due to the circumstances of the crash, so he testified using his experience and specialized training. The Court found no issue with the testimony and noted defendant was able to fully cross-examine and challenge the expert testimony.  

Turning to the Rule 404(b) issue, the court noted that evidence of the 2017 DWI charge was admitted “to show his intent, knowledge, or absence of mistake to support malice, an essential element of second-degree murder.” Id. at 11. Finding that the admission was not error, the court pointed to a N.C. Supreme Court decision, State v. Jones, 353 N.C. 159 (2000), where evidence of a previous DWI charge was admitted for just such a purpose. 

For the license restriction charge, the court explained “[t]he State concedes the license restriction violation indictment was facially invalid,” and likewise conceded issues with prior record level and DWI level sentencing. Slip Op. at 13. As a result, the court found no error for all charges except the license restriction violation, which it vacated, and remanded the judgments for resentencing. 

In a case involving a conviction for second-degree murder following a fatal motor vehicle accident, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of the defendant’s past driving offenses. The State’s evidence showed that on 23 November 2016, the defendant was stopped for an expired plate and was issued a citation for driving with a suspended license. At the time of the incident in question, the defendant’s license had been suspended since 22 May 2014 for failure to appear for a 2013 infraction of failure to reduce speed. Since the defendant’s driver’s license was originally issued in September 1997, he had multiple driving convictions including: failure to stop for siren or red light, illegal passing, speeding 80 in a 50, and reckless driving in March 1998; speeding 64 in a 55 in September 2000; speeding 64 in a 55 in October 2000; speeding 70 in a 50 in August 2003; driving while license revoked and speeding 54 in a 45 in January 2005; speeding 54 in a 45 in December 2006; failure to reduce speed resulting in accident and injury in February 2007; a South Carolina conviction for speeding 34 in a 25 in March 2011; speeding 44 in a 35 in January 2012; speeding 84 in a 65 in May 2013; and failure to reduce speed in February 2017 (the conviction corresponding to the 2013 charge on which the defendant failed to appear). Six of these prior convictions resulted in suspension of the defendant’s license. On appeal the defendant argued that the trial court erred by admitting his prior driving record without sufficient evidence establishing temporal proximity and factual similarity. The court disagreed. It found that there was no question that his prior driving record was admissible to show malice. It further held that the trial court’s finding of similarity was supported by the fact that the vast majority of prior charges involve the same types of conduct that the defendant was alleged to have committed in the present case—namely speeding, illegal passing, and driving while license revoked. Although the State did not present evidence of the specific circumstances surrounding the prior convictions, the similarity was evident from the nature of the charges.

            The trial court’s finding of temporal proximity was supported by the spread of convictions over the entirety of the defendant’s record, from the year his license was issued up until the year of the accident in question, showing a consistent pattern of conduct including speeding, illegal passing, and driving with a revoked license. The gaps in time between charges, never greater than three or four years, were not significant. Moreover, many of the gaps between charges occurred when the defendant’s license was suspended and he could not legally drive. The trial court properly determined that the time gaps in this pattern of conduct were less significant in light of the likely causes for the gaps, the defendant’s inability to legally drive. Additionally, the trial court properly gave a limiting instruction

            The court further rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence should have been excluded because of the 10 year time limit under evidence Rule 609. That rule however only applies to evidence used to impeach a witness’s credibility, which is not at issue here.

In a second-degree murder case arising after the defendant drove while impaired and hit and killed two bicyclists, the trial court did not err by admitting Rule 404(b) evidence. Specifically, Thelma Shumaker, a woman defendant dated, testified regarding an incident where the defendant drove while impaired on the same road two months before the collision in question. Shumaker also testified that the defendant habitually drank alcohol, drank alcohol while driving 20 times, and drove while impaired one or two additional times. The trial court found that Shumaker’s testimony regarding the specific incident was admissible to show malice. With regard to Shumaker’s other testimony, the court held that even if the evidence was inadmissible, the defendant could not establish the requisite prejudice, given the other evidence. 

(1) The trial court did not err by admitting evidence that the defendant received two citations for driving without a license, including one only three days before the crash at issue. The fact that the defendant drove after having been repeatedly informed that driving without a license was unlawful was relevant to malice. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that admission of the “bare fact” of the citations violated the Wilkerson rule (bare fact of a conviction may not be admitted under Rule 404(b)). The court noted that Wilkerson recognized that conviction for a traffic-related offense may "show the malice necessary to support a second-degree murder conviction," because it was "the underlying evidence that showed the necessary malice, not the fact that a trial court convicted the defendant." Thus, the court concluded, Wilkerson does not apply. (3) The trial court did not err by admitting an officer’s testimony of the defendant’s conduct after the crash. The evidence suggested that the defendant was continuing to try to escape regardless of the collision and in callous disregard for the condition of his passengers and as such supports a finding of malice.

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