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., 02/01/2023
E.g., 02/01/2023

In this New Hanover County case, defendant appealed after being found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder, arguing (1) the indictment for attempted first-degree murder failed to include an essential element of the offense, (2) error in denying his motion to dismiss one of the attempted murder charges, and (3) error in admitting evidence of past acts of violence and abuse against two former romantic partners. The Court of Appeals found no error.

In August of 2014, after defendant assaulted his girlfriend, a protective order was granted against him. On December 22, 2014, defendant tried to reconcile with his girlfriend, but she refused; the girlfriend went to the house of a friend and stayed with her for protection. Early the next morning, defendant tried to obtain a gun from an acquaintance, and when that failed, he purchased a gas can and filled it with gas. Using the gas can, defendant set fires at the front entrance and back door of the home where his girlfriend was staying. Five people were inside when defendant set the fires, and two were killed by the effects of the flames. Defendant was indicted for first-degree arson, two counts of first-degree murder, and three counts of attempted first-degree murder, and was convicted on all counts (the trial court arrested judgment on the arson charge).

Examining issue (1), the Court of Appeals explained that “with malice aforethought” was represented in the indictment by “the specific facts from which malice is shown, by ‘unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously . . . setting the residence occupied by the victim(s) on fire.’” Slip Op. at 10. Because the ultimate facts constituting each element of attempted first-degree murder were present in the indictment, the lack of “with malice” language did not render the indictment flawed.

Considering defendant’s argument (2), that he did not have specific intent to kill one of the victims because she was a family member visiting from Raleigh, the court found that the doctrine of transferred intent supported his conviction. Under the doctrine, “[t]he actor’s conduct toward the victim is ‘interpreted with reference to his intent and conduct towards his adversary[,]’ and criminal liability for the third party’s death is determined ‘as [if] the fatal act had caused the death of [the intended victim].’” Id. at 12, quoting State v. Locklear, 331 N.C. 239 (1992). Here defendant was attempting to kill his girlfriend, and the intent transferred to the other victims inside the home at the time he set the fires.

Considering (3) the admission of several prior acts of violence by defendant towards his girlfriend and another romantic partner, the court first determined the evidence was relevant under Rules of Evidence 401 and 402, and conducted an analysis under Rule 404(b), finding the evidence tended to show intent, motive, malice, premeditation, and deliberation. The court then looked for abuse of discretion by the trial court under the Rule 403 standard, finding that the admission of the relevant evidence did not represent error.

In a case in which the defendant was convicted of perpetrating a hoax on law enforcement officers by use of a false bomb, the trial court did not err by admitting evidence of the defendant’s prior acts against his estranged wife. The defendant’s wife had a domestic violence protective order against him. When she saw the defendant at her house, she called 911. After arresting the defendant, officers found weapons on his person and the device and other weapons in his vehicle. At trial his wife testified to her prior interactions with the defendant, including those where he threatened her. The evidence of the prior incidents showed the defendant's intent to perpetrate a hoax by use of a false bomb in that they showed his ongoing objective of scaring his wife with suggestions that he would physically harm her and others around her. Also, the prior acts were part of the chain of events leading up to the crime and thus completed the story of the crime for the jury. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the prior acts were not sufficiently similar to the act charged on grounds that similarity was not pertinent to the 404(b) purpose for which the evidence was admitted. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the evidence under Rule 403.

In a second-degree rape case, the trial court properly admitted 404(b) evidence of the defendant’s prior sexual conduct with the victim to show common scheme. The conduct leading to the charges occurred in 1985 when the victim was sixteen years old. After ingesting alcohol and other substances, the victim awoke to find the defendant, her uncle, having sex with her. At trial the victim testified that in 1977, the defendant touched her breasts several times; in 1978, he touched her breasts, put her hand on his penis, and made her rub his penis up and down; and in 1980 he twice masturbated in front of her. The court found the prior acts sufficient similar to the rape at issue, noting that they show “a progression from inappropriate touching in 1977 to sexual intercourse in 1985.” Also, the court noted, all of the incidents occurred where the defendant was living at the time. The incidents were not too remote. Although there was a five year gap between the last act and the rape, the defendant did not have access to the victim for three years. The court also found that the evidence was admissible under Rule 403.

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.

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 maiming case in which the defendant was accused of attacking the victim with a pickaxe and almost severing his finger, no plain error occurred when the trial judge admitted 404(b) evidence that the defendant had previously attacked the victim with a fork and stabbed his finger. The 404(b) evidence was admitted to show absence of accident or mistake. Although the defendant argued that she never intended to purposefully strike the victim’s finger with the pickaxe, the defendant knew from the fork incident that she could end up stabbing the victim’s hand or fingers if she swung at him with a weapon and he attempted to defend himself. The evidence was thus relevant to whether the defendant intended to disable the victim or whether she accidentally struck his finger and did not intend to maim it. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the 404(b) evidence was inadmissible because the State had previously dismissed charges arising from the fork incident, distinguishing cases in which the defendants had been tried and acquitted of the 404(b) conduct.

The trial court properly admitted evidence of the defendant’s prior assault on a murder victim when the evidence showed that the defendant wanted to prevent the victim from testifying against him in the assault trial; the prior bad act showed motive, malice, hatred, ill-will and intent. There was no abuse of discretion in the 403 balancing with respect to this highly probative evidence.

In a trial for assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting and obstructing, the trial court properly admitted evidence relating to the defendant’s earlier domestic disturbance arrest. The same officer involved in the present offenses handled the earlier arrest, and at the time had told the defendant’s mother to call him if there were additional problems. It was the defendant’s mother’s call that brought the officers to the residence on the date in question. Thus, the fact of the earlier arrest helped to provide a complete picture of the events for the jury. The court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the defendant’s statement to the police after his arrest while he was being transported to the jail. The court found that the defendant’s argumentative statements showed both his intent to assault or resist officers as well as absence of mistake.

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