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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

In this drug case, a new trial was required where character evidence was improperly admitted. When cross-examining the defendant’s witness, the prosecutor elicited testimony that the defendant had been incarcerated for a period of time. The court viewed this testimony as being equivalent to testimony regarding evidence of a prior conviction. Because the defendant did not testify at trial, the State could not attack his credibility with evidence of a prior conviction. The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant opened the door to this testimony, finding that the defendant did not put his good character at issue.

In this larceny trial, the trial court did err by allowing the State to cross-examine the defendant on his previous convictions for uttering a forged instrument, forgery, and obtaining property by false pretenses, all of which occurred more than 10 years ago. The court noted that it has held that under Rule 609 trial court must make findings as to the specific facts and circumstances demonstrating that the probative value of an older conviction outweighs its prejudicial effect and that a conclusory finding that the evidence would attack the defendant's credibility without prejudicial effect does not satisfy this requirement. It continued, however, stating that a trial court’s failure to follow this requirement “does not [necessarily constitute] reversible error.” (quotation omitted). It explained: “Where there is no material conflict in the evidence, findings and conclusions are not necessary.” (quotation omitted). Here, other than making a general objection, the defendant offered no evidence and made no attempt to rebut the State’s argument for admitting the prior convictions. Furthermore, a trial court’s failure to make the necessary findings is not error when the record demonstrates the probative value of prior conviction evidence to be obvious, and that principle applied in the case at hand. The court held: “although the trial court’s findings were conclusory and would normally be inadequate under Rule 609(b), the record contains facts and circumstances showing the probative value of the evidence.” Among other things, it noted that the defendant’s credibility was central to the case and that all of the prior crimes involved dishonesty. 

 

(1) Under Rule 609, a party is not required to establish a prior conviction before cross-examining a witness about the offense. (2) Although cross-examination under Rule 609 is generally limited to the name of the crime, the time and place of the conviction, and the punishment imposed, broader cross-examination may be allowed when the defendant opens the door. Here that occurred when the defendant tried to minimize his criminal record. (3) The trial court did not err by allowing the State to impeach the defendant with prior convictions when the defendant had stipulated that he was a convicted felon for purposes of a felon in possession of a firearm charge. The court declined to apply Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172 (1997), to this case where the defendant testified at trial and was subject to impeachment under Rule 609.

 

The trial court erred by allowing the State to impeach a defense witness with a prior conviction that occurred outside of the ten-year “look-back” for Rule 609 when the trial court made no findings as to admissibility. However, no prejudice resulted. 

Over a dissent, the court held that the trial court committed prejudicial error by denying defense counsel’s request to allow into evidence an exhibit showing the victim’s prior convictions for twelve felonies and two misdemeanors, offered under Rule 609. The court noted that Rule 609 is mandatory, leaving no room for discretion by the trial judge.

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