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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

(1) In this drug case, testimony from the State’s expert sufficiently established a trafficking amount of opium (over 4 grams). Following lab protocol, the forensic analyst grouped the pharmaceutically manufactured pills seized into four categories based on their unique physical characteristics. He then chemically analyzed one pill from three categories and determined that they tested positive for oxycodone. He did not test the pill in the final category because the quantity was already over the trafficking amount. Following prior case law, the court held that the analyst was not required to chemically analyze each individual tablet; his testimony provided sufficient evidence for a trafficking amount of opium such that an instruction on lesser included drug offenses was not required. The court also noted that any deviation that the analyst might have taken from the established methodology for analyzing controlled substances went to the weight of his testimony not its admissibility. (2) The analyst’s testimony was properly admitted under Rule 702. The court began by holding that the analyst’s testimony was the product of reliable principles and methods. Next, the court rejected the defendant’s central argument that the analyst should not have been permitted to testify regarding pills that were not chemically analyzed and therefore that his testimony was not based on sufficient facts or data and that he did not apply the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case. Rejecting this argument, the court noted the testing and visual inspection procedure employed by the analyst, as described above.

In this conspiracy to traffic in opiates case, the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction where the State’s expert analyzed only one of the pills in question and then confirmed that the remainder were visually consistent with the one that was tested. The police seized 20 pills weighing 17.63 grams. The State’s expert analyzed one of the pills and determined that it contained oxycodone, an opium derivative with a net weight of 0.88 grams. The expert visually examined the remaining 19 pills and found them to have “the same similar size, shape and form as well as the same imprint on each of them.” The defendant argued that the visual examination was insufficient to precisely establish how much opium derivative was present in the seized pills. The court rejected this argument, citing prior precedent establishing that a chemical analysis of each individual pill is not necessary; the scope of the analysis may be dictated by whatever sample is sufficient to make a reliable determination of the chemical composition of the entire quantity of pills under consideration.

(1) In this opium trafficking case where the State’s witness was accepted by the trial court as an expert witness without objection from defendant and the defendant did not cross-examine the expert regarding the sufficiency of the sample size and did not make the sufficiency of the sample size a basis for his motion to dismiss, the issue of whether the two chemically analyzed pills established a sufficient basis to show that there were 28 grams or more of opium was not properly before this Court. (2) Assuming arguendo that the issue had been properly preserved, it would fail. The court noted: “[a] chemical analysis is required . . . , but its scope may be dictated by whatever sample is sufficient to make a reliable determination of the chemical composition of the batch of evidence under consideration.” (quotation omitted). It noted further that “[e]very pill need not be chemically analyzed, however” and in State v. Meyers, 61 N.C. App. 554, 556 (1983), the court held that a chemical analysis of 20 tablets selected at random, “coupled with a visual inspection of the remaining pills for consistency, was sufficient to support a conviction for trafficking in 10,000 or more tablets of methaqualone.” Here, 1 pill, physically consistent with the other pills, was chosen at random from each exhibit and tested positive for oxycodone. The expert testified that she visually inspected the remaining, untested pills and concluded that with regard to color, shape, and imprint, they were “consistent with” those pills that tested positive for oxycodone. The total weight of the pills was 31.79 grams, exceeding the 28 gram requirement for trafficking. As a result, the State presented sufficient evidence to conclude that the defendant possessed and transported 28 grams or more of a Schedule II controlled substance.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of trafficking by sale or delivery in more than four grams and less than fourteen grams of Dihydrocodeinone when the State’s expert sufficiently identified the substance at issue as a controlled substance. Special Agent Aharon testified as an expert in chemical analysis. She compared the eight tablets at issue with information contained in a pharmaceutical database and found that each was similar in coloration and had an identical pharmaceutical imprint; the pharmaceutical database indicated that the tablets consisted of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Agent Aharon performed a confirmatory test on one of the tablets, using a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer. This test revealed that the tablet was an opiate derivative. The tablets weighed a total of 8.5 grams. Relying on State v. Ward, 364 N.C. 133 (2010), the defendant argued that because the State cannot rely upon a visual inspection to identify a substance as a controlled substance, the State was required to test a sufficient number of pills to reach the minimum weight threshold for a trafficking offense. The court concluded that even if the issue had been properly preserved, the defendant’s argument was without merit, citing State v. Myers, 61 N.C. App. 554, 556 (1983) (a chemical analysis test of a portion of pills, coupled with a visual inspection of the rest for consistency, supported a conviction for trafficking in 10,000 or more tablets of methaqualone).

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