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., 02/28/2024
E.g., 02/28/2024

In this New Hanover County case, the Supreme Court per curiam vacated and remanded an unpublished Court of Appeals opinion that reversed defendant’s conviction for trafficking by possession of an opiate. The Court of Appeals majority ruled that the trial court abused its discretion by ruling that the State’s expert was qualified to testify that fentanyl is an opiate. The State appealed based on the dissent, which held that it was not an abuse of discretion to allow the expert’s testimony. 

The Supreme Court explained that the trial court erred by treating the issue as a fact question, as “whether fentanyl was an opiate for purposes of the trafficking statute in 2018 is a question of law.” Slip Op. at 3. As such, the court concluded that “[b]ecause it is a legal question of statutory interpretation, it was not necessary to have expert testimony to establish whether fentanyl is an opiate.” Id. The court remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of whether fentanyl was an opiate under the version of the trafficking statute in effect at the time of the events in the case. 

(1) In a drug case, no plain error occurred when the trial court allowed the State’s expert forensic chemist to testify as to the results of his chemical analysis of the substance in question. Through the expert’s testimony as to his professional background and use of established forensic techniques, the State met its burden of establishing “indices of reliability,” as contemplated in Howerton. The court noted that although the laboratory was not accredited the defendant provided no legal authority establishing that accreditation is required when the forensic chemist who conducted the analysis at issue testifies at trial (the lab was licensed). (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the expert’s lab report was inadmissible under G.S. 8-58.20(b) because the lab was not accredited. That statutory provision is relevant only when the State seeks to have the report admitted without the testimony of the preparer.

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