Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 06/22/2024
E.g., 06/22/2024

In this Wake County case, defendant appealed his convictions for first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, and associated crimes, arguing error in (1) the limitation of his cross-examination of the State’s psychiatry expert, and (2) denial of his request for a special jury instruction on insanity. The Court of Appeals majority found no error.  

During a violent period in August of 2015, defendant stole two vehicles, robbed and shot a man at a motel, robbed and shot another man at a pawn shop, kidnapped and raped a fifteen-year-old girl, and robbed a food store. Defendant was ultimately arrested in New York driving one of the stolen vehicles, and extradited back to North Carolina, where he was committed to Central Regional Hospital for an examination on his capacity to proceed to trial. Initially defendant was found incapable of proceeding, and he was involuntarily committed in February of 2018. In February of 2020, the State moved to have defendant forcibly medicated, and the trial court held a hearing under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003). At the Sell hearing, the State’s expert testified about defendant’s mental illness and whether he should be forcibly medicated, but the hearing was continued, and defendant began voluntarily taking his medication again before the hearing was concluded. Defendant came to trial in July 2020 and presented the defense of insanity. Defense counsel sought to cross-examine the State’s expert on her testimony during the Sell hearing. The State objected under Rule of Evidence 403, and the trial court directed defense counsel to avoid any questions related to the Sell hearing or forcible medication. When the parties met for the charge conference, defense counsel requested an addition to N.C.P.I. – Crim. 304.10 (regarding insanity), referring to commitment procedure if he was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity. The State objected to this addition, and agreed to avoid misrepresenting how quickly defendant might be released during closing argument. Defense counsel went on to provide the same argument requested in the special jury instruction during closing argument. Defendant was found guilty of all charges, and appealed. 

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals noted that defendant’s argument was focused on “[the expert’s] testimony that defendant needed to be forcibly medicated to regain his capacity to proceed.” Slip Op. at 13. The State used this expert’s testimony to rebut defendant’s defense of insanity, and defense counsel had attempted to impeach the expert with her testimony from the Sell hearing that defendant needed forcible medication. The court rejected defendant’s argument that excluding this line of questioning violated defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights, pointing out the jury was aware of defendant’s mental illness and the expert’s history of evaluating defendant, and “defendant was not limited in attacking [the expert’s] credibility or asking about the differences between her previous testimony at the hearing and her subsequent testimony at trial.” Id. at 16. The court went further, explaining that even if the Sell hearing and forcible medication were relevant, the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighed its probative value.  

Reviewing (2) defendant’s special jury instruction request, the court again disagreed, noting “[h]ere, the pattern jury instruction on commitment procedures, N.C.P.I. – Crim. 304.10, sufficiently encompasses the substance of the law.” Id. at 18. Holding that defendant’s situation did not justify altering the instruction, the court explained “[d]efendant’s case is neither so exceptional nor extraordinary such that the pattern jury instruction on commitment procedures fails to adequately encompass the law or risks misleading the jury.” Id.

Judge Hampson dissented and would have allowed cross-examination on the Sell hearing. 

The defendant was convicted at trial of numerous sex offenses against minor children, including statutory sex offense, sexual activity by substitute parent, and sale of controlled substances to minors in Cleveland County. He was sentenced to a minimum of 600 months and ordered to enroll in satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) for life upon release based on the convictions relating to one victim, with an additional 10 year term of SBM for the other victim. The defendant properly appealed his convictions but failed to give notice of appeal of the SBM orders. In its discretion, the Court of Appeals granted his petition for writ of certiorari to review that issue.

(1) A therapist for one of the minor victims testified as an expert in childhood and teen trauma for the State at trial. She testified that the child had post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and major depression and relayed to the jury disclosures by the victim of instances of sexual abuse by the defendant. This testimony was offered for corroborative purposes. The defendant did not object, and no limiting instruction about the testimony was given to the jury. The court therefore reviewed for plain error only. The North Carolina Supreme Court has held that it is improper to admit evidence of a PTSD diagnosis for substantive purposes. See State v. Hall, 330 N.C. 808, 821 (1992). However, such testimony may be admitted to corroborate substantive evidence, to rebut defense evidence of consent, or to explain why disclosure of the crime was delayed. When such evidence is admitted, the trial court should provide a limiting instruction to the jury regarding the use of the testimony. Failure to give the limiting instruction is not error, however, if the defendant fails to request one. Here, the testimony was properly admitted for corroborative purposes. Further, “even if a limiting instruction were required in the absence of a specific request by defendant, defendant was not prejudiced by the omission such that it would amount to fundamental error.” Thompson Slip op. at 8. There was therefore no plain error in the admission of the therapist’s diagnosis of PTSD.

(2) The defendant failed to raise a Fourth Amendment objection during the SBM hearing. However, because the State raised the constitutional issue and it was considered by the trial court in its ruling, the issue was preserved for appellate review. (2a) Here, the defendant’s enrollment in SBM would not occur until at least the expiration of his minimum term of imprisonment, at least 50 years from the time of judgment. As in State v. Gordon, 840 S.E.2d 907 (2020), “it is therefore difficult to assess the reasonableness of subjecting him to SBM given the unknown future circumstances of the program.” Thompson Slip op. at 16. Finding that the State failed to meet its burden to show that the lifetime SBM search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the trial court’s order of lifetime SBM was reversed.

(2b) The second SBM order requiring the defendant to enroll in SBM for a term of 10 years was proper. The evidence supported the finding that the offenses involved the sexual abuse of a minor child, and the trial court properly considered the relationship between the victim and defendant, the offenses, and the age of the victims. The defendant’s risk assessment indicated he was “low-risk,” but the trial judge was free to make its own determination of the defendant’s risk based on the totality of evidence, as it did here. Furthermore, “ten years is not ‘significantly burdensome and lengthy,’ especially given that the defendant will be subject to post-release supervision for half of that time period.” Id. at 20. The trial court committed a mere clerical error in failing to make a finding that the defendant required the highest possible level of supervision. This SBM order was therefore affirmed and remanded for correction of the clerical error.

Judge Berger concurred with the majority opinion as to the criminal judgment and concurred in result with the SBM portion of the opinion, joined by Judge Dietz. These judges would have found that the precedent by which the majority found the defendant’s Fourth Amendment challenge preserved (based on the State’s act of raising the constitutional issue) was inconsistent with the preservation requirements under the Rules of Appellate Procedure. However, given the uncertain and evolving nature of SBM case law in the State, as well as the fact that the SBM order here was issued before Gordon was decided, the concurring judges would have found that the defendant could not have preserved his constitutional arguments [and presumably would have found the issue preserved on that basis, rather than the precedent relied upon by the majority.]

In this homicide case, the trial court did not err by allowing the State’s expert witness on automatism to testify to the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the shooting. The expert endocrinologist testified that based on his experience with hypoglycemia and his review of the defendant’s medical records and account of what had occurred on the day of the shooting, the defendant’s actions were “not caused by automatism due to hypoglycemia.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that this testimony, while couched in expert medical testimony, was merely speculation about the defendant state of mind at the time of the shooting. Here, the expert testified that in his opinion the defendant was not in a state of automatism at the time because he did not suffer from amnesia, a key characteristic of the condition. The trial court acted well within its discretion by admitting this testimony.

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