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., 12/05/2021
E.g., 12/05/2021
State v. Walston, 369 N.C. 547 (May. 5, 2017)

Reversing the Court of Appeals in a case in which the amended version of Rule 702 applied, the Supreme Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding defense expert testimony regarding repressed memory and the suggestibility of memory. The case involved a number of child sex offense charges. Before trial, the State successfully moved to suppress testimony from a defense expert, Moina Artigues, M.D., regarding repressed memory and the suggestibility of children. The Court of Appeals had reversed the trial court and remanded for a new trial, finding that the trial court improperly excluded the expert’s testimony based on the erroneous belief it was inadmissible as a matter of law because the expert had not interviewed the victims. The State petitioned the Supreme Court for discretionary review. Holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding Dr. Artigues’s testimony, the Court found that “the Court of Appeals was correct to clarify that a defendant’s expert witness is not required to examine or interview the prosecuting witness as a prerequisite to testifying about issues relating to the prosecuting witness at trial.” The Court noted: “Such a requirement would create a troubling predicament given that defendants do not have the ability to compel the State’s witnesses to be evaluated by defense experts.” The Court disagreed however with the Court of Appeals’ determination that the trial court based its decision to exclude defendant’s proffered expert testimony solely on an incorrect understanding of the law. It found that the Court of Appeals presumed that the testimony was excluded based on an erroneous belief that there was a per se rule of exclusion when an expert has not interviewed the victim. However, the trial court never stated that such a rule existed or that it based its decision to exclude the testimony solely on that rule. The Court went on to note that Rule 702 does not mandate any particular procedural requirements for evaluating expert testimony. Here, the trial court ordered arguments from both parties, conducted voir dire, considered the proffered testimony, and considered the parties’ arguments regarding whether the evidence could be excluded under Rule 403 even if it was admissible under Rule 702. With respect to the latter issue, the Court noted that Rule 403 allows for the exclusion of evidence that is otherwise admissible under Rule 702. The Court concluded that there is evidence to support the trial court’s decision to exclude the testimony and that it properly acted as a gatekeeper in determining the admissibility of expert testimony.

State v. King, 366 N.C. 68 (June 14, 2012) aff’d, 214 N.C. App. 114 (Aug 2 2011)

Affirming State v. King, 214 N.C. App. 114 (Aug. 2, 2011) (trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the State’s expert testimony regarding repressed memory under Rule 403), the court disavowed that part of the opinion below that relied on Barrett v. Hyldburg, 127 N.C. App. 95 (1997), to conclude that all testimony based on recovered memory must be excluded unless it is accompanied by expert testimony. The court agreed with the holding in Barrett that a witness may not express the opinion that he or she personally has experienced repressed memory. It reasoned that psychiatric theories of repressed and recovered memories may not be presented without accompanying expert testimony to prevent juror confusion and to assist juror comprehension. However, Barrett “went too far” when it added that even if the adult witness in that case were to avoid use of the term “repressed memory” and simply testified that she suddenly in remembered traumatic incidents from her childhood, such testimony must be accompanied by expert testimony. The court continued: “unless qualified as an expert or supported by admissible expert testimony, the witness may testify only to the effect that, for some time period, he or she did not recall, had no memory of, or had forgotten the incident, and may not testify that the memories were repressed or recovered.”

In this second-degree rape case involving a victim who had consumed alcohol, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to allow testimony of defense expert, Dr. Wilkie Wilson, a neuropharmacologist. During voir dire, Wilson testified that one of his areas of expertise was alcohol and its effect on memory. He explained that he would testify “about what’s possible and what’s, in fact, very, very likely and [sic] when one drinks a lot of alcohol.” He offered his opinion that “someone who is having a blackout might not be physically helpless.” The State objected to this testimony, arguing that his inability to demonstrate more than “maybe” possibilities meant that his testimony would not be helpful to the jury. The trial court sustained the objection, determining that the expert would not assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue in the case. Because the State’s theory of physical helplessness did not rest on the victim’s lack of memory, the expert’s testimony would not have helped the jury determine a fact in issue. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding this testimony. Even if the trial court had erred, no prejudice occurred given the State’s overwhelming evidence of the victim’s physical helplessness.

State v. Steen, ___ N.C. App. ___, 826 S.E.2d 478 (Mar. 19, 2019) rev’d on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Dec 18 2020)

In this case involving convictions of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and armed robbery, the trial court did not err by prohibiting a defense expert from testifying concerning the impact of specific leading questions asked by law enforcement officers during their interviews with one of the victims. The defendant offered testimony from Dr. George Corvin, an expert in general and forensic psychiatry regarding “confabulation.” On voir dire, Corvin defined confabulation as the spontaneous production of false memories or distorted memories in patients who have sustained closed head injuries or other medical trauma resulting in periods of amnesia. He further explained that “induced confabulation” can occur where a person in a position of authority or trust tells or implies to an individual suffering from amnesia what actually occurred during a period of time for which the individual has no genuine memories. The trial court ruled that Corvin would be permitted to testify generally about “those who are susceptible and the risk factors for confabulation,” but could not testify to whether specific questions that officers asked the victim could have caused confabulation to actually occur. Corvin subsequently testified before the jury, defining confabulation and explaining the manner in which it could affect the memories of persons afflicted with periods of amnesia following a traumatic injury. He further testified that based on his review of the victim’s medical records, a risk of confabulation existed due to the nature and location of the traumatic brain injury that she suffered as a result of the attack. He also explained the concept of induced confabulation. Although the trial court prohibited him from testifying as to the relationship between any specific questions that officers asked the victim and the potential for confabulation to have occurred regarding her identification of the defendant as her attacker, counsel did make statements about this during his closing arguments. The court determined that assuming arguendo that the limitation on Corvin’s testimony was error, it did not constitute reversible error. As noted, Corvin defined the concept of induced confabulation for the jury and explained why the victim’s injury placed her at risk for creating memories that were not genuine. Furthermore, in his closing argument defense counsel made clear to the jury the defendant’s theory that the manner in which the victim was questioned by officers caused her to create false memories of the attack. Thus, the jurors were expressly given the opportunity consider the possibility that the victim’s identification of the defendant was the result of confabulation and therefore the defendant failed to show any reasonable possibility that a different result would have been reached had Corvin been permitted to testify without restriction.

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