Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

About

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.

Instructions

Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 01/29/2023
E.g., 01/29/2023
State v. McGrady, 368 N.C. 880 (June 10, 2016)

Affirming the decision below, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by ruling that the defendant’s proffered expert testimony did not meet the standard for admissibility under Rule 702(a). The defendant offered its expert to testify on three principal topics: that, based on the “pre-attack cues” and “use of force variables” present in the interaction between the defendant and the victim, the defendant’s use of force was a reasonable response to an imminent, deadly assault that the defendant perceived; that the defendant’s actions and testimony are consistent with those of someone experiencing the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response; and that reaction times can explain why some of the defendant’s defensive shots hit the victim in the back. Holding (for reasons discussed in detail in the court’s opinion) that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding this testimony, the court determined that the 2011 amendment to Rule 702(a) adopts the federal standard for the admission of expert witness articulated in the Daubert line of cases. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

In this Rowan County case, defendant appeals her conviction for second-degree murder, challenging the exclusion of her expert’s testimony and the admission of lay opinion testimony from the State’s witness. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error.

In April of 2018, defendant was involved in a scuffle at a gaming arcade in Salisbury. Although who initiated the confrontation was unclear from the testimony and video, defendant and the eventual male victim engaged in a physical confrontation while waiting to cash out of the arcade. Two other women were also involved in the initial confrontation, and one woman was physically assaulted by the man involved. After fighting ensued, defendant was thrown against an ATM and knocked to the floor; meanwhile the male victim was on top of another woman engaged in a physical confrontation. Defendant drew her handgun and shot the victim twice, once in the back and once in the chest. At trial, defendant testified that she acted in self-defense and defense of others.

The Court of Appeals first considered the exclusion of testimony from defendant’s expert regarding the principles of self-defense and use of force under Rule 702(a) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence. The court explained that “Rule 702(a) has three main parts, and expert testimony must satisfy each to be admissible,” a role for the trial court to determine at its discretion. Slip Op. at 10, quoting State v. McGrady, 368 N.C. 880, 889 (2016). The court explained the testimony must (1) be from a qualified expert, (2) be relevant to the trial, and (3) reliable in the opinion of the trial court. In this matter, defendant’s expert was a former law enforcement officer but he was not an expert in concealed carry class training, and the trial court found that no specialized knowledge was required to determine the reasonableness of defendant’s actions. As a result, the court found that the expert “lacked sufficient ‘expertise to be in a better position than the trier of fact to have an opinion on the subject’ of the appropriate use of force by civilians.” Id. at 15.

Regarding the admission of lay opinion, the court explained that defendant was challenging the admission of a witness’s statement that no lives were in danger that April night in the arcade, which called into question her use of force. Assuming arguendo that the admission of this testimony was improper, the court held that defendant could not show prejudice, as several other witnesses testified (without objection) to their perception of the level of danger in the arcade, specifically that it was low and not likely to result in harm. Id. at 22. As a result, defendant could not show any prejudice from the testimony she found objectionable.

In this homicide case, the trial court did not err by excluding the expert opinion testimony of a forensic psychologist about the phenomenon of “fight or flight.” Citing the North Carolina Supreme Court’s McGrady decision the court noted that the expert did not possess any medical or scientific degrees. This led the trial court to determine that the expert would not provide insight beyond the conclusions that the jurors could readily draw from their own ordinary experiences. The trial court acted well within its discretion in making this determination. The expert’s testimony was not proffered to explain a highly technical and scientific issue in simpler terms for the jury. Rather her testimony appeared to be proffered “in order to cast a sheen of technical and scientific methodology onto a concept of which a lay person (and jury member) would probably already be aware.” As such, it did not provide insight beyond the conclusions that the jurors could readily draw from their ordinary experience. 

Show Table of Contents