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., 12/04/2021
E.g., 12/04/2021
State v. Nabors, 365 N.C. 306 (Dec. 9, 2011)

The court reversed a decision by the court of appeals in State v. Nabors, 207 N.C. App. 463 (Oct. 19, 2010) (the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss drug charges when the evidence that the substance at issue was crack cocaine consisted of lay opinion testimony from the charging police officer and an undercover informant based on visual observation; the court held that State v. Ward, 364 N.C. 133 (2010) calls into question “the continuing viability” of State v. Freeman, 185 N.C. App. 408 (2007) (officer can give a lay opinion that substance was crack cocaine),and requires that in order to prove that a substance is a controlled substance, the State must present expert witness testimony based on a scientifically valid chemical analysis and not mere visual inspection). The supreme court declined to address whether the trial court erred in admitting lay testimony that the substance at issue was crack cocaine, instead concluding that the testimony by the defendant’s witness identifying the substance as cocaine was sufficient to withstand the motion to dismiss. 

In this drug case, the court held that although the trial court erred by allowing lay opinion testimony identifying the substance at issue as crack cocaine based on a visual identification, the error was not prejudicial where the State presented expert testimony, based on a scientifically valid chemical analysis, that the substance was a controlled substance. The trial court allowed the arresting officer, a Special Agent Kluttz with the North Carolina Department of Alcohol Law Enforcement, to identify the substance as crack cocaine. Agent Kluttz based his identification on his training and experience and his perceptions of the substance and its packaging. He was not tendered as an expert. The State also introduced evidence in the form of a Lab report and expert testimony by a chemical analyst with the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory. This witness testified that the results of testing indicated that the substance was consistent with cocaine. North Carolina Supreme Court precedent establishes two rules in this area: First, the State is required to present either a scientifically valid chemical analysis of the substance in question or some other sufficiently reliable method of identification. And second, testimony identifying a controlled substance based on visual inspection—whether presented as an expert or lay opinion—is inadmissible. Applying this law, the court agreed with the defendant that Agent Kluttz’s identification of the substance as crack cocaine was inadmissible lay opinion testimony. However given the other admissible evidence that identified the substance as a controlled substance based on a chemical analysis, the defendant failed to demonstrate prejudice and therefore to establish plain error.

Not mentioning Meadows and stating that notwithstanding Llamas-Hernandez, State v. Freeman, 185 N.C. App. 408 (2007), stands for the proposition that an officer may offer a lay opinion that a substance is crack cocaine.

Citing Ward, discussed above under expert opinions, the court held that the trial judge erred by allowing a police officer to testify that he “collected what [he] believe[d] to be crack cocaine.” Controlled substances defined in terms of their chemical composition only can be identified by the use of a chemical analysis rather than through the use of lay testimony based on visual inspection.

Show Table of Contents