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., 06/29/2024
E.g., 06/29/2024

In this Buncombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions for driving while impaired and reckless driving, arguing (1) there was insufficient evidence that he was driving the vehicle, and (2) error in denying his motion to suppress the results of a warrantless blood draw. The Court of Appeals majority found no error. 

In November of 2014, a trooper responded to a single vehicle accident and found a heavily damaged pickup truck against a steel fence off the side of the road. Defendant was inside the vehicle, unconscious and seriously injured. The trooper noticed the smell of alcohol and open beer cans in the vehicle. Defendant was the owner of the wrecked vehicle and there were no other people at the scene of the accident. At the hospital, the trooper ordered a warrantless blood draw. The results of this blood draw were that defendant was intoxicated, and these results were admitted at trial. The jury subsequently convicted defendant of drunk driving solely on the grounds that his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit under G.S. 20-138.1(a)(2).  

The Court of Appeals first considered (1), noting that admitting opinion testimony from the trooper that defendant was operating the vehicle was improper, as the trooper did not observe defendant actually drive the pickup truck. The court explained this was not reversible error because the trial court provided a curative instruction to the jury, directing them to disregard the trooper’s testimony that defendant was the driver. The court found that sufficient evidence beyond the trooper’s testimony supported finding that defendant was the driver, justifying denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. 

Considering (2), the court explained that exigent circumstances supporting a warrantless blood draw almost always exist where a defendant is unconscious and being taken to a hospital. In Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019), the Supreme Court’s plurality held that normally law enforcement may order a warrantless blood draw when the suspect is unconscious and taken to a hospital for treatment, but that the defendant must have an opportunity to argue the lack of exigency and show an “unusual case” that would require a warrant. Slip Op. at 8. Here, the court found that defendant had such an opportunity, and found no error in admitting the results of the blood draw. 

Judge Tyson concurred in the judgment on (1), but dissented by separate opinion regarding (2), disagreeing with the majority’s application of Mitchell and the admission of the results obtained through the warrantless blood draw. 

The trial court did not err by allowing a lay witness to testify that the defendant was impaired. The witness formed the opinion that the defendant was impaired because of the strong smell of alcohol on him and because the defendant was unable to maintain balance and was incoherent, acting inebriated, and disoriented. The witness’s opinion was based on personal observation immediately after the collision. 

In a DWI/homicide case, the trial court erred by allowing a state’s witness to testify about ingredients and effect of Narcan. Although the state proffered the testimony as lay opinion, it actually was expert testimony. When the state called the witness, it elicited extensive testimony regarding his training and experience and the witness testified that Narcan contains no alcohol and has no effect on blood-alcohol content. Because the witness offered expert testimony and because the state did not notify the defendant during discovery that it intended to offer this expert witness, the trial court erred by allowing him to testify as such. However, the error was not prejudicial.

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