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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021
State v. Phillips, 365 N.C. 103 (June 16, 2011)

In this capital case, the trial court did not commit plain error by admitting lay opinion testimony by an eyewitness. When the eyewitness was asked about the defendant’s demeanor, she stated: “He was fine. I mean it was -- he had -- he knew what he was doing. He had it planned out. It was a -- he -- he knew before he ever got there what was going to happen.” The defendant argued that the eyewitness had no personal knowledge of any plans the defendant might have had. The court noted that a lay witness may provide testimony based upon inference or opinion if the testimony is rationally based on the witness’s perception and helpful to a clear understanding of his or her testimony or the determination of a fact in issue. It further noted that this rule permits a witness to express “instantaneous conclusions of the mind as to the appearance, condition, or mental or physical state of persons, animals, and things, derived from observation of a variety of facts presented to the senses at one and the same time. Such statements are usually referred to as shorthand statements of facts.” Immediately before the testimony at issue, the witness testified that the defendant had said that “[h]e was in debt with somebody who he needed money for and that’s why they came to [the] house,” that the debt was “with a drug dealer and they were going to kill him, if he did not come up with their money,” and that “his brother had been shot and he was dying and he had to get their money.” In context, the witness’s statements that the defendant “had it planned out” and “knew before he ever got there what was going to happen” were helpful to an understanding of her testimony and were rationally based on her perceptions upon seeing the defendant commit the multiple murders at issue. 

(1) In this indecent liberties with a child case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court committed plain error by allowing the victim’s mother to vouch for the victim’s credibility. An individual informed the victim’s mother that the victim said that the defendant had touched her inappropriately. The victim was still asleep at the time this exchange took place. The victim’s mother testified as follows:

I knew that my daughter would tell me the truth because that’s what I had instilled in her. So I was debating on whether to wake her up. I didn’t want to traumatize her. I didn’t want to scare her. I knew that when she would come to me at that moment when I asked her that she would tell me the truth.

In sum, the court noted, the victim’s mother testified that she believed that her daughter was truthful in her accusations. Assuming arguendo admission of this testimony was improper, the defendant failed to show that the jury probably would have reached a different result absent the error.

(2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a detective’s testimony improperly vouched for the victim’s credibility. Here, the detective testified about his observation of the victim’s demeanor during his interview with her. The detective testified as follows:

Her responses seemed to be thoughtful. She paused several times while telling the story, just trying to recollect, and with each account she looked at the ground or looked downward several times, seemed to be genuinely affected by what had occurred.

The court rejected the notion that this testimony was the functional equivalent of vouching for the victim’s credibility, finding instead that it “contains precisely the type of ‘instantaneous conclusions’ that our Supreme Court considers to be admissible ‘shorthand statements of fact.’”

State v. Pace, 240 N.C. App. 63 (Mar. 17, 2015)

In this child sexual assault case the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the victim’s mother to testify about changes she observed in her daughter that she believed were a direct result of the assault. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that this testimony was improper lay opinion testimony, finding that the testimony was proper as a shorthand statement of fact.

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