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., 01/31/2023
E.g., 01/31/2023

In this Pender County case, defendant appealed his convictions for armed robbery, arguing the trial court erred by (1) admitting testimony by a detective identifying defendant as the perpetrator, (2) denying defendant’s motion to dismiss, and (3) entering judgment and commitment on two counts of armed robbery. The Court of Appeals found no error with (1) and (2), but did find error under (3), remanding for resentencing.  

In October of 2019, a man in a sweatshirt, dark athletic pants, and gray sneakers robbed a gas station in Rocky Point, brandishing a firearm and taking money from the cash registers. After law enforcement responded and reviewed surveillance footage, an officer spotted defendant walking along a road five miles north of the gas station, and detained defendant for questioning by the detective on duty. A subsequent search found $736 in cash in defendant’s clothes. Defendant was indicted for robbing the gas station, and at trial, the State admitted surveillance video and called the detective who questioned defendant to testify. During his testimony, the detective said that defendant fit the description of the suspect, and then testified over defendant’s objection that “’defendant is the person that robbed the Phoenix Travel Mart.’” Slip Op. at 4. 

Reviewing (1) defendant’s objection to the detective’s testimony, the court first noted that defendant did not properly object by requesting to strike an unresponsive answer. However, the court performed analysis under the plain error standard, concluding that the additional information supporting that defendant met the description of the suspect, and testimony from the arresting officer also supporting that defendant fit the description, suggested the jury would not have reached a different verdict but for the objectionable testimony from the detective. This evidence also supported (2) the denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss, as it represented substantial evidence linking defendant to the crime.

When reviewing (3) the entry of judgment and commitment, the Court of Appeals found error with the entry of two counts for what should have been a single count of armed robbery. The court applied the reasoning from State v. Potter, 285 N.C. 238 (1974), explaining that although two employees were involved in the robbery, defendant could only be said to have taken property from one person, the employer. Slip Op. at 12-13. The court remanded with instructions to arrest judgment on one of the convictions and resentence the defendant accordingly. 

An officer testified at trial, without objection by the defendant, that the modus operandi of the crime was to use a female in a car by herself to gain access to the home for the purpose of committing an armed robbery. He further testified that there had been similar incidents in the area around the same time. Rejecting the defendant’s argument that the testimony was an inadmissible lay witness opinion as to the defendant’s guilt, the court explained that a lay witness may testify about “details ‘helpful to the fact-finder in presenting a clear understanding of [the] investigative process’ as long as such details are rational to the lay witness’s perception and experience.” Moreover, given that the State presented substantial evidence supporting the charge of criminal conspiracy, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not commit plain error in admitting the testimony. 

State v. Rogers, ___ N.C. App. ___, 796 S.E.2d 91 (Feb. 7, 2017) rev’d in part on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, 817 S.E.2d 150 (Aug 17 2018)

In this drug case, officers did not offer improper opinion testimony. The defendant argued that the officers’ testimony constituted improper opinion testimony as to the defendant’s guilt. Both officers testified about the defendant’s conduct and how it related, in their experience, to activity by drug dealers. The officers’ testimony was not improper opinion testimony concerning guilt but rather ordinary testimony expressing their own experiences and observations.

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not commit plain error by allowing the defendant’s wife to testify regarding “red flags” that she should have seen earlier regarding the defendant’s conduct with the victim. In context, the witness was not offering an opinion as to the defendant’s guilt but rather responding to a question whether she had ever observed unusual behavior to between the defendant and the victim.

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