Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 06/17/2024
E.g., 06/17/2024

In this Mecklenburg County case, defendant appealed his convictions for sexual battery, assault on a female, and false imprisonment, arguing error in allowing the State’s witness to vouch for the alleged victim’s credibility. The Court of Appeals agreed, ordering a new trial. 

In October of 2019, defendant allegedly assaulted the victim at a Mexican restaurant where they both worked. At trial, the State called the lead detective to testify regarding her investigation of the case. During direct examination, the State asked the detective if she questioned the validity of the victim’s story; defense counsel objected, but the trial court overruled the objection and allowed the questioning to proceed. The State asked the detective several more questions regarding the credibility of the victim’s statements, and defense counsel renewed their objection, which was again overruled. Defendant was subsequently convicted, and appealed. 

Taking up defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals noted that “a detective or other law enforcement officer may testify as to why they made certain choices in the course of an investigation, including their basis for believing a particular witness[,]” but here “the challenged testimony was clearly unrelated to [the detective’s] investigatory decision-making.” Slip Op. at 8-9. The court pointed to State v. Taylor, 238 N.C. App. 159 (2014), and State v. Richardson, 346 N.C. 520 (1997), as examples of testimony related to investigatory decisions, and contrasted these with the current case. The State argued that Rule of Evidence 608(a) permitted bolstering the victim’s testimony, but the court rejected this argument, explaining that defendant’s cross-examination of the victim did not implicate Rule 608(a). The court concluded defendant was prejudiced by the admission of the detective’s testimony, and remanded for a new trial. 

In this Rockingham County case, defendant appealed his convictions for statutory rape, indecent liberties with a child, and sex act by a substitute parent or guardian, arguing error in admitting expert testimony that the victim’s testimony was not coached, in granting a motion in limine preventing defendant from cross-examining the victim about her elementary school records, and in admitting a video of defendant’s interrogation showing equipment related to a polygraph examination. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In 2021, defendant was brought to trial for the statutory rape of his granddaughter in 2017, when she was 11 years old. At trial, a forensic interviewer testified, over defendant’s objection, that he saw no indication that the victim was coached. The trial court also granted a motion in limine to prevent defendant from cross-examining the victim regarding school records from when she was in kindergarten through second grade showing conduct allegedly reflecting her propensity for untruthfulness. The conduct was behavior such as cheating on a test and stealing a pen.  

The Court of Appeals noted “[o]ur Supreme Court has held that ‘an expert may not testify that a prosecuting child-witness in a sexual abuse trial is believable [or] is not lying about the alleged sexual assault.’” Slip Op. at 2, quoting State v. Baymon, 336 N.C. 748, 754 (1994). However, the court could not point to a published case regarding a statement about coaching like the one in question here. Because there was no controlling opinion on the matter, the court engaged in a predictive exercise and held, “[b]ased upon our Supreme Court’s statement in Baymon, we conclude that it was not error for the trial court to allow expert testimony that [the victim] was not coached.” Id. at 3.

The court also found no error with the trial court’s conclusions regarding the admissibility of the victim’s childhood records under Rule of Evidence 403. The court explained that the evidence showed behavior that was too remote in time and only marginally probative regarding truthfulness. Finally, the court found no error with the interrogation video, explaining that while it is well established that polygraph evidence is not admissible, the video in question did not show a polygraph examination. Instead, the video merely showed “miscellaneous items on the table and not the actual polygraph evidence,” and all references to a polygraph examination were redacted before being shown to the jury. Id. at 5-6. 

In this Rutherford County case, defendant appealed his conviction for indecent liberties with a child, arguing the trial court erred by not intervening during the state’s opening statement, and allowing a witness to bolster the victim’s testimony. The Court of Appeals found no error.

In 2011, defendant was dating a woman with a young daughter. One day the woman left her daughter with defendant as a babysitter; defendant took the daughter into his bedroom and engaged in sexual contact with her. The victim eventually reported the incident in 2018, when she reached seventh grade. Defendant was subsequently indicted and convicted of indecent liberties with a child in October of 2021.

On appeal defendant first argued that the trial court should have intervened ex mero motu during the state’s opening statement, as the state referred to upcoming testimony by defendant’s roommate but the testimony was never offered at trial. The Court of Appeals disagreed, applying the two-step analysis from State v. Huey, 370 N.C. 174 (2017), and determining that the prosecutor’s statements were not grossly improper and did not justify a new trial. Slip Op. at 6. The court next considered defendant’s argument that a witness bolstered the victim’s testimony, explaining that the testimony in question was not supporting the truthfulness of the victim’s statements, but was instead noting that the victim’s statements were consistent. Making the distinction between testimony that clearly supported the veracity of a victim’s testimony verses the testimony offered in the current case, the court found no plain error in admitting the testimony. Id. at 11.  

In a child sexual assault case, the trial court erred by allowing a DSS social worker to testify that there had been a substantiation of sex abuse of the victim by the defendant. Citing its opinion in State v. Giddens, 199 N.C. App. 115 (2009), aff’d, 363 N.C. 826 (2010), the court agreed that this constituted an impermissible opinion vouching for the victim’s credibility. However, the court found that unlike Giddens, the error did not rise to the level of plain error.

State v. Giddens, 199 N.C. App. 115 (Aug. 18, 2009) aff’d, 363 N.C. 826 (Mar 12 2010)

Holding, over a dissent, that plain error occurred in a child sex case when the trial court admitted the testimony of a child protective services investigator. The investigator testified that the Department of Social Services (DSS) had “substantiated” the defendant as the perpetrator and that the evidence she gathered caused DSS personnel to believe that the abuse alleged by the victims occurred. Case law holds that a witness may not vouch for the credibility of a victim.

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