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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

The defendant fired a gun from his car toward a park where over a dozen people were playing basketball and hanging out. He was later found asleep in his car in a ditch by a Highway Patrol officer, who arrested him for driving while impaired. He was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by admitting three phone calls the defendant made from the jail because they contained hearsay and violated the defendant’s confrontation rights. (1) As to the hearsay argument, the court of appeals concluded that any error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt. (2) As to the alleged violation of the Confrontation Clause, the court adopted the reasoning of a case from the Fourth Circuit, United States v. Jones, 716 F.3d 851 (4th Cir. 2013), and concluded that, despite automated warnings indicating that the calls were being recorded and monitored, the statements made by the woman the defendant was talking to on the jail phone were not intended to bear witness against him, and were therefore not testimonial. Because the statements were not testimonial, their admission did not violate the Confrontation Clause. (3) Next, the court declined to consider whether the trial court committed plain error by admitting, without objection, video interviews in which the defendant discussed prior assault and rape charges with the police. Again, in light of the overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt, the defendant failed to show how the admission of the evidence resulted in a miscarriage of justice or an unfair trial. (4) At sentencing, the trial court did not err by sentencing the defendant as a Class B1 felon upon jury’s general verdict of guilty of second-degree murder when no evidence or jury instruction supported the depraved-heart malice that makes the crime a Class B2 felony. As in State v. Lail, 251 N.C. App. 463 (2017), it was readily apparent from the evidence here that the jury found the defendant guilty of a Class B1 second-degree murder. (5) Finally, the court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that his stipulation to a prior conviction identified as “M-PUBLIC DISTURBANCE” as a Class 1 misdemeanor was ambiguous in light of the multiple potential classifications of disorderly conduct. To the contrary, under State v. Arrington, 371 N.C. 518 (2018), when a defendant stipulates to a prior conviction of a particular offense classification, he or she also stipulates to the facts underlying that conviction. The trial court has no duty to enquire further in the absence of clear record evidence suggesting the defendant stipulated to an incorrect classification, and there was no such evidence here.

In this common law robbery case, the State laid a proper foundation for the admission of evidence located by a tracking dog, “Carlo.”  Citing precedent, the court stated the four-factor test used to establish reliability of a tracking dog as follows:

[T]he action of bloodhounds may be received in evidence when it is properly shown: (1) that they are of pure blood, and of a stock characterized by acuteness of scent and power of discrimination; (2) that they possess these qualities, and have been accustomed and trained to pursue the human track; (3) that they have been found by experience [to be] reliable in such pursuit; (4) and that in the particular case they were put on the trail of the guilty party, which was pursued and followed under such circumstances and in such way as to afford substantial assurance, or permit a reasonable inference, of identification.

With regard to the first factor, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State failed to lay a proper foundation for the tracking dog evidence because “[t]here was never any testimony as to what kind of dog Carlo was” and the State never proffered any evidence that Carlo was “of pure blood.”  Noting that the four-factor test “has been modified over time,” the court explained that “courts have recently placed less emphasis on the breed of the dog and placed more emphasis on the dog’s ability and training.”  The Court found that by Officer McNeal’s testimony as to Carlo’s ability, training, and behavior during the search, “[t]he State laid a proper foundation for admission into evidence the actions and results by Carlo, the tracking dog.” 

In this impaired driving second-degree murder case, the trial court did not err by excluding evidence that a child victim was not properly restrained in a child seat. Although G.S. 20-127.1 provides that passengers less than 16 years old must be properly secured in a vehicle, the statute also provides that evidence of failure to wear a seatbelt is not admissible in any criminal action, subject to exceptions that do not apply in this case.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to exclude DNA evidence. The alleged crime occurred at a convenience store. An officer collected blood samples from the scene, including blood from cigarette cartons. The defendant argued that the cigarette cartons from which samples were taken should have been preserved. The court noted that the defendant did not argue any bad faith on the part of law enforcement officers, nor did he identify any irregularities in the collection or analysis of the samples that would call into question the results of the analysis. Therefore, the court concluded, the defendant failed to demonstrate any exculpatory value attached to the cigarette cartons from which the blood samples were collected. 

In a murder case, the trial court did not err by allowing law enforcement officers to testify that they had observed a small hair on the wall at the murder scene and that the hair appeared to have tissue attached. The hair was not collected as evidence. The court concluded that the State is not required to collect evidence as a pre-condition to offering testimony about a particular subject.

A victim’s statement to his mother, made in the emergency room approximately 50 minutes after a shooting and identifying the defendant as the shooter, was a present sense impression under Rule 803(1). The time period between the shooting and the statement was sufficiently brief. The court noted that the focus of events during the gap in time was on saving the victim’s life, thereby reducing the likelihood of deliberate or conscious misrepresentation.

In a larceny of motor vehicle case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that testimony by the vehicle owners regarding the value of the stolen vehicles invaded the province of the jury as fact-finder, stating: “the owner of property is competent to testify as to the value of his own property even though his knowledge on the subject would not qualify him as a witness were he not the owner.”

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