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., 06/25/2024
E.g., 06/25/2024

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress DNA evidence obtained from his discarded cigarette butt. When the defendant refused to supply a DNA sample in connection with a rape and murder investigation, officers sought to obtain his DNA by other means. After the defendant discarded a cigarette butt in a parking lot, officers retrieved the butt. The parking lot was located directly in front of the defendant’s four-unit apartment building, was uncovered, and included 5-7 unassigned parking spaces used by the residents. The area between the road and the parking lot was heavily wooded, but no gate restricted access to the lot and no signs suggested either that access to the parking lot was restricted or that the lot was private. After DNA on the cigarette butt matched DNA found on the victim, the defendant was charged with the crimes. At trial the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the DNA evidence. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the seizure of the cigarette butt violated his constitutional rights because it occurred within the curtilage of his apartment:

[W]e conclude that the parking lot was not located in the curtilage of defendant’s building. While the parking lot was in close proximity to the building, it was not enclosed, was used for parking by both the buildings’ residents and the general public, and was only protected in a limited way. Consequently, the parking lot was not a location where defendant possessed “a reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy that society is prepared to accept.”

Next, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that even if the parking lot was not considered curtilage, he still maintained a possessory interest in the cigarette butt since he did not put it in a trash can or otherwise convey it to a third party. The court reasoned that the cigarette butt was abandoned property. Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that even if officers lawfully obtained the cigarette butt, they still were required to obtain a warrant before testing it for his DNA because he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his DNA. The court reasoned that the extraction of DNA from an abandoned item does not implicate the Fourth Amendment.

In this rape and murder case, no Fourth Amendment violation occurred when an officer seized a cigarette butt containing the defendant’s DNA. The defendant, a suspect in a murder case, refused four requests by the police to provide a DNA sample. Acting with the primary purpose of obtaining a sample of the defendant’s DNA to compare to DNA from the victim’s rape kit, officers went to his residence to execute an unrelated arrest warrant. After the defendant was handcuffed and taken outside to the driveway, an officer asked him if he wanted to smoke a cigarette. The defendant said yes and after he took several drags from the cigarette the officer asked if he could take the cigarette to throw it away for the defendant. The defendant said yes but instead of throwing away the cigarette, the officer extinguished it and placed it in an evidence bag. The DNA on the cigarette butt came back as a match to the rape kit DNA. The court acknowledged that if the defendant had discarded the cigarette himself within the curtilage of the premises, the officers could not have seized it. However, the defendant voluntarily accepted the officer’s offer to throw away the cigarette butt. The court continued, rejecting the defendant’s argument that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the cigarette butt. When the defendant, while under arrest and handcuffed, placed the cigarette butt in the officer’s gloved hand—instead of on the ground or in some other object within the curtilage--the defendant relinquished possession of the butt and any reasonable expectation of privacy in it. Finally, although indicating that it was “troubled” by the officers’ trickery, the court concluded that the officers’ actions did not require suppression of the DNA evidence. The court reasoned that because “the police did not commit an illegal act in effectuating the valid arrest warrant and because the subjective motives of police do not affect the validity of serving the underlying arrest warrant,” suppression was not required.

(1) On remand from the N.C. Supreme Court for consideration of an issue not addressed in the original decision, the court held that the trial court did not err by granting the defendant’s motion to suppress cocaine found following the defendant’s arrest. The State argued that suppression was erroneous because the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. The court found that an arrest, not an investigatory stop, had occurred. Additionally, because its previous ruling in State v. Joe, 213 N.C. App. 148 (July 5, 2011), that no probable cause supported the arrest controlled, any evidence found during a search incident to the arrest must be suppressed. (2) The defendant did not voluntarily abandon controlled substances. Noting that the defendant was illegally arrested without probable cause, the court concluded that property abandoned as a result of illegal police activity cannot be held to have been voluntarily abandoned.

Because the defendant had not been seized when he discarded a plastic baggie beside a public road, the baggie was abandoned property in which the defendant no longer retained a reasonable expectation of privacy. As such, no Fourth Amendment violation occurred when an officer obtained the baggie.

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