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
State v. Goins, 370 N.C. 157 (Sept. 29, 2017)

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, the court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals in State v. Goins___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 466 (July 5, 2016). In that case, the Court of Appeals held, over a dissent, that a stop of the defendant’s vehicle was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The stop occurred in an area of high crime and drug activity. The Court of Appeals majority concluded that the defendant’s mere presence in such an area cannot, standing alone, provide the necessary reasonable suspicion for the stop. Although headlong flight can support a finding of reasonable suspicion, here, it determined, the evidence was insufficient to show headlong flight. Among other things, there was no evidence that the defendant saw the police car before leaving the premises and he did not break any traffic laws while leaving. Although officers suspected that the defendant might be approaching a man at the premises to conduct a drug transaction, they did not see the two engage in suspicious activity. The officers’ suspicion that the defendant was fleeing from the scene, without more, did not justify the stop. The dissenting judge concluded that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The dissenting judge criticized the majority for focusing on a “fictional distinction” between suspected versus actual flight. The dissenting judge concluded: considering the past history of drug activity at the premises, the time, place, manner, and unbroken sequence of observed events, the defendant’s actions upon being warned of the police presence, and the totality of the circumstances, the trial court correctly found that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop.

State v. Jackson, 368 N.C. 75 (June 11, 2015)

Reversing the decision below, State v. Jackson, 234 N.C. App. 80 (2014), the court held that an officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The stop occurred at approximately 9:00 pm in the vicinity of Kim’s Mart. The officer knew that the immediate area had been the location of hundreds of drug investigations. Additionally, the officer personally had made drug arrests in the area and was aware that hand to hand drug transactions occurred there. On the evening in question the officer saw the defendant and another man standing outside of Kim’s Mart. Upon spotting the officer in his patrol car, the two stopped talking and dispersed in opposite directions. In the officer’s experience, this is typical behavior for individuals engaged in a drug transaction. The officer tried to follow the men, but lost them. When he returned to Kim’s Mart they were standing 20 feet from their original location. When the officer pulled in, the men again separated and started walking in opposite directions. The defendant was stopped and as a result contraband was found. The court found these facts sufficient to create reasonable suspicion to justify the investigatory stop. The court noted that its conclusion was based on more than the defendant’s presence in a high crime and high drug area.

The defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony and resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer. The State dismissed the resisting charge before trial, and the defendant filed a motion to suppress the firearm. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress, the defendant did not object to the introduction of the firearm at trial, and the defendant was convicted. Because the defendant failed to object to the firearm at trial, the Court of Appeals applied plain error review to the denial of his suppression motion.

(1) The evidence showed that the police chief received a call about possible drug activity involving two black males outside a store and radioed the information to patrol officers. A patrol officer saw two men who matched the description walking on the sidewalk, and he parked his marked patrol car. The patrol officer testified that the two men saw him and continued walking. When the officer yelled for the defendant to stop, he looked at the officer and then ran. Another officer eventually located the defendant and arrested him for resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer.

The Court of Appeals found that the evidence did not support the trial judge’s findings of fact in its denial of the defendant’s suppression motion. Thus, the trial judge found the area had been the scene of several drug investigations and shootings in the previous months, but the police chief testified that for approximately seven years he could recall three arrests for drugs and marijuana and did not testify that they took place in the past several months. The patrol officer testified that he had responded to one shooting in the area but didn’t indicate when the shooting occurred and since then had responded to loitering and loud music issues. The trial judge also found that the defendant walked away “briskly” when he first saw the patrol officer, but the officer testified that the defendant was just walking down the sidewalk. The officer’s later testimony at trial that the defendant kept walking away faster and faster was not before the judge at the suppression hearing and could not be used to support the judge’s findings of fact. The Court found next that the trial judge’s supported findings of fact did not support his conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant initially or probable cause to arrest for resisting. Thus, even assuming the incident took place in a high crime area, the defendant’s presence there and his walking away from the officer did not provide reasonable suspicion to stop. (The Court noted that the patrol officer was unaware of the tip received by the police chief and therefore did not consider the tip in measuring the reasonableness of the stopping officer’s suspicion.) Because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop, the Court found that the defendant was not fleeing from a lawful investigatory stop and the trial judge erred in concluding that there was probable cause to arrest the defendant for resisting.

(2) When the second officer detained the defendant, the defendant did not have a firearm on him. Rather, a K-9 unit recovered the firearm underneath a shed along the defendant’s “flight path.” The Court of Appeals found that the defendant voluntarily abandoned the firearm before he was seized by law enforcement officers. The evidence was therefore not the fruit of an unlawful seizure, and the Fourth Amendment did not bar its admission at trial.

In this possession of a firearm by a felon case, the trial court did not err by allowing evidence of a handgun a police officer removed from the defendant’s waistband during a lawful frisk that occurred after a lawful stop. Police received an anonymous 911 call stating that an African-American male wearing a red shirt and black pants had just placed a handgun in the waistband of his pants while at a specified gas station. Officer Clark responded to the scene and saw 6 to 8 people in the parking lot, including a person who matched the 911 call description, later identified as the defendant. As Clark got out of his car, the defendant looked directly at him, “bladed” away and started to walk away. Clark and a second officer grabbed the defendant. After Clark placed the defendant in handcuffs and told him that he was not under arrest, the second officer frisked the defendant and found a revolver in his waistband. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence of the gun at trial. The court held that the trial court did not err by denying the motion to suppress. It began by holding that the anonymous tip was insufficient by itself to provide reasonable suspicion for the stop. However, here there was additional evidence. Specifically, as Clark exited his car, the defendant turned his body in such a way as to prevent the officer from seeing a weapon. The officer testified that the type of turn the defendant executed was known as “blading,” which is “[w]hen you have a gun on your hip you tend to blade it away from an individual.” Additionally the defendant began to move away. And, as the officers approached the defendant, the defendant did not inform them that he was lawfully armed. Under the totality of the circumstances, these facts support reasonable suspicion.

            The court then held that the frisk was proper. In order for a frisk to be proper officers must have reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous. Based on the facts supporting a finding of reasonable suspicion with respect to the stop, the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed. This, coupled with his struggle during the stop and continued failure to inform officers that he was armed, supported a finding that there was reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous.

In this carrying a concealed handgun case, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress where the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant. While patrolling a high crime area, the officer saw the defendant and Ariel Peterson walking on a sidewalk. Aware of multiple recent crimes in the area, the officer stopped his car and approached the men. The officer had prior interactions with the defendant and knew he lived some distance away. The officer asked the men for their names. Peterson initially gave a false name; the defendant did not. The officer asked them where they were coming from and where they were going. Both gave vague answers; they claimed to have been at Peterson’s girlfriend’s house and were walking back to the defendant’s home, but were unable or unwilling to say where the girlfriend lived. When the defendant asked the officer for a ride to his house, the officer agreed and the three walked to the patrol car. The officer informed the two that police procedure required him to search them before entering the car. As the officer began to frisk Peterson, Peterson ran away. The officer turned to the defendant, who had begun stepping away. Believing the defendant was about to run away, the officer grabbed the defendant’s shoulders, placed the defendant on the ground, and handcuffed him. As the officer helped the defendant up, he saw that a gun had fallen out of the defendant’s waistband. Before the trial court, the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress discovery of the gun. He pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was unlawfully seized when the officer discovered the gun. Agreeing with the defendant that exercising a constitutional right to leave a consensual encounter should not be used against a defendant “to tip the scale towards reasonable suspicion,” the court noted that the manner in which a defendant exercises this right “could, in some cases, be used to tip the scale.” However, the court found that it need not determine whether it was appropriate for the trial court to consider the fact that the defendant was backing away in its reasonable suspicion calculus. Rather, the trial court’s findings regarding the men’s behavior before the defendant backed away from the officer were sufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion. The defendant was in an area where a “spree of crime” had occurred; Peterson lied about his name; they both gave vague answers about where they were coming from; and Peterson ran away while being searched. This evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant.

Reasonable suspicion supported the traffic stop. At the time of the stop it was very late at night; the defendant’s vehicle was idling in front of a closed business; the business and surrounding properties had experienced several break-ins; and the defendant pulled away when the officer approached the car. Considered together, this evidence provides an objective justification for stopping the defendant.

An officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when he detained the defendant. After 10 pm the officer learned of a report of suspicious activity at Auto America. When the officer arrived at the scene he saw the defendant, who generally matched the description of one of the individuals reported, peering from behind a parked van. When the defendant spotted the officer, he ran, ignoring the officer’s instructions to stop. After a 1/8 mile chase, the officer found the defendant trying to hide behind a dumpster. The defendant’s flight and the other facts were sufficient to raise a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot.

The trial court erred denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. Officers responded to a complaint of loud music in a location they regarded as a high crime area. The officers did not see the defendant engaged in any suspicious activity and did not see any device capable of producing loud music. Rather, the defendant was merely standing outside at night, with two or three other men. These facts do not provide reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop of the defendant. That being the case, the officer’s encounter with the defendant was entirely consensual, which the defendant was free to and did ignore by running away. Once the officer caught up with the defendant and handcuffed him for resisting arrest, a seizure occurred. However, because the defendant’s flight from the consensual encounter did not constitute resisting, the arrest was improper.

Because the defendant was not stopped until after he ran away from the officers, his flight could be considered in determining that there was reasonable suspicion to stop.

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