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., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

The exclusionary rule (a deterrent sanction baring the prosecution from introducing evidence obtained by way of a Fourth Amendment violation) does not apply when the police conduct a search in compliance with binding precedent that is later overruled. Alabama officers conducted a routine traffic stop that eventually resulted in the arrests of driver Stella Owens for driving while intoxicated and passenger Willie Davis for giving a false name to police. The police handcuffed both individuals and placed them in the back of separate patrol cars. The police then searched the passenger compartment of Owens’s vehicle and found a revolver inside Davis’s jacket pocket. The search was done in reliance on precedent in the jurisdiction that had interpreted New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981), to authorize automobile searches incident to arrests of recent occupants, regardless of whether the arrestee was within reaching distance of the vehicle at the time of the search. Davis was indicted on a weapons charge and unsuccessfully moved to suppress the revolver. He was convicted. While Davis’s case was on appeal, the Court decided Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), adopting a new, two-part rule under which an automobile search incident to a recent occupant’s arrest is constitutional (1) if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle during the search, or (2) if the police have reason to believe that the vehicle contains evidence relevant to the crime of arrest. Analyzing whether to apply the exclusionary rule to the search at issue, the Court determined that “[the] acknowledged absence of police culpability dooms Davis’s claim.” Slip Op. at 10. It stated: “Because suppression would do nothing to deter police misconduct in these circumstances, and because it would come at a high cost to both the truth and the public safety, we hold that searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule.” Slip Op. at 1.

The exclusionary rule does not require the exclusion of evidence found during a search incident to arrest when the officer reasonably believed that there was an outstanding warrant but that belief was wrong because of a negligent bookkeeping error by another police employee. An officer arrested the defendant based on an outstanding arrest warrant listed in a neighboring county sheriff’s computer database. A search incident to arrest discovered drugs and a gun, which formed the basis for criminal charges. Minutes after the search was completed, it became known that the warrant had been recalled but that a law enforcement official had negligently failed to record the recall in the system. The Court reasoned that the exclusionary rule is not an individual right and that it applies only where it will result in appreciable deterrence. Additionally, the benefits of deterrence must outweigh the social costs of exclusion of the evidence. An important part of the calculation is the culpability of the law enforcement conduct. Thus, the abuses that gave rise to the exclusionary rule featured intentional conduct that was patently unconstitutional. An error that arises from nonrecurring and attenuated negligence is far removed from the core concerns that lead to adoption of the rule. The Court concluded: “To trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system. . . . [T]he . . . rule serves to deter deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence.” The negligence in recordkeeping at issue, the Court held, did not rise to that level. Finally the Court noted that not all recordkeeping errors are immune from the exclusionary rule: “[i]f the police have been shown to be reckless in maintaining a warrant system, or to have knowingly made false entries to lay the groundwork for future false arrests, exclusion would be . . . justified . . . .”

The defendant was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and other charges and appealed. He argued the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress, his motion to dismiss, and in admitting certain evidence. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed.

The offenses occurred in 2005, although the defendant was not tried until 2017. As a part of the investigation into the homicides and other crimes, law enforcement obtained an order authorizing the use of a pen register to obtain 60 days of cell-site location information (“CSLI”) on a phone connected to the defendant in 2005. Law enforcement acted under G.S. 15A-262, requiring a showing only of “relevance” to an investigation, and did not obtain a search warrant. The defendant alleged this violated U.S. v. Carpenter, __U.S. __, 201 L. Ed. 2d 507 (2018). Rejecting this argument, the court first noted Carpenter’s scope: “Carpenter only established the government must obtain a warrant before it can access a phone company’s historical CSLI; it did not extend its holding to the issue of government acquisition of real-time or prospective CSLI.” Here, the State sought both types of data, and it was unclear which category of information was used to actually locate the defendant. Carpenter would only control as to the historical data (but did indeed apply to that category of data, despite having been decided 13 years after the events in question, since Carpenter was decided while this matter was on direct appeal).

Here, it was unnecessary to decide the extent of protections for real-time or prospective CSLI, given that the evidence was sufficiently attenuated from any illegality (an alternative ground found by the trial court to justify the search). “Evidence is admissible when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance, so that ‘the interest protected by the constitutional guarantee that has been violated would not be served by suppression of the evidence obtained.’”

The Supreme Court has identified three factors to aid in determining whether there was a sufficient intervening event to break the casual link between the government’s unlawful act and the discovery of evidence: (1) the ‘temporal proximity’ of the unconstitutional conduct and the discovery of evidence, (2) the ‘presence of intervening circumstances’, and (3)  ‘particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct.’

Here, three days had passed between the court order authorizing the CSLI and law enforcement locating the defendant. That amount of time was not substantial and weighed in favor of suppression. However, the intervening circumstances here weighed heavily in favor of attenuation—the defendant was found with guns and ammo, threatened to shoot at officers when they attempted to apprehend him, and actually fired a gun at officers during the course of his arrest. “[T]his constituted an intervening circumstance sufficient to attenuate the connection between any unconstitutional police conduct and the discovery of evidence.” Finally, the purpose of the exclusionary rule would not be served by suppression here because the misconduct was “neither purposeful nor flagrant.” Officers acted according to the law and common understanding of pen registers in 2005 and no reasons existed at the time to believe those procedures were unconstitutional. The trial court did not therefore err in denying the motion to suppress.  

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 an assault on an officer case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that evidence of his two assaults on law enforcement officers should be excluded as fruits of the poisonous tree because his initial arrest for resisting an officer was unlawful. The doctrine does not exclude evidence of attacks on police officers where those attacks occur while the officers are engaging in conduct that violates a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights; “[a]pplication of the exclusionary rule in such fashion would in effect give the victims of illegal searches a license to assault and murder the officers involved[.]” (quotation omitted). Thus the court held that even if the initial stop and arrest violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, evidence of his subsequent assaults on officers were not “fruits” under the relevant doctrine.

Even if the defendant was arrested without probable cause, his subsequent criminal conduct of giving the officers a false name, date of birth, and social security number need not be suppressed. “The exclusionary rule does not operate to exclude evidence of crimes committed subsequent to an illegal search and seizure.”

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