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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

Two men were angry about being cheated in a drug deal. They approached a house and shot two other men – one fatally – who they thought were involved in the rip-off. The victims were on the front porch at the time of the shooting. Two women who were also on the porch viewed photo lineups in an attempt to identify the perpetrators. They both identified one suspect. Neither identified the defendant as the other man, though one said that his picture “looked like” the suspect. The defendant was charged with murder and other offenses. Several years later, a legal assistant with the district attorney’s office asked the women to come to the office for trial preparation. The legal assistant showed the women part of the defendant’s video-recorded interview with police as well as updated pictures of the defendant. One of the women looked out the window and saw the defendant, in a jail uniform and handcuffs, being led into the courthouse for a hearing. She immediately stated that he was one of the killers. The other woman came to the window and also saw the defendant. Both women later identified the defendant at trial as one of the perpetrators. The defendant argued that the identification was tainted by what he contended was a suggestive identification procedure conducted by the legal assistant. The trial judge found that the procedure was not unduly suggestive, and that in any event, the women’s in court testimony was based on their independent recollection of the events in question. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The court of appeals found the procedure to be impermissibly suggestive and reversed the defendant’s conviction. The State appealed, and the supreme court ruled: (1) The trial preparation session was an “impermissibly suggestive” identification procedure. Given that the women had not previously identified the defendant as a participant in the crime, the legal assistant’s “actions in showing [the women] the video of [the defendant’s] interview and recent photographs of [the defendant and the co-defendant] are exactly the kind of highly suggestive procedures that have been widely condemned as inherently suggestive” and amounted to improper “witness coaching.” (2) However, the procedure did not give “rise to a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification . . . because the trial court’s findings of fact support the legal conclusion that [one of the women’s] in-court identification of defendant was of independent origin and sufficiently reliable.” Among other factors, the court highlighted the woman’s proximity to the perpetrators, her opportunity to observe them, and the fact that when she saw a picture of the defendant online shortly after the crime – wearing his hair in a style different from his lineup photo and apparently more similar to his appearance at the time of the crime – she identified him as a perpetrator. (3) Because one of the women made a valid in-court identification, any error in admitting the other woman’s identification of the defendant was harmless. Three Justices, dissenting in part, would not have addressed whether the procedure at issue was unduly suggestive and would have decided the case based only on the “independent origin” holding.

The defendant was indicted for attempted first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, and other offenses. The State alleged that the defendant shot a man and his wife, Bruce and Joanne Parker, as they were getting into their car in a darkened Charlotte parking lot. After shooting Mr. Parker, the defendant, who was accompanied by a male and female companion, took Mr. Parker’s wallet and cell phone.

Off-duty officers arrived on the scene shortly after the couple was shot and saw the defendant and his two companions leaving the scene in the defendant’s car. Mr. Parker identified the defendant as the person who shot him. The officers gave chase, and the defendant’s male companion, who was driving, crashed the car. The defendant and his companions ran from the car. The driver was apprehended. The defendant and his female companion ran into a parking garage, where they were captured on surveillance footage, but were not apprehended by officers. On the driver’s seat floorboard of the crashed car, officers found the gun used to shoot the couple, the husband’s cell phone and wallet, and a purse and driver’s license belonging to the defendant’s female companion. Forty-five minutes later, the defendant called law enforcement officers to report that he had been carjacked earlier in the evening.

A few days after the shooting, an officer came to Mr. Parker’s hospital room and showed him a photographic lineup. The defendant’s picture was in the lineup, but Mr. Parker identified another person as the shooter. During trial, Mr. Parker testified that he was able to make out the shooter’s face during the attack. He then, without objection, identified the defendant in the courtroom, stating that the defendant was “pretty much the same man as he was that night,” only that he “appeared a little bit thinner.”

(1) On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss because there was insufficient evidence both that he was the perpetrator of the offenses and that there was a conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, noting that Mr. Parker identified the car and the defendant as the shooter at the scene; that the officers saw the defendant leaving the scene and the car he was in; that Mr. Parker gave a description of the defendant that same night; that the description matched a person seen on surveillance after the car crashed; that the defendant was the owner of the car; and that Mr. Parker identified the defendant as the shooter in court. The Court also rejected the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence argument regarding the conspiracy. The Court relied on State v. Lamb, 342 N.C. 151 (1995), and State v. Miles, 267 N.C. App. 78 (2019), in concluding that there was sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that the defendant acted in coordination with the other occupants of the vehicle to rob the Parkers with a dangerous weapon.

(2) The defendant next argued that the trial court erred by sustaining the State’s objection to the defendant’s question concerning a civil lawsuit filed by the Parkers against the owner of the parking lot alleging inadequate security. The defendant contended that the civil lawsuit was relevant because it showed that the Parkers had an interest in the outcome of the criminal prosecution. The Court has previously held that “where a witness for the prosecution has filed a civil suit for damages against the criminal defendant himself, the pendency of the suit is admissible to impeach the witness by showing the witness’s interest in the outcome of the criminal prosecution.” State v. Dixon, 77 N.C. App. 27, 31– 32 (1985); State v. Grant, 57 N.C. App. 589, 591 (1982). The Court concluded that because the civil suit was not filed against the defendant and because it was not necessary for the Parkers to prove in the civil suit that the defendant was the assailant, the pendency of the civil suit did not show Mr. Parker’s interest in the outcome of the criminal prosecution and was therefore not admissible to impeach the witness.

(3) The defendant’s final argument was that the trial court plainly erred by failing to exclude Mr. Parker’s in-court identification, which the defendant did not object to at trial. The defendant contended that the in-court identification was tainted by Mr. Parker’s exposure to media coverage of the case, his filing of a civil lawsuit that named the defendant as the assailant, the lapse of time, and his identification of someone other than the defendant in the photo lineup. The Court of Appeals concluded that these factors alone did not trigger due process concerns and that the alleged defects of the in-court identification were issues of credibility for the jury to resolve. The Court explained that absent any indication that the in-court identification was tainted by an impermissibly suggestive pre-trial identification procedure, there was no error, let alone plain error, in admitting Mr. Parker’s in-court identification.

In this drug case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence regarding in-court identifications on grounds that they were unreliable, tainted by an impermissibly suggestive DMV photograph. Detective Jurney conducted an undercover narcotics purchase from a man known as Junior, who arrived at the location in a gold Lexus. A surveillance team, including Sgt. Walker witnessed the transaction. Junior’s true identity was unknown at the time but Walker obtained the defendant’s name from a confidential informant. Several days after the transaction, Walker obtained a photograph of the defendant from the DMV and showed it to Jurney. Walker testified that he had seen the defendant on another occasion driving the same vehicle with the same license plate number as the one used during the drug transaction. At trial Jurney and Walker identified the defendant as the person who sold the drugs in the undercover purchase. The defendant was convicted and he appealed.

         On appeal the defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to address whether the identification was impermissibly suggestive. The court found that although the trial court did not make an explicit conclusion of law that the identification procedure was not impermissibly suggestive it is clear that the trial court implicitly so concluded. The court found the defendant’s cited cases distinguishable, noting in part that there is no absolute prohibition on using a single photograph for an identification. The court noted that even if the trial court failed to conclude that the identification procedure was not impermissibly suggestive, it did not err in its alternative conclusion that the identification was reliable under the totality of the circumstances. It concluded:

While we recognize that it is the better practice to use multiple photos in a photo identification procedure, the trial court did not err in its conclusion that, in this case, the use of a single photo was not impermissibly suggestive. And even if the procedure was impermissibly suggestive, the trial court’s findings of fact also support a conclusion that the procedure did not create “a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification.” The trial court’s findings of fact in this order are supported by competent evidence, and these factual findings support the trial court’s ultimate conclusions of law.

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress a victim’s identification of the defendant as the perpetrator. The defendant was charged with armed robbery of a Game Stop store and threatening use of a firearm against a store employee, Cintron, during the robbery. Although Cintron failed to identify an alleged perpetrator in a photographic lineup shown to him two days after the robbery, he later identified the defendant when shown a single still-frame photograph obtained from the store’s surveillance video. Cintron then identified the defendant as the perpetrator in the same photographic lineup shown to him two days after the robbery and again in four close-up, post-arrest photographs of the defendant showing his neck tattoos. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress Cintron’s in-court and out-of-court identifications.

          On appeal the defendant argued that the State conducted an impermissibly suggestive pretrial identification procedure that created a substantial likelihood of misidentification. The court rejected that argument, finding that the trial court’s challenged findings and conclusions—that the authorities substantially followed statutory and police department policies in each photo lineup and that the substance of any deviation from those policies revolved around the defendant’s neck tattoos—are supported by the evidence. The defendant fit the victim’s initial description of the perpetrator, which emphasized a tattoo of an Asian symbol on the left side of his neck and notable forehead creases. Based on this description, the victim had the ability to identify the defendant both in court and in photographs reflecting a close-up view of the defendant’s tattoos, and he specifically testified to his ability to recognize the defendant as the perpetrator independent of any lineup or photo he had been shown. Thus, the trial court’s ultimate conclusion—that the procedures did not give rise to a substantial likelihood that the defendant was mistakenly identified—is supported by the totality of the circumstances indicating that the identification was sufficiently reliable.

The trial court did not err by admitting in-court identification of the defendant by two officers. The defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the officers’ in-court identifications because the procedure they used to identify him violated the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (EIRA) and his constitutional due process rights. After the officers observed the defendant at the scene, they returned to the police station and put the suspect’s name into their computer database. When a picture appeared, both officers identified the defendant as the perpetrator. The officers then pulled up another photograph of the defendant and confirmed that he was the perpetrator. This occurred within 10-15 minutes of the incident in question. The court concluded that the identification based on two photographs was not a “lineup” and therefore was not subject to the EIRA. Next, the court held that even assuming the procedure was impermissibly suggestive, the officers’ in-court identification was admissible because it was based on an independent source, their clear, close and unobstructed view of the suspect at the scene.

An armed robbery victim’s identification of the defendant in the courtroom did not violate due process. When contacted prior to trial for a photo lineup, the victim had refused to view the pictures. The victim saw the defendant for the first time since the robbery at issue when the victim saw him sitting in the courtroom immediately prior to trial. This identification, without law enforcement involvement or suggestion, was not impermissibly suggestive.

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