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., 04/12/2024
E.g., 04/12/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969) , COA22-3, ___ N.C. App. ___ 2023-03-07

In this Duplin County case, defendant appealed his convictions for sale and delivery of cocaine, arguing error (1) in denying his motion to suppress certain eyewitness testimony for due process violations, (2) denying the same motion to suppress for Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (“EIRA”) violations, (3) in permitting the jury to examine evidence admitted for illustrative purposes only, and (4) in entering judgment for both selling and delivering cocaine. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of defendant’s motion and found no plain error with the jury examining illustrative evidence, but remanded for resentencing due to the error of sentencing defendant for both the sale and delivery of cocaine. 

In December of 2017, the Duplin County Sheriff’s Office had confidential informants performing drug buys from defendant in a trailer park. The informants purchased crack cocaine on two different days from defendant, coming within three to five feet of him on clear days. At a trial preparation meeting in October of 2020, the prosecutor and a detective met with the lead informant; at the meeting, the informant saw a DMV picture of defendant with his name written on it, and responded “yes” when asked if that was the person from whom the informant purchased cocaine. No other pictures were shown to the informant at this meeting. Defense counsel subsequently filed a motion to suppress the testimony of the informant based on this meeting, as well as motions in limine, all of which the trial court denied.  

The Court of Appeals first considered (1) the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress, where defendant argued that the identification procedure violated his due process rights. The due process inquiry consists of two parts: whether the identification procedure was “impermissibly suggestive,” and if the answer is yes, “whether the procedures create a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification” after a five-factor analysis. Slip Op. at 9-10, quoting State v. Rouse, 284 N.C. App. 473, 480-81 (2022). Applying the Rouseframework and similar circumstances in State v. Malone, 373 N.C. 134 (2019) and State v. Jones, 98 N.C. App. 342 (1990), the court determined that “[the informant] seeing the photo of Defendant in the file during the trial preparation meeting was impermissibly suggestive,” satisfying the first part. Id. at 18. However, when the court turned to the five-factor analysis, it determined that only the third factor (accuracy of the prior description of the accused) and the fifth factor (the time between the crime and the confrontation of the accused) supported finding of a due process violation. The court concluded that “[b]ecause there was not a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification, the identification did not violate due process.” Id. at 24. 

The court also considered (2) defendant’s argument that the EIRA applied and supported his motion to suppress. After reviewing the scope of the EIRA, the court applied State v. Macon, 236 N.C. App. 182 (2014), for the conclusion that a single-photo identification could not be a lineup for EIRA purposes. Slip Op. at 28. The court then considered whether the procedure was a show-up:

In contrast to our longstanding description of show-ups, the procedure here was not conducted in close proximity to the crime and, critically, it was not conducted to try to determine if a suspect was the perpetrator. The identification here took place during a meeting to prepare for [trial]. As a result, the State, both the police and the prosecution, had already concluded Defendant was the perpetrator. The identification acted to bolster their evidence in support of that conclusion since they would need to convince a jury of the same. Since the identification here did not seek the same purpose as a show-up, it was not a show-up under the EIRA.

Id. at 30. The court emphasized the limited nature of its holding regarding the scope of the EIRA, and that this opinion “[did] not address a situation where the police present a single photograph to a witness shortly after the crime and ask if that was the person who committed the crime or any other scenario.” Id. at 32. 

Moving to (3), the court rejected defendant’s argument of plain error in allowing the jury to review his DMV photograph as substantive evidence when it was admitted for illustrative purposes, pointing to the “overwhelming evidence” of defendant’s guilt in the record, including other photographs and recordings of defendant. Id. at 34. 

Finally, the court considered (4) the sentencing issues by the trial court. Here, the trial court improperly sentenced defendant for both selling and delivering cocaine. The court explained that while “a defendant can be tried for both the sale and delivery of a controlled substance, he cannot be sentenced for ‘both the sale and the delivery of a controlled substance arising from a single transfer.’” Id. at 35, quoting State v. Moore, 327 N.C. 378, 382-83 (1990). This error required remand to the trial court for resentencing in keeping with only one conviction for sale or delivery. 

(Dec. 31, 1969) , ___ N.C. App. ___, 822 S.E.2d 51 2018-11-06

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the identification procedure used violated the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (EIRA). Although a non-independent administrator was used, the administrator satisfied the requirements of G.S. 15A-284.52(c) for such administrators (he used the folder method specified in the statute). Additionally, the administrator met the other requirements of the EIRA. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that plain error occurred because the administrator could not identify the specific five filler photographs that were used out of the seven total selected for the lineup. The court concluded that the administrator’s failure to recall which of the five filler photographs were used went to the weight of his testimony, not its admissibility. The court went on to hold that the trial court did not err by admitting the filler photographs into evidence.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

(1) In a store robbery case, the court found no plain error in the trial court's determination that a photo lineup was not impermissibly suggestive. The defendant argued that the photo lineup was impermissibly suggestive because one of the officers administering the procedure was involved in the investigation, and that officer may have made unintentional movements or body language which could have influenced the eyewitness. The court noted that the eyewitness (a store employee) was 75% certain of his identification; the investigating officer’s presence was the only irregularity in the procedure; the eyewitness did not describe any suggestive actions on the part of the investigating officer; and there was no testimony from the officers to indicate such. Also, the lineup was conducted within days of the crime. The perpetrator was in the store for 45-50 minutes and spoke with the employee several times. (2) The trial court did not commit plain error by granting the defendant relief under the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (EIRA) but not excluding evidence of a pretrial identification. The trial court found that an EIRA violation occurred because one of the officers administering the procedure was involved in the investigation. The court concluded: “We are not persuaded that the trial court committed plain error by granting Defendant all other available remedies under EIRA, rather than excluding the evidence.”

(Dec. 31, 1969)

Pretrial photographic line-ups were not suggestive, on the facts.

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