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., 06/23/2024
E.g., 06/23/2024

(1) In this case involving a gang-related home invasion and murder, the court remanded to the trial court on the issue of whether the defendant’s waiver of his right to counsel was voluntary. Officers interrogated the 15-year-old defendant four times over an eight hour period. Although he initially denied being involved in either a shooting or a killing, he later admitted to being present for the shooting. He denied involvement in the killing, but gave a detailed description of the murders and provided a sketch of the home based on information he claimed to have received from another person. All four interviews were videotaped. At trial, the State sought to admit the videotaped interrogation and the defendant’s sketch of the home into evidence. The defendant moved to suppress on grounds that the evidence was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant was convicted. He appealed arguing that the trial court’s suppression order lacks key findings concerning law enforcement’s communications with him after he invoked his right to counsel. The video recording of the interrogation shows that the defendant initially waived his right to counsel and spoke to officers. But, after lengthy questioning, he re-invoked his right to counsel and the officers ceased their interrogation and left the room. During that initial questioning, law enforcement told the defendant that they were arresting him on drug charges. The officers also told the defendant they suspected he was involved in the killings, but they did not tell him they were charging him with those crimes, apparently leaving him under the impression that he was charged only with drug possession. Before being re-advised of his rights and signing a second waiver form, the defendant engaged in an exchange with the police chief, who was standing outside of the interrogation room. During the exchange, the defendant asked about being able to make a phone call; the police chief responded that would occur later because he was being arrested and needed to be booked for the shooting. The defendant insisted that he had nothing to do with that and had told the police everything he knew. The chief responded: “Son, you f***** up.” Later, when officers re-entered the interrogation room, the defendant told them that he wanted to waive his right to counsel and make a statement. The trial court’s order however did not address the exchange with the chief. Because of this, the court concluded that it could not examine the relevant legal factors applicable to this exchange, such as the intent of the police; whether the practice is designed to elicit an incriminating response from the accused; and any knowledge the police may have had concerning the unusual susceptibility of a defendant to a particular form of persuasion. The court thus remanded for the trial court to address this issue.

(2) The court went on however to reject the defendant’s argument that separate and apart from the chief’s communication with him, his waiver of his right to counsel was involuntary given his age, the officers’ interrogation tactics, and his lack of sleep, food, and medication. The court concluded that the trial court’s order addressed these factors and, based on facts supported by competent evidence in the record, concluded that the defendant’s actions and statements showed awareness and cognitive reasoning during the entire interview and that he was not coerced into making any statements, but rather made his statements voluntarily. Because the trial court’s fact findings on these issues are supported by competent evidence, and those findings in turn support the court’s conclusions, the court rejected this voluntariness challenge.

No prejudicial error occurred when the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress statements made by him while being transported in a camera-equipped police vehicle. After being read his Miranda rights, the defendant invoked his right to counsel. He made the statements at issue while later being transported in the vehicle. The court explained that to determine whether a defendant’s invoked right to counsel has been waived, courts must consider whether the post-invocation interrogation was police-initiated and whether the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived the right. Although the trial court did not apply the correct legal standard and failed to make the necessary factual findings, any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, given that the defendant’s statements contained little relevant evidence, they were not “particularly prejudicial,” and the other evidence in the case in strong.

The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant initiated contact with the police following his initial request for counsel and thus waived his right to counsel. After the defendant asserted his right to counsel, the police returned him to the interrogation room and again asked if he wanted counsel, to which he said yes. Then, on the way from the interrogation room back to the jail, a detective told the defendant that an attorney would not able to help him and that he would be served with warrants regardless of whether an attorney was there. The police knew or should have known that telling the defendant that an attorney could not help him with the warrants would be reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. It was only after this statement by police that the defendant agreed to talk. Therefore, the court concluded, the defendant did not initiate the communication. The court went on to conclude that even if the defendant had initiated communication with police, his waiver was not knowing and intelligent. The trial court had found that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of showing that the defendant made a knowing and intelligent waiver, relying on the facts that the defendant was 18 years old and had limited experience with the criminal justice system, there was a period of time between 12:39 p.m. and 12:54 p.m. where there is no evidence as to what occurred, and there was no audio or video recording. The court found that the defendant’s age and inexperience, when combined with the circumstances of his interrogation, support the trial court’s conclusion that the State failed to prove the defendant’s waiver was knowing and intelligent.

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