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., 07/24/2024
E.g., 07/24/2024
Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237 (Feb. 19, 2013)

Concluding that a dog sniff “was up to snuff,” the Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court and held that the dog sniff in this case provided probable cause to search a vehicle. The Court rejected the holding of the Florida Supreme Court which would have required the prosecution to present, in every case, an exhaustive set of records, including a log of the dog’s performance in the field, to establish the dog’s reliability. The Court found this “demand inconsistent with the ‘flexible, common-sense standard’ of probable cause. It instructed:

In short, a probable-cause hearing focusing on a dog’s alert should proceed much like any other. The court should allow the parties to make their best case, consistent with the usual rules of criminal procedure. And the court should then evaluate the proffered evidence to decide what all the circumstances demonstrate. If the State has produced proof from controlled settings that a dog performs reliably in detecting drugs, and the defendant has not contested that showing, then the court should find probable cause. If, in contrast, the defendant has challenged the State’s case (by disputing the reliability of the dog overall or of a particular alert), then the court should weigh the competing evidence. In all events, the court should not prescribe, as the Florida Supreme Court did, an inflexible set of evidentiary requirements. The question—similar to every inquiry into probable cause—is whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime.  A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.

Applying that test to the drug dog’s sniff in the case at hand, the Court found it satisfied.

In this Dare County case, defendant appealed his convictions for statutory rape, statutory sex offense, indecent liberties, and kidnapping, arguing (1) plain error in denying his motion to suppress evidence, (2) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to object to the introduction of that evidence, and (3) double jeopardy for entering judgment on first-degree kidnapping and the underlying sexual offense charges. The Court of Appeals found no merit in (1)-(2), but vacated and remanded for resentencing regarding (3). 

In July of 2020, a law enforcement officer obtained a search warrant for defendant’s address after a thirteen-year-old girl reported that defendant took her from her parents’ home and raped her. After searching defendant’s home and seizing several digital storage devices, the officer obtained a second warrant in August of 2020 to access the contents of the devices. When reviewing the contents of the devices, the officer found videos of defendant engaging in sexual acts with two other minor girls. Defendant was subsequently indicted for offenses involving all three minor girls. Before trial, defendant moved to suppress the digital evidence, arguing seizure of the digital devices under the July warrant was overbroad, and the contents reviewed under the August warrant were fruit of the poisonous tree and not related to the crime being investigated. When the matter came to trial, the trial court eventually denied the motion to suppress, and defendant was convicted of all eight counts against him. 

Regarding (1), defendant argued that the affidavits supporting the search warrants “failed to allege any nexus between the items sought and the crime being investigated.” Slip Op. at 10. The Court of Appeals explored the applicable precedent on conclusory affidavits, determining that “[d]espite its failure to establish an explicit connection between [the officer’s] training and experience and his belief in the existence of probable cause,” the July affidavit was not conclusory and permitted the magistrate to reasonably find probable cause for the search. Id. at 23. Moving to the August affidavit, the court reached the same conclusion, and noted that the August affidavit contained an additional attestation regarding the officer’s training and experience related to sex crimes. 

Dismissing (2), the court explained that it had already established the adequacy of the affidavits and probable cause supporting the search warrants, and “[h]ad Defendant’s trial counsel objected to the introduction of the challenged evidence, the result of the proceeding would have been the same.” Id. at 28.  

Arriving at (3), the court explained that “the trial court’s instructions here were such that Defendant could only have been convicted of first-degree kidnapping on the basis of one of the sexual offense charges for which he was also convicted and sentenced.” Id. at 31. Imposing sentences for the underlying sexual offense charges and the first-degree kidnapping charge represented double jeopardy, requiring remand to the trial court for resentencing to second-degree kidnapping or arresting judgment on the underlying sexual offense charges. 

In a case involving unlawful access to computers and identity theft, a search warrant authorizing a search of the defendant and her home and vehicle was supported by probable cause. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that hearsay evidence was improperly considered in the probable cause determination. It went on to conclude that the warrant was supported by probable cause where the defendant’s home was connected to an IP address used to unlawfully access an email account of a NC A&T employee.

In a drug trafficking case, a search warrant was supported by probable cause. The affiant was an officer with more than 22 years of experience and who had been involved in numerous drug investigations. The affidavit included background on the circumstances of the detective’s dealings with the defendant’s accomplice; detailed that the person who acquired the cocaine went to the house identified in the search warrant; stated that that the same person then delivered the cocaine to the detective; included the fact that a phone registered to the defendant repeatedly called the accomplice after the accomplice was arrested; and stated that the defendant resided at the house that was the subject of the search warrant.

The court held in this drug case, the search warrant was supported by probable cause. In his affidavit, the Investigator stated that he had received information within the past 30 days from confidential reliable informants (“CRIs”) that the defendant was selling narcotics from his residence; during June and July of 2008, the sheriff’s department had received information from anonymous callers and CRIs that drugs were being sold at the defendant’s residence; in July 2008, the Investigator met with a “concerned citizen” who stated that the defendant was supplying drugs to his sister who was addicted to “crack” cocaine; the defendant’s residence had been “synonymous with the constant sale and delivery of illegally controlled substances” as the defendant had been the subject of past charges and arrests for possession with intent to sell and deliver illegal controlled substances; and the defendant’s criminal background check revealed a “prior history” of possession of narcotics. Given the specific information from multiple sources that there was ongoing drug activity at the defendant’s residence combined with the defendant’s past criminal involvement with illegal drugs, sufficient probable cause was presented the affidavit. The court further concluded that the information from the informants properly was considered, noting that the CRIs had been “certified” because information provided by them had resulted in arrests and convictions in the past, they were familiar with the appearance, packaging, and effects of cocaine, they provided statements against penal interest, the Investigator had met personally with the concerned citizen, and the CRIs, callers, and the concerned citizen had all given consistent information that during the months of June and July 2008, illegal drugs were being sold at the defendant’s residence.

An affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause to believe that stolen items would be found in the defendant’s home, notwithstanding alleged omissions by the officer.

State v. Hinson, 203 N.C. App. 172 (Apr. 6, 2010) rev’d on other grounds, 364 N.C. 414 (Oct 8 2010)

An informant’s observations of methamphetamine production and materials at the location in question and an officer’s opinion that, based on his experience, an ongoing drug production operation was present supplied probable cause supporting issuance of the warrant.

A positive alert for drugs by a specially trained drug dog provides probable cause to search the area or item where the dog alerts.

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