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., 06/22/2024
E.g., 06/22/2024

In this drug case, the court held that the affidavit provided sufficient probable cause for a search of the residence in question. The affidavit indicated that after the officer received an anonymous tip that drugs were being sold at the residence, he conducted a “refuse investigation” at the premises. The defendant asserted that this information was stale and could not properly support issuance of the warrant. The court noted that although the affidavit does not state when or over what period of time the tipster observed criminal activity at the residence, when the tipster relayed the information to the police or the exact date when the officer conducted the refuse search, the affidavit was based on more than just this information. Specifically, it included details regarding database searches indicating that the defendant had a waste and water utility account at the residence, that the defendant lived at the residence, that the officer was familiar with the residence and the defendant from his previous assignment as a patrol officer, and recounted the defendant’s prior drug charges. To the extent the information in the anonymous tip was stale, it was later corroborated by the refuse search in which the officer found a cup containing marijuana residue, plastic bags containing marijuana residue and a butane gas container that the officer said is consistent with potential manufacturing of butane hash oil. Also the affidavit stated that the officer conducted the refuse investigation on Thursday, “regular refuse day.” A common sense reading of the affidavit would indicate that this referred to the most recent Thursday, the date the affidavit was completed. The court continued noting that even if the anonymous tip was so stale as to be unreliable, the marijuana-related items obtained from the refuse search, the defendant’s criminal history, and the database searches linking the defendant to the residence provided a substantial basis upon which the magistrate could determine that probable cause existed.

Because an affidavit failed to specify when an informant witnessed the defendant’s allegedly criminal activities, there was insufficient evidence establishing probable cause to support issuance of the search warrant. In the affidavit, the officer stated that he received a counterfeit $100 bill from an informant who claimed it had been obtained from the defendant’s home. At the suppression hearing, the officer testified that what he meant to state in the affidavit was that the informant had obtained the bill within the last 48 hours. It was error for the trial court to consider this additional testimony from the officer that was outside of the facts recited in the affidavit. Considering the content of the affidavit, the court held that without any indication of when the informant received the bill, the affidavit failed on grounds of staleness.

In this child sex case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant authorizing a search of his house. The victim told the police about various incidents occurring in several locations (the defendant’s home, a motel, etc.) from the time that she was eight years old until she was eleven. The affidavit alleged that the defendant had shown the victim pornographic videos and images in his home. The affidavit noted that the defendant is a registered sex offender and requested a search warrant to search his home for magazines, videos, computers, cell phones, and thumb drives. The court first rejected the defendant’s argument that the victim’s information to the officers was stale, given the lengthy gap of time between when the defendant allegedly showed the victim the images and the actual search. It concluded: “Although [the victim] was generally unable to provide dates to the attesting officers . . . her allegations of inappropriate sexual touching by Defendant over a sustained period of time allowed the magistrate to reasonably conclude that probable cause was present to justify the search of Defendant’s residence.” It went on to note that “when items to be searched are not inherently incriminating [as here] and have enduring utility for the person to be searched, a reasonably prudent magistrate could conclude that the items can be found in the area to be searched.” It concluded:

There was no reason for the magistrate in this case to conclude that Defendant would have felt the need to dispose of the evidence sought even though acts associated with that evidence were committed years earlier. Indeed, a practical assessment of the information contained in the warrant would lead a reasonably prudent magistrate to conclude that the computers, cameras, accessories, and photographs were likely located in Defendant’s home even though certain allegations made in the affidavit referred to acts committed years before.

Reversing the trial court, the court held that probable cause supported issuance of a search warrant to search the defendant’s residence. Although the affidavit was based an anonymous caller, law enforcement corroborated specific information provided by the caller so that the tip had a sufficient indicia of reliability. Additionally, the affidavit provided a sufficient nexus between the items sought and the residence to be searched. Finally, the court held that the information was not stale.

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

Rejecting the defendant’s argument that information relied upon by officers to establish probable cause was stale. Although certain information provided by an informant was three weeks old, other information pertained to the informant’s observations made only one day before the application for the warrant was submitted. Also an officer opined, based on his experience, that an ongoing drug production operation was present at the location.

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