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., 02/04/2023
E.g., 02/04/2023

Reversing the North Carolina courts, the Court held that under Jones and Jardines, satellite based monitoring for sex offenders constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. The Court stated: “a State … conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.” The Court rejected the reasoning of the state court below, which had relied on the fact that the monitoring program was “civil in nature” to conclude that no search occurred, explaining: “A building inspector who enters a home simply to ensure compliance with civil safety regulations has undoubtedly conducted a search under the Fourth Amendment.” The Court did not decide the “ultimate question of the program’s constitutionality” because the state courts had not assessed whether the search was reasonable. The Court remanded for further proceedings.

This opinion arose from a Wake County order imposing satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) on defendant for first-degree rape of a child, incest, and two counts of first-degree sexual offense. This matter has a complicated procedural history, resulting in four Court of Appeals opinions. Pages 3-5 of the slip opinion describe the relevant history. The court held that the indictments for defendant’s offenses were valid and issued a writ to consider the 2020 SBM orders by the trial court, but did not reach a majority opinion on whether the orders violated the Fourth Amendment, leaving the 2020 SBM orders undisturbed.

Judge Jackson wrote the opinion of the court, taking up defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari to review the orders imposing SBM; Judge Murphy concurred in the issuance of certiorari, while Judge Tyson disagreed with issuing the writ. The opinion explored three questions regarding the SBM orders: (1) Were the indictments valid when they used initials and date of birth to identify the victim? (2) Were the 2020 SBM orders properly before the court? (3) Did the SBM orders violate the Fourth Amendment?

The panel was unanimous in holding that (1) the indictments were valid even though they used initials and date of birth to identify the victim. Judge Jackson explained that short-form indictments using initials were acceptable in rape and statutory sexual offense cases under the court’s holding in State v. McKoy, 196 N.C. App. 652 (2009) and G.S. §§ 15-144.1 and -144.2, and the court applied this reasoning to the incest allegation as well. Slip Op. at 12-13.

Considering (2), the panel looked to the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Ricks, 378 N.C. 737 (2021). The Ricks opinion held that the Court of Appeals abused its discretion in reviewing an SBM order upon issuance of a writ of certiorari where the defendant’s petition did not show merit. Slip Op. at 7. Judge Jackson and Judge Murphy agreed that Ricks was distinguishable from the instant case and that the court could properly grant the writ, although they varied on their reasoning for doing so. Judge Tyson did not support granting the writ.

Reaching (3), each member of the panel split on the question of the 2020 SBM orders and the Fourth Amendment. Judge Jackson wrote that the orders did not violate the Fourth Amendment following recent precedent in State v. Carter, 2022-NCCOA-262, and State v. Anthony, 2022-NCCOA-414, arguing that the court could not overrule itself with this relevant precedent. Slip Op. at 32-33. Judge Tyson argued that the orders were not properly before the court, as noted in issue (2), and the court lacked jurisdiction to consider them under Ricks. Id. at 45-46. Judge Murphy wrote that the 2020 SBM orders should be vacated, leaving 2012 SBM orders in place, as the trial court lacked appropriate jurisdiction under State v. Clayton, 206 N.C. App. 300 (2010). Slip Op. at 69-70.

In this case, arising from a Craven County court order imposing satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) on defendant after his Alford plea to first-degree sex offense with a child, the Court of Appeals considered for the third time whether the imposition of a thirty-year term of SBM represented a violation of defendant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. After reviewing applicable precedent from the North Carolina Supreme Court, the court affirmed the trial court’s SBM order.

This opinion is the third to be issued by the Court of Appeals in this matter, following a series of remands due to evolving caselaw regarding the constitutionality of SBM. In a 2018 opinion the court overruled the trial court’s imposition of SBM, following the similar case State v. Grady, 259 N.C. App. 664 (2018). The path of the Griffin and Grady matters remained intertwined as the North Carolina Supreme Court released State v. Grady, 372 N.C. 509 (2019), creating a new three-factor test for the imposition of SBM. The Griffin matter was remanded to the court, which issued a second opinion in 2020, again overturning the SBM order. By the time the matter reached the supreme court a second time, it had already issued State v. Hilton, 378 N.C. 692 (2021), and State v. Strudwick, 379 N.C. 94 (2021), and the General Assembly had passed several revisions to the SBM laws. As a result, the supreme court remanded a third time for consideration of the applicable caselaw and statutory changes.

In the current opinion, the court applied the three-part test from Hilton and Strudwick, considering (1) the State’s interest in imposing SBM, (2) defendant’s privacy interests, and (3) the level of intrusion SBM represents into defendant’s privacy interests. Exploring (1), the court noted that the legitimacy of the State’s interest in preventing future sex crimes was clear from legislative enactment of the program and weighed in favor of imposing SBM. Considering (2), the court explained that defendant’s status as a sex offender supported a more limited scope of privacy than the general public, holding that since “[d]efendant’s liberty and privacy interests are limited for the protection of children particularly, and [] [d]efendant was convicted of sexually abusing a minor . . . his privacy rights are appreciably diminished for purposes of analyzing SBM’s reasonableness.” Slip Op. at 15. When considering intrusiveness under (3), the court compared the SBM device defendant must wear to the devices in Hilton and Strudwick, where the supreme court held they were “more inconvenient than intrusive.” Id. at 16, quoting Hilton. Finally the court noted that the recent changes to the SBM program meant that defendant could appeal to have his SBM term capped at ten years, drastically reducing the intrusiveness of the original order.

In this Brunswick County case, defendant appealed an order vacating lifetime satellite-based monitoring (SBM) and imposing a 30-year term of SBM. Defendant argued (1) trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to impose SBM upon him; (2) trial court did not have statutory authority to impose a term of years based on his classification as a “recidivist;” and (3) the trial court erred in determining defendant required the highest level of supervision applicable under the statute. The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the order of the trial court. 

Defendant was convicted of four counts of indecent liberties with a child in 1994. Subsequently defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent liberties with a child in 2008 and received lifetime SBM. The court’s form order found that defendant “is classified as a sexually violent predator, is a recidivist, or was convicted of an aggravated offense,” but did not clarify which of these grounds justified the lifetime SBM. Slip Op. at ¶2. After the holding in State v. Grady (Grady III), 327 N.C. 509 (2019), prosecutors advised defendant that he was entitled to a hearing on the unconstitutional nature of his lifetime SBM, and defendant filed a motion for appropriate relief. Defendant’s motion was heard in January of 2021; the trial court found that defendant required the highest level of supervision, vacated the lifetime SBM and imposed a 30-year term, retroactive to the start of defendant’s monitoring in 2010. 

Considering defendant’s first argument, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to conduct the January 2021 hearing and enter the new order imposing SBM. Although defendant pointed to State v. Billings, 278 N.C. App. 267 (2021) to support the trial court’s lack of jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals explained that the Billings fact pattern was not present in the current case, as “[d]efendant’s own motion properly brought the matter before the trial court.” Slip Op. at ¶9. Instead, the court applied State v. Hilton, 378 N.C. 692 (2021) and State v. Strudwick, 379 N.C. 94 (2021), holding that “the trial court had continued jurisdiction over the original 2008 SBM order and could modify it pursuant to [d]efendant’s motion.” Slip Op. at ¶12. 

Reviewing defendant’s argument that the trial court lacked statutory authority to impose SBM, the court held that “[d]efendant’s reading of our statutes conflicts with precedent defining the Legislature’s intent.” Slip Op. at ¶14. The core of defendant’s argument came from the text of N.C.G.S. § 14-208.40A(d) in effect at the time of the 2021 hearing, specifically the following:

If the court finds that the offender committed an offense that involved the physical, mental, or sexual abuse of a minor, that the offense is not an aggravated offense or a violation of G.S. 14-27.23 or G.S. 14-27.28 and the offender is not a recidivist[. . . .]

Slip Op. at ¶18. As explained by the court, “[i]n holding our SBM statutes were unconstitutional as applied to unsupervised, recidivist offenders in Grady III, our Supreme Court created a loophole for individuals in Defendant’s position, as an unsupervised recidivist convicted of an offense involving the physical, mental, or sexual abuse of a minor.” Slip Op. at 21. The court rejected defendant’s reading of the applicable statute, as it “would lead to absurd results, contrary to the intent of the General Assembly in identifying specific categories of sex offenders subject to monitoring.” Slip Op. at 19. Instead, the court construed the applicable provisions along with the entire SBM statute classifying offenders, and applied Hilton and Strudwick to support the application of SBM for offenders like defendant. Slip Op. at 21. The court also noted that just months after the 2021 hearing, the General Assembly amended N.C.G.S. § 14-208.40A(d)-(e) to resolve the issue. Summarizing defendant’s situation, the court explained that the amendments to North Carolina’s SBM program created a ten-year cap on the term of SBM enrollment and a procedure for petitioning the trial court to end SBM, meaning that “since [d]efendant has been enrolled in SBM for more than ten years, he can obtain a court order terminating that enrollment today.” Slip Op. at ¶23. 

Finally, the court examined defendant’s argument that the trial court misapplied his risk assessment when determining he required the highest level of supervision. The court explained that, even if it misapplied or misinterpreted the risk assessment tool, the “trial court made sufficient findings to support its determination that [d]efendant required the ‘highest possible level of supervision and monitoring’ for a term of 30 years.” Slip Op. at ¶28.

In this Rowan County case, defendant appealed the imposition of lifetime satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) after his Alford plea to an aggravated sex offense. Defendant argued that the order imposing lifetime SBM violated the Fourth Amendment, as the United States Supreme Court held that SBM is a search subject to the Fourth Amendment in Grady v. North Carolina, 575 U.S. 306 (2015).

The Court of Appeals first took up defendant’s appeal in 2019, reversing the trial court’s order imposing SBM. After the first review of defendant’s case, the North Carolina Supreme Court remanded the case for reconsideration in light of State v. Grady, 372 N.C. 509 (2019). The Court of Appeals reviewed the case again in 2020, considering the relevant Grady precedent, and again reversed the trial court’s order imposing SBM.

After the second consideration of defendant’s case, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted changes to the SBM program in September of 2021; of note is defendant’s ability to petition for termination of SBM after 10 years. The North Carolina Supreme Court remanded defendant’s case a second time so that the Court of Appeals could consider relevant changes in statute and additional caselaw relevant to the SBM program, specifically State v. Hilton, 378 N.C. 692 (2021) and State v. Strudwick, 379 N.C. 94 (2021).

In the current opinion, the Court of Appeals considered the new structure of the SBM program and the three-step reasonableness analysis created by Hilton and Strudwick. The new reasonableness standard requires the court to weigh (1) an offender’s privacy interest, (2) SBM’s intrusion into the privacy of the offender, and (3) the State’s interest in monitoring a sex offender. Notably, the efficacy of SBM is not a factor in this analysis, and the analysis takes place in the present, not in the future when defendant is released from prison. Here, the Court of Appeals first determined that the State presented sufficient evidence to the trial court for it to make an adequate reasonableness determination. Then the court conducted a de novo review of the imposition of SBM and concluded that it was reasonable under the required analysis, upholding the trial court’s order.

Judge Hampson concurred only in the result.

State v. Blue, 246 N.C. App. 259 (Mar. 15, 2016)

(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because SBM is a civil, regulatory scheme, it is subject to the Rules of Civil Procedure and that the trial court erred by failing to exercise discretion under Rule 62(d) to stay the SBM hearing. The court concluded that because Rule 62 applies to a stay of execution, it could not be used to stay the SBM hearing. (2) With respect to the defendant’s argument that SMB constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure, the trial court erred by failing to conduct the appropriate analysis. The trial court simply acknowledged that SBM constitutes a search and summarily concluded that the search was reasonable. As such it failed to determine, based on the totality of the circumstances, whether the search was reasonable. The court noted that on remand the State bears the burden of proving that the SBM search is reasonable. 

The trial court erred by failing to conduct the appropriate analysis with respect to the defendant’s argument that SMB constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court simply acknowledged that SBM constitutes a search and summarily concluded that the search was reasonable. As such it failed to determine, based on the totality of the circumstances, whether the search was reasonable. The court noted that on remand the State bears the burden of proving that the SBM search is reasonable.

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