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., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

In granting the defendant’s motion to suppress in a DWI case, the trial court erred by concluding that a licensed security officer was a state actor when he stopped the defendant’s vehicle. Determining whether a private citizen is a state actor requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances, with special consideration of the citizen's motivation for the search or seizure; the degree of governmental involvement, such as advice, encouragement, and knowledge about the nature of the citizen’s activities; and the legality of the conduct encouraged by the police. Importantly, the court noted, once a private search or seizure has been completed, later involvement of government agents does not transform the original intrusion into a governmental search. In the alternative, the court held that even if the security officer was a state actor, reasonable suspicion existed for the stop. Separately, the court found that a number of the trial court’s factual findings were not supported by the record.

State v. Verkerk, 229 N.C. App. 416 (Sept. 3, 2013) review granted, 367 N.C. 483 (Jun 12 2014)

(1) A seizure occurred when the defendant stopped her vehicle after a fire truck following behind her flashed its red lights and activated its siren. The fireman took this action after observing the defendant, among other things, weave out of her lane of traffic and almost hit a passing bus. (2) The court remanded to the trial court for findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding whether the fireman was acting as a state agent or a private person when the seizure occurred. (3) Whether the fireman lacked the statutory authority to stop the defendant’s vehicle is irrelevant to whether the stop violated the Fourth Amendment. The court noted that the US Supreme Court has consistently applied traditional standards of reasonableness to searches or seizures effectuated by government actors who lack state law authority to act as law enforcement officers. Thus, if on remand the trial court determines that the fireman was a government actor, it should then determine whether the stop was constitutionally permissible. (4) The trial court erred by holding that the fireman’s stop was justified under G.S. 15A-404, which allows for a citizen’s arrest when there is probable cause that certain crimes have been committed. Although reasonable suspicion may have supported a stop in this case, the evidence did not support a finding of probable cause. (5) If on remand the trial court finds that the stop was illegal, it should address whether evidence stemming from the defendant’s later arrest by the police is admissible under the inevitable discovery and independent source doctrines. One judge concurred in part and dissented in part. This judge concurred with the conclusion that that stop was a seizure and that the fireman was not authorized to stop the defendant under G.S. 15A-404. He dissented however because he found that the fireman was a state actor and that the stop violated the NC Constitution.

The trial court’s admission of photo identification evidence did not violate the defendant’s right to due process. The day after a break-in at her house, one of the victims, a high school student, became upset in school. Her mother was called to school and brought along the student’s sister, who was also present when the crime occurred. After the student told the Principal about the incident, the Principal took the student, her sister and her mother into his office and showed the sisters photographs from the N.C. Sex Offender Registry website to identify the perpetrator. Both youths identified the perpetrator from one of the pictures. The mother then contacted the police and the defendant was eventually arrested. At trial, both youths identified the defendant as the perpetrator in court. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the Principal acted as an agent of the State when he showed the youths the photos, finding that his actions “were more akin to that of a parent, friend, or other concerned citizen offering to help the victim of a crime.” Because the Principal was not a state actor when he presented the photographs, the defendant’s due process rights were not implicated in the identification. Even if the Principal was a state actor and the procedure used was unnecessarily suggestive, the procedure did not give rise to a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification given the circumstances of the identification. Finally, because the photo identification evidence was properly admitted, the trial court also properly admitted the in-court identifications of defendant.

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