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., 04/15/2024
E.g., 04/15/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Henderson County case, defendant appealed his conviction for trafficking opium or heroin by possession, arguing error in the denial of his requested instruction that the jury must find he knew what he possessed was fentanyl. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In March of 2018 the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office executed a warrant for defendant’s arrest at a home in Fletcher. During the arrest, an officer smelled marijuana and heard a toilet running in the house, leading the police to obtain a search warrant for the entire home. During this search, officers found a plastic bag with white powder inside, as well as some white powder caked around the rim of a toilet. Officers performed a field test on the substance which came back positive for cocaine, but when lab tested, the substance turned out to be fentanyl. At trial, one of the officers testified that “everyone” at the scene believed the substance they found was cocaine on the day of the search. Defendant chose not to testify during the trial, and had previously refused to give a statement when arrested. 

Turning to defendant’s arguments, the court found that no evidence in the record supported defendant’s contention that he lacked guilty knowledge the substance was fentanyl. Defendant pointed to the officer’s testimony that “everyone” believed the substance was cocaine, but “[r]ead in context, it is apparent that [the officer] was referring to the knowledge of the officers who initially arrested [defendant and another suspect] for possession of cocaine, as the excerpted testimony immediately follows a lengthy discussion of their rationale for doing so.” Slip Op. at 8. Because defendant did not testify and no other evidence supported his contention that he lacked knowledge, his circumstances differed from other cases where a defendant was entitled to a guilty knowledge instruction. The court explained that evidence of a crime lacking specific intent, like trafficking by possession, creates a presumption that defendant has the required guilty knowledge; unless other evidence in the record calls this presumption into question, a jury does not have to be instructed regarding guilty knowledge. Id. at 9. 

 

(Dec. 31, 1969) , 273 N.C. App. 601 2020-10-06

In this Lincoln County case, the defendant stole a car left running outside of a gas station. A three-year old child was in the backseat. Once officers attempted to stop the car, the defendant led police on a high-speed chase and ultimately crashed. The child was not harmed. During the chase, the defendant called 911 and attempted to bargain for the child’s release. He was charged with first-degree kidnapping, abduction of a child, larceny of a motor vehicle, possession of stolen property, and habitual felon. The jury convicted on all counts. The defendant did not appeal, but later filed a petition for writ of certiorari seeking review of his convictions, which was granted.

(1) The child abduction statute includes language that the offense must occur “without legal justification or excuse.” See G.S. § 14-41(a). The defendant contended that this language required the State to prove that the defendant acted willfully, and that the failure to instruct the jury on mens rea improperly treated the crime as a strict liability offense. The Court of Appeals disagreed. There is no requirement of “willfulness” in the language of the statute. While the offense is not a strict liability crime, it is also not a specific intent crime as defendant argued. Rather, the offense is a general intent crime, requiring a showing only that the defendant acted “knowingly.” The “without justification or excuse” language in the statute allows the defendant to argue defenses like mistake of fact, necessity, or others, but does not create a specific intent requirement. This argument was therefore rejected. 

(2) There was sufficient evidence to support the conviction for child abduction. The evidence showed that the defendant continued driving the car at high speeds while fleeing police, even after realizing that a child was in the backseat. After the point at which the defendant called 911 and acknowledged the presence of the child in the car, he continued to disobey police and dispatch commands to stop and continued fleeing for at least 15 minutes. Though “[a] defendant may exculpate a mistake though subsequent conduct,” the defendant here made no such showing. Slip op. at 10.

(3) There was no error, much less plain error, in the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury that the defendant must have acted willfully in abducting the child, for the same reasons that the statute does not create a specific intent crime. There was therefore no error in the trial court’s instructions to the jury for that offense.

(4) During a pretrial conference, the parties agreed that the jury would be instructed only on removal as the State’s theory for first-degree kidnapping, which was the theory alleged in the indictment. At charge conference, the State requested and received jury instructions on all three possible theories (restraint, removal, or confinement). See G.S. § 14-39. Trial counsel for the defendant assented to those instructions and did not otherwise object. Despite trial counsel’s agreement, this argument was not waived and could be reviewed for plain error. However, the court found no plain error based on the evidence (which supported each theory), and the fact that there was no conflicting evidence as to the three theories. “Defendant cannot demonstrate plain error because it is undisputed that the evidence at trial supported the theory of kidnapping alleged in the indictment––removal––and also supported the two additional theories of kidnapping included in the instruction––restraint and confinement.” French Slip op. at 12.

(5) The trial court erred in sentencing the defendant for possession of stolen goods (the car) and larceny of a motor vehicle. “A defendant cannot be convicted of both [of these] offenses when the subject property is the same.” Id. at 14. The Court of Appeals therefore vacated the conviction for the possession of stolen goods conviction and found no error as to the defendant’s other convictions.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

In a discharging a barreled weapon into occupied property case, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury that because the crime was a general intent crime, the State need not prove that the defendant intentionally discharged the firearm into occupied property, and that it needed only prove that he intentionally discharged the firearm.

 

(Dec. 31, 1969)

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for a diminished capacity instruction with respect to a charge of discharging a firearm into occupied property that served as a felony for purposes of a felony-murder conviction. Because discharging a firearm into occupied property is a general intent crime, diminished capacity offers no defense.

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