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., 07/20/2024
E.g., 07/20/2024
State v. Greenfield, 375 N.C. 434 (Sept. 25, 2020)

In this felony murder case based on the underlying felony of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, the trial court erred by not instructing the jury on self-defense and the doctrine of transferred intent.  The evidence at trial showed that the defendant and a friend arrived at the apartment of Beth and Jon intending to buy marijuana from Jon.  By the time the defendant and his friend left the apartment, Jon, Beth, and the defendant had been shot.  Jon died as a result.  The defendant testified that while in the apartment living room, he picked up a gun he found on a coffee table because “it looked cool,” which caused Jon to become aggressive and Beth to emerge from a bedroom pointing a gun at the defendant.  After convincing Beth to drop her weapon by threatening to kill Jon, the defendant testified that he ran from the apartment, saw Jon pull a gun, and felt himself be shot in the side.  This caused the defendant to shoot in Jon’s direction “as best as [he] could” and “intentionally” at him.  The court explained that this testimony taken in the light most favorable to the defendant entitled him to a jury instruction on perfect self-defense for any shot intended for Jon because , if believed, it showed (1) he subjectively believed that he was going to die if he did not return fire; (2) such a belief was reasonable; (3) he was not the aggressor; and (4) did not use excessive force.  Further, he was entitled to an instruction on self-defense through transferred intent for the AWDWIKISI charge relating to Beth as her injury could have been caused by a bullet intended for Jon.  The trial court correctly gave a self-defense instruction on premeditated murder but erred by refusing to give the defendant’s requested self-defense instruction on felony murder or any underlying felony, including the assault.  This error was prejudicial because it impaired the defendant’s ability to present his defense to felony murder and the assault charge. 

In addition, the Court of Appeals erred by remanding the case for entry of a judgment convicting the defendant of second-degree murder, a verdict the jury returned after the trial court accepted a partial verdict on the felony murder charge and directed the jury to continue to deliberate on the premeditated murder charge.  The trial court’s decision to require continued deliberation and its associated instructions could have resulted in an improper finding by the jury that the defendant was guilty of second-degree murder.  Thus, the court remanded for a new trial on all charges.

Justice Newby dissented, stating his view that the trial court’s jury instructions, which included a general transferred-intent instruction but not the specific instruction requested by the defendant, enabled the defendant to make the jury argument he desired.  Justice Newby interpreted the jury’s verdicts as a rejection of the defendant’s self-defense theory.


In this New Hanover County case, defendant appealed after being found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder, arguing (1) the indictment for attempted first-degree murder failed to include an essential element of the offense, (2) error in denying his motion to dismiss one of the attempted murder charges, and (3) error in admitting evidence of past acts of violence and abuse against two former romantic partners. The Court of Appeals found no error.

In August of 2014, after defendant assaulted his girlfriend, a protective order was granted against him. On December 22, 2014, defendant tried to reconcile with his girlfriend, but she refused; the girlfriend went to the house of a friend and stayed with her for protection. Early the next morning, defendant tried to obtain a gun from an acquaintance, and when that failed, he purchased a gas can and filled it with gas. Using the gas can, defendant set fires at the front entrance and back door of the home where his girlfriend was staying. Five people were inside when defendant set the fires, and two were killed by the effects of the flames. Defendant was indicted for first-degree arson, two counts of first-degree murder, and three counts of attempted first-degree murder, and was convicted on all counts (the trial court arrested judgment on the arson charge).

Examining issue (1), the Court of Appeals explained that “with malice aforethought” was represented in the indictment by “the specific facts from which malice is shown, by ‘unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously . . . setting the residence occupied by the victim(s) on fire.’” Slip Op. at 10. Because the ultimate facts constituting each element of attempted first-degree murder were present in the indictment, the lack of “with malice” language did not render the indictment flawed.

Considering defendant’s argument (2), that he did not have specific intent to kill one of the victims because she was a family member visiting from Raleigh, the court found that the doctrine of transferred intent supported his conviction. Under the doctrine, “[t]he actor’s conduct toward the victim is ‘interpreted with reference to his intent and conduct towards his adversary[,]’ and criminal liability for the third party’s death is determined ‘as [if] the fatal act had caused the death of [the intended victim].’” Id. at 12, quoting State v. Locklear, 331 N.C. 239 (1992). Here defendant was attempting to kill his girlfriend, and the intent transferred to the other victims inside the home at the time he set the fires.

Considering (3) the admission of several prior acts of violence by defendant towards his girlfriend and another romantic partner, the court first determined the evidence was relevant under Rules of Evidence 401 and 402, and conducted an analysis under Rule 404(b), finding the evidence tended to show intent, motive, malice, premeditation, and deliberation. The court then looked for abuse of discretion by the trial court under the Rule 403 standard, finding that the admission of the relevant evidence did not represent error.

There was sufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation when, after having a confrontation with an individual named Thomas, the defendant happened upon Thomas and without provocation began firing at him, resulting in the death of the victim, an innocent bystander. Citing the doctrine of transferred intent, the court noted that “malice or intent follows the bullet.”

The doctrine of transferred intent permits the conviction of a defendant for discharging a weapon into occupied property when the defendant intended to shoot a person but instead shot into property that he or she knew was occupied.


An instruction on transferred intent was proper in connection with a charge of attempted first-degree murder of victim B where the evidence showed that B was injured during the defendant’s attack on victim A, undertaken with a specific intent to kill A.

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