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., 07/22/2024
E.g., 07/22/2024
State v. Cannon, 370 N.C. 487 (Mar. 2, 2018)

The court per curiam affirmed a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 804 S.E.2d 199 (2017). Over a dissent, the court of appeals had held that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of aiding and abetting larceny. The charges arose out of the defendant’s involvement with store thefts. A Walmart loss prevention officer observed Amanda Eversole try to leave the store without paying for several clothing items. After apprehending Eversole, the loss prevention officer reviewed surveillance tapes and discovered that she had been in the store with William Black, who had taken a number of items from store shelves without paying. After law enforcement was contacted, the loss prevention officer went to the parking lot and saw Black with the officers. Black was in the rear passenger seat of an SUV, which was filled with goods from the Walmart. A law enforcement officer testified that when he approached Black’s vehicle the defendant asked what the officers were doing. An officer asked the defendant how he knew Black and the defendant replied that he had only just met “them” and had been paid $50 to drive “him” to the Walmart. The defendant also confirmed that he owned the vehicle. Citing this and other evidence, the court of appeals held that the trial court did not err by denying the motion to dismiss.

In its per curiam opinion, the supreme court “specifically disavowed” the taking of judicial notice by the court of appeals of the prevalence of Wal-Mart stores in Gastonia and in the area between Gastonia and Denver, as well as of the “ubiquitous nature of Wal-Mart stores.”

State v. Dick, 370 N.C. 305 (Dec. 8, 2017)

The court reversed a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals in this first-degree sexual offense case, holding that the trial court did not err by giving a disjunctive jury instruction. One of the factors that can elevate a second-degree sexual offense to a first-degree sexual offense is that the defendant was aided and abetted by one or more other persons; another is that the defendant used or displayed a dangerous or deadly weapon. Here, the trial court gave a disjunctive instruction, informing the jury that it could convict the defendant of the first-degree offense if it found that he was aided and abetted by another or that he used or displayed a dangerous or deadly weapon. Where, as here, the trial court instructs the jury disjunctively as to alternative acts which establish an element of the offense, the requirement of unanimity is satisfied. However, when a disjunctive instruction is used, the evidence must be sufficient under both theories. In this case it was undisputed that the evidence was sufficient under the dangerous or deadly weapon prong. The defendant contested the sufficiency of the evidence under the aiding and abetting prong. The court found the evidence sufficient, holding that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that actual or constructive presence is required for aiding and abetting. As the Court stated in State v. Bond, 345 N.C. 1 (1996), actual or constructive presence is no longer required to prove aiding and abetting. Applying that law, the court held that although the defendant’s accomplices left the room before the defendant committed the sexual act, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that the others aided and abetted him. Among other things, two of the accomplices taped the hands of the residents who were present; three of them worked together to separate the sexual assault victim from the rest of the group; one of the men grabbed her and ordered her into a bedroom when she tried to sit in the bathroom; and in the bedroom the defendant and an accomplice groped and fondled the victim and removed her clothes. Most of these acts were done by the defendant and others. The act of taping her mouth shut, taping her hands behind her back, moving her into the bedroom, removing her clothing and inappropriately touching her equate to encouragement, instigation and aid all of which “readily meet the standards of . . . aiding and abetting.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was insufficient because he was the only person in the room when the sex act occurred.

In this McDowell County case, defendant appealed his convictions for conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine and aiding and abetting a continuing criminal enterprise (“CCE”), arguing (1) the CCE indictment was fatally flawed as it did not specify each of the acts committed under the CCE, and (2) the conspiracy verdict was fatally ambiguous, as it was impossible to determine if the jury unanimously found trafficking by possession or by transportation. The Court of Appeals majority agreed regarding (1), vacating defendant’s CCE conviction, but upheld the conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine conviction in (2). 

Defendant was an admitted participant in a drug trafficking enterprise, but was not an organizer or employee of the principal operation, instead being a routine purchaser of drugs for resale. Considering (1), the Court of Appeals noted that G.S. 90-95.1 defines the offense of CCE, and that the federal crime in 21 U.S.C. § 848 has nearly identical wording. This led the court to consult applicable precedent in Richardson v. United States, 526 U.S. 813 (1999), for the idea that specificity of illegal conduct is essential in a CCE indictment. The court found no such specificity here, explaining:

The indictment does not allege that the enterprise engaged in any specific conduct, only defining the CCE as “a continuing series of violations of Article 5 of Chapter 90 of the General Statutes” and generally naming the participants and their positions in the trafficking scheme’s hierarchy.  A juror would have no way of knowing how many criminal acts were committed within the organization or how Defendant’s acts advanced them; while the indictment specifies that Defendant aided and abetted the CCE “by trafficking in methamphetamine[,]” it says nothing of why the enterprise with which Defendant dealt constituted a CCE.

Slip Op. at 8-9. This led the court to hold that “each underlying act alleged under N.C.G.S. § 90-95.1 constitutes an essential element of the offense” and that “a valid indictment under N.C.G.S. § 90-95.1 requires the state to specifically enumerate the acts alleged.” Id. at 9. Because the State did not do so in the current case, the indictment was fatally defective and the court vacated defendant’s CCE conviction. 

Moving to (2), the court explained that the core of defendant’s argument was that failing to distinguish between trafficking by possession and by transportation rendered the jury’s verdict fatally ambiguous. The court drew a distinction between disjunctive jury instructions that (a) would allow a jury to find defendant guilty of any one of multiple underlying offenses, or (b) various alternative acts that establish elements of the single offense being charged. Here, the court found (b), as “[w]here a conspiracy charge disjunctively lists multiple offenses . . . each underlying offense does not create a separate conspiracy, but is instead an alternative act by which a Defendant may be found guilty of the singular conspiracy alleged.” Id. at 11. This led the court to find no fatal ambiguity for defendant’s conspiracy conviction. 

Judge Stroud concurred in part and dissented in part by separate opinion, and would have found no fatal ambiguity (1), allowing the CCE conviction to stand. Id. at 13.

In this Cleveland County case, defendant appealed his conviction for aiding and abetting possession of a firearm by a felon, arguing a fatally defective indictment and error in dismissing his motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals disagreed on both points and found no error.

Detectives in an unmarked vehicle observed a black pickup truck swerve left of the center line several times while driving, and initiated a traffic stop. Defendant was seated in the passenger seat of the truck when the detectives approached. The driver of the vehicle was known to be a felon by the detectives, and they conducted Terry frisks of defendant and the driver of the truck, finding .32 caliber ammunition in the pocket of the driver. After finding the ammunition, the detectives searched the truck, finding a handgun inside the glovebox and another hidden under the center seat, as well as magazines and ammunition around the vehicle.

Reviewing defendant’s challenge to the indictment, the Court of Appeals first explained the necessary elements of aiding and abetting another person in a crime, and the then the necessary elements of possession of a firearm by a felon. Turning to the text of the indictment, the court found all the necessary elements for the crime, overruling defendant’s argument.

The court next looked to the sufficiency of the evidence, explaining that defendant argued no proof of his intent to commit the crime, even though the elements of the offense do not include an intent requirement, because the indictment referenced his knowledge of the driver’s prior felony conviction. Looking at the evidence in the record, the court found sufficient evidence that defendant provided a firearm to the driver of the vehicle, and that defendant was aware of the driver’s prior felony conviction. This led the court to conclude sufficient evidence existed to support the conviction. 

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss five statutory sexual offense charges based on a theory of aiding and abetting. The State’s theory was that the defendant encouraged the victim’s mother to engage in sexual activity with the victim, and that the victim’s mother did this to “bait” the defendant into a relationship with her. On appeal the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to show that he encouraged or instructed the victim’s mother to perform cunnilingus or digitally penetrate the victim, or that any statement by him caused the victim’s mother to perform the sexual acts. The court disagreed. The State’s evidence included Facebook conversations between the victim’s mother and the defendant. The defendant argued that these messages were fantasies and that even if taken at face value, were devoid of any instruction or encouragement to the victim’s mother to perform sexual acts, specifically cunnilingus or penetration of the victim. The court rejected this argument, concluding that an explicit instruction to engage in sexual activity is not required. Here, the evidence showed that the defendant knew that the victim’s mother wanted a relationship with him and that he believed she was using the victim to try to initiate that relationship. Numerous messages between the defendant and the victim’s mother support a reasonable inference of a plan between them to engage in sexual acts with the victim. The victim’s mother testified that she described sexual acts she performed on the victim to the defendant because he told her he liked to hear about them. The defendant argued that this description of sexual acts after the fact is insufficient to support a finding that he knew of or about these acts prior to their occurrence, a requirement for aiding and abetting. However, the court concluded, the record supports an inference that he encouraged the victim’s mother to perform the acts. Among other things, the defendant specified nude photos that he wanted of the victim and initiated an idea of sexual “play” between the victim’s mother and the victim. After the victim’s mother videotaped her act of performing cunnilingus on the victim and send it to the defendant, the defendant replied that he wanted to engage in that act. After he requested a video of the victim “playing with it,” the victim’s mother made a video of her rubbing the victim’s vagina. This evidence was sufficient to support an inference that the defendant aided and abetted in the victim’s mother’s sexual offenses against the victim.

The evidence was sufficient to support convictions for murder, burglary, and armed robbery on theories of acting in concert and aiding and abetting. The court noted that neither acting in concert nor aiding and abetting require a defendant to expressly vocalize her assent to the criminal conduct; all that is required is an implied mutual understanding or agreement. The State’s evidence showed that the defendant was present for the discussions and aware of the group’s plan to rob the victim Wiggins; she noticed an accomplice’s gun; she was sitting next to another accomplice in a van when he loaded his shotgun; she told the group that she did not want to go up to the house but remained outside the van; she walked toward the house to inform the others that two victims had fled; she told two accomplices “y’all need to come on;” she attempted to start the van when an accomplice returned but could not release the parking brake; and she assisted in unloading the goods stolen from Wiggins’ house into an accomplice’s apartment after the incident.

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