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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

The defendant’s husband sexually abused the defendant’s daughter. (The husband was not the daughter’s biological father, but he had adopted her after he married her mother.) The daughter told an aunt about the abuse. This led to law enforcement and DSS investigations. However, the defendant initially did not believe her daughter and instead pressured her to recant her allegations. Even after walking in on the abuse in progress, the defendant sought to prevent her daughter from cooperating with authorities. The defendant was charged with (a) being an accessory after the fact to sexual activity by a substitute parent, based on her failure to report the abuse that she personally observed; (b) felony obstruction of justice for pressuring her daughter to recant; and (c) felony obstruction of justice for denying law enforcement and DSS access to her daughter during the investigation. She was convicted on all counts and appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support each conviction. The case eventually reached the state supreme court, which ruled: (1) There was insufficient evidence to support the accessory after the fact conviction. “[T]he indictment alleged that [the defendant] did not report [her husband’s] sexual abuse of [her daughter, and] a mere failure to report is not sufficient to make someone an accessory after the fact under North Carolina law.” The court distinguished failure to report a crime from affirmative concealment of a crime. The court also “decline[d] to consider any of defendant’s other acts not alleged in this indictment” that might have supported the accessory after the fact charge. (2) There was sufficient evidence to support the defendant’s conviction of obstruction of justice for denying the authorities access to the daughter during the investigation. The court noted that the defendant interrupted one interview of the daughter by investigators, was present and “talked over” the daughter in several others, and generally “successfully induced [the daughter] to refuse to speak with investigating officers and social workers.” The court remanded the matter to the court of appeals for further consideration of whether there was sufficient evidence that the obstruction was felonious by virtue of an intent to deceive or defraud. (The other count of obstruction of justice, for pressuring the daughter to recant, had been affirmed by the court of appeals and was not before the supreme court.) Two dissenting Justices would have found sufficient evidence of accessory after the fact.

The defendant was convicted of accessory after the fact to a felony and felony obstruction of justice in Cleveland County relating to her efforts to assist a murder suspect (later convicted of second-degree murder) evade capture. (1) The defendant argued the statutory offense of accessory after the fact abrogated the common law offense of obstruction of justice in part, such that she could not be convicted of both. The North Carolina Supreme Court previously rejected this argument inIn re Kivett, 309 N.C. 635, 670 (1983), which defeated this claim. The defendant also argued that the two offenses were the same for purposes of double jeopardy, in that they are greater- and lesser-included offenses of each other. This argument has also been rejected by the prior decisions of the Court of Appeals, as the offenses have different elements: “This Court has expressly held that accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice do not constitute the same offense, and that neither is a lesser-included offense of the other.” Cruz Slip op. at 9 (citation omitted). Substantial evidence supported each instruction as well. As to the accessory conviction, the evidence showed the defendant provided personal assistance to the suspect while knowing he was wanted for murder. As to the obstruction conviction, the defendant lied to detectives about seeing or communicating with the suspect and deleted information from her phone showing she was in communication with him after police expressed an interest in her phone. This evidence was sufficient to support the instructions for each offense and the trial court did not err by so instructing the jury.

(2) The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury that if the defendant believed the killing was done in self-defense, she could not be convicted of accessory after the fact. Even if the defendant believed the killing was justified, the evidence here was sufficient to raise “a reasonable inference that the [D]efendant knew precisely what had taken place,” as she had notice of the suspect’s outstanding arrest warrant for murder at the time of her assistance to the defendant and her deceptions to law enforcement. The convictions were therefore unanimously affirmed.

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of accessory after the fact to murder where the defendant gave eight different written statements to authorities providing a wide array of scenarios surrounding the victim’s death. In his statements the defendant identified four different individuals as being the perpetrator. He also admitted that he had not been truthful to investigators. The court concluded: “The jury could rationally have concluded that his false statements were made in an effort to shield the identity of the actual shooter.” The court noted that competent evidence suggested that the defendant knew the identity of the shooter and was protecting that person, including knowledge of the scene that could only have been obtained by someone who had been there and statements made by the defendant to his former girlfriend. Additionally, the defendant admitted to officers that he named one person “as a block” and acknowledged that his false statement made the police waste time. (2) No double jeopardy violation occurred when the trial court sentenced the defendant for obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact arising out of the same conduct. Comparing the elements of the offenses, the court noted that each contains an element not in the other and thus no double jeopardy violation occurred.

In an accessory after the fact case the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant knew that a gun he had hidden was used to commit a murder.

The trial court erred in failing to arrest judgment on the defendant’s conviction for accessory after the fact to second-degree burglary. A defendant cannot be both a principal and an accessory to the same crime.

(1) The State presented sufficient evidence of accessory after the fact to a second-degree murder perpetrated by Stevons. After Stevons shot the victim, the defendant drove Stevons away from the scene. The victim later died. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because he gave aid after the victim had been wounded but before the victim died, he did not know that Stevons had committed murder. It concluded that because the defendant knew that Stevons shot the victim at close range, a jury could reasonably infer that the defendant knew that the shot was fatal. (2) The State presented sufficient evidence of accessory after the fact to armed robbery when it showed both that an armed robbery occurred and that the defendant rendered aid after the crime was completed. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the robbery was not complete until the defendant arrived at a safe place, concluding that a taking is complete once the thief succeeds in removing the stolen property from the victim’s possession. (3) Although a mere presence instruction may be appropriate for aiding and abetting or accessory before the fact, such an instruction is not proper for accessory after the fact and thus the trial judge did not err by declining to give this instruction.

A defendant may not be convicted of second-degree murder and accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. The offenses are mutually exclusive.

The defendant could be convicted of accessory after the fact to assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury even if the principal pled guilty to a lesser offense of that assault.

Double jeopardy prohibited convictions of both accessory after fact to first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to first-degree kidnapping when the jury could have found that accessory after fact of first-degree murder was based solely on kidnapping under the felony murder rule. The jury’s verdict did not indicate whether it found first-degree murder based on premeditation and deliberation or felony murder based on first-degree kidnapping, or both. The court arrested judgment on the defendant’s convictions of accessory after the fact to first-degree kidnapping, reasoning that if a defendant cannot be convicted of felony murder and the underlying felony, a defendant could not be convicted of accessory after the fact to felony murder and accessory after the fact to the underlying felony.

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