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., 09/18/2021
E.g., 09/18/2021
State v. Melton, 371 N.C. 750 (Dec. 7, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 801 S.E.2d 392 (2017), the court reversed, holding that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction for attempted murder. The evidence showed that the defendant solicited an undercover officer—who he thought to be a hired killer--to kill his former wife. He gave the officer $2,500 as an initial payment, provided the officer details necessary to complete the killing, and helped the officer plan how to get his former wife alone and how to kill her out of the presence of their daughter. The defendant was arrested after he left his meeting with the officer; he was charged—and later convicted—of attempted murder and solicitation to commit murder.

          The court concluded that while the evidence was sufficient to show solicitation, it “fell short of showing the required overt acts for attempted first-degree murder.” Specifically, none of the defendant’s preparatory acts “amount to proof of overt acts amounting to attempt under our law.” In so ruling, the court determined that the Court of Appeals inappropriately looked to decisions from other jurisdictions to conclude that “although mere solicitation is insufficient to constitute attempt, specific acts taken to complete a murder-for-hire, such as those taken by [defendant] here, can satisfy the elements of attempted murder,” where the law regarding attempt in each of those jurisdictions is materially different from North Carolina law. Justice Morgan dissented, joined by Chief Justice Martin and Justice Newby.

State v. Baker, 369 N.C. 586 (June 9, 2017)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for attempted first-degree rape of a child. The Court of Appeals had reversed the defendant’s conviction finding, in part, that the evidence supported only a conviction for completed rape, not an attempted rape. Citing precedent, the Supreme Court held that evidence of a completed rape is sufficient to support an attempted rape conviction.

The defendant was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit attempted first-degree murder. (1) The defendant argued that the latter charge is invalid because it alleges a non-existent crime. The defendant argued that an attempt requires that the act fail; therefore, it is an illogical impossibility and a legal absurdity to criminalize an agreement to commit a failed act, which in this case would be an agreement not to commit murder. The Court of Appeals rejected the argument, holding that under North Carolina law “failure” is not an element of attempted first-degree murder and that conspiracy to commit that offense is a cognizable charge. (2) The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to support attempted first-degree murder or conspiracy because the evidence showed only that he fired a pellet gun to try scare away the officer who was in pursuit. The Court found that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find that the defendant fired a gun at the officer, not merely a pellet gun, with the intent to kill.

In this child sexual assault case, trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss two charges of attempted statutory sex offense of a child by an adult. On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence of his intent to engage in a sexual act with the victim and of an overt act. The court disagreed. The case involved a scenario where the victim’s mother engaged in sexual acts with the victim to entice the defendant into a relationship with her. The first conviction related to the defendant’s attempted statutory sex offense with the victim in a vehicle, which occurred on or prior to 19 July 2013. While the victim sat between the defendant and her mother, the defendant tried to put his hands up the victim’s skirt, between her legs. The victim pushed the defendant away and moved closer to her mother. The defendant asserted that an intention to perform a sexual act cannot be inferred from this action. The court disagreed, noting, among other things, evidence that the defendant’s phone contained a video and photograph depicting the victim nude; both items were created prior to the incident in question. Additionally, the defendant admitted that the photo aroused him. Moreover, conversations of a sexual nature involving the victim occurred between the defendant and the victim’s mother on 9 July 2013. Messages of a sexual nature were also sent on 15 July 2013, including the defendant’s inquiries about sexual acts between the victim’s mother and the victim, and a request for explicit pictures of the victim. Additional communications indicated that the defendant wanted to see the victim in person. In a conversation on 19 July 2013, the defendant indicated that he had feelings for the victim and expressed the desire to “try something” sexual with the victim. In his interview with law enforcement, the defendant stated he would not have engaged in intercourse with the victim but would have played with her vagina by licking and rubbing it. This evidence supports a reasonable inference that the defendant attempted to engage in a sexual act with the victim when he placed his hands between her legs and tried to put his hand up her skirt. The evidence also supports the conclusion that his act was an overt act that exceeded mere preparation.

      The second conviction related to the defendant’s attempted statutory sex offense with the victim in a home. The court upheld this conviction, over a dissent. This incident occurred on 27 July 2013 when the defendant instructed the victim’s mother to have the victim wear a dress without underwear because he was coming over to visit. The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to show his intent to engage in a sexual act with the victim or an overt act in furtherance of that intention. The court disagreed. The evidence showed that the victim’s mother and the defendant had an ongoing agreement and plan for the victim’s mother to teach the victim to be sexually active so that the defendant could perform sexual acts with her. Evidence showed that the victim’s mother sent the defendant numerous photos and at least one video of the victim, including one that showed the victim’s mother performing cunnilingus on the victim on 26 July 2013. An exchange took place on 27 July 2013 in which the defendant indicated his desire to engage in that activity with the victim, and her mother’s desire to facilitate it. Specifically the defendant asked the victim’s mother whether she could get the victim to put on a dress without underwear because he was coming over to their home. Based on the context in which the defendant instructed the victim’s mother to have the victim wear a dress without underwear, there was substantial evidence of his intent to commit a sex offense against the victim. Furthermore, the defendant took overt actions to achieve his intention. The victim’s mother admitted that she and the defendant planned to train the victim for sexual acts with the defendant, and the defendant’s Facebook messages to the victim’s mother and his interview with law enforcement show that he agreed to, encouraged, and participated in that plan. The defendant’s instruction to dress the victim without underwear was more than “mere words” because it was a step in his scheme to groom the victim for sexual activity, as was other activity noted by the court.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of attempting to obtain property by false pretenses. After an officer learned about larcenies of Michael Kors items from a local store, he found an online posting for similar items in an online flea market. Using a fake name and address, the officer created a social media account and started a conversation with the seller, later determined to be the defendant, to discuss purchase of the items. The two agreed to meet. Unbeknownst to the defendant, the officer decided to set up an undercover purchase for one of the items to determine if it in fact was stolen from the local store or whether it was counterfeit merchandise. The undercover purchase occurred and the item in question was determined to be counterfeit. Noting that actual deceit is not an element of attempting to obtain property by false pretenses, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because he did not actually represent the item as an authentic Michael Kors item, there was no evidence of a false pretense or intent to deceive. The court noted that the defendant advertised the items as Michael Kors bags and described them as such to the undercover officer. Additionally, the defendant purchased the bags from a warehouse in Atlanta that sold them for only a fraction of their worth, suggesting that the defendant knew the merchandise was counterfeit. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that because the offense was completed, a conviction for attempt was improper. The offense only occurs if the property actually is obtained in consequence of the victim’s reliance on the false pretense. Here, because of the undercover operation, the officer was never deceived by the defendant’s misrepresentation.

The evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant of both attempted sex offense and attempted rape. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was sufficient to permit the jury to infer the intent to commit only one of these offenses. During a home invasion, the defendant and his brother isolated the victim from her husband. One of the perpetrators said, “Maybe we should,” to which the other responded, “Yeah.” The defendant’s accomplice then forced the victim to remove her clothes and perform fellatio on him at gunpoint. The defendant later groped the victim’s breast and buttocks and said, “Nice.” At this point, the victim’s husband, who had been confined elsewhere, fought back to protect his wife and was shot. This evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to infer that the defendant intended to engage in a continuous sexual assault involving both fellatio (like his accomplice) and ultimately rape, and that this assault was thwarted only because the victim’s husband sacrificed himself so that his wife could escape.

Because attempted first-degree felony murder does not exist under the laws of North Carolina, the court vacated the defendant’s conviction with respect to this charge.

In a child sex case, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support a charge of attempted first-degree statutory sexual offense. On the issue of intent to commit the crime, the court stated: “The act of placing one’s penis on a child’s buttocks provides substantive evidence of intent to commit a first degree sexual offense, specifically anal intercourse.” 

Where the evidence showed that the defendant committed the completed crime of felony larceny, the evidence was sufficient to support a conviction of the lesser charged offense of attempted felony larceny.

Because evidence of vaginal penetration was clear and positive, the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on attempted rape.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of attempted first-degree murder where the defendant shot the victim in the abdomen. The defendant removed the victim’s cell phone from her reach, left the room, returned with a .45 caliber pistol, and shot her in the abdomen with a hollow point bullet. He then denied her medical assistance for approximately twelve hours. 

State v. Lawrence, 210 N.C. App. 73 (Mar. 1, 2011) rev’d on other grounds, 365 N.C. 506 (Apr 13 2012)

(1) The evidence was sufficient to prove attempted kidnapping. To prove an overt act for that crime, the State need not prove that the defendant was in the presence of his intended victim. In this case, the defendant and his accomplices stole get-away cars and acquired cell phones, jump suits, masks, zip ties, gasoline, and guns. Additionally, the defendant hid in the woods behind the home of his intended victim, waiting for her to appear, fleeing only upon the arrival of officers and armed neighbors. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence of attempted kidnapping was insufficient because the restraint he intended to use on his victim was inherent to his intended robbery of her. The defendant planned to intercept the victim outside of her home and force her back into the house at gunpoint, bind her hands so that she could not move, and threaten to douse her with gasoline if she did not cooperate. These additional acts of restraint by force and threat provided substantial evidence that the defendant’s intended actions would have exposed the victim to greater danger than that inherent in the armed robbery itself. (3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that to prove an overt act for attempted robbery the State had to prove that the defendant was in the presence of his intended victim. For the reasons stated in (1), above, the court found that there was sufficient evidence of an overt act. (4) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because the evidence failed to show that he and his co-conspirators entered the property in question, they could not have attempted to enter her residence.

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