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., 06/14/2024
E.g., 06/14/2024

On remand from the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision (summary here) that there was no prejudicial error in the prosecutor’s closing argument with respect to race in this murder trial, the Court of Appeals considered the defendant’s remaining arguments regarding jury argument and jury instructions.  Largely based on its view that the prosecutor’s jury argument was made in the context of self-defense rather than, as the defendant maintained, the habitation defense, the court disagreed with the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to intervene to correct an alleged incorrect statement of law regarding the aggressor doctrine in the prosecutor’s closing argument to which the defendant did not object.  The court went on to decline to reach the defendant’s argument that the trial court plainly erred with respect to jury instructions on the aggressor doctrine in the context of the defense of habitation, finding the argument waived by the defendant’s active participation in the formulation of the jury instructions during the charge conference and failure to object at trial.  Finally, the court held that the trial court did not err by instructing the jury on murder by lying in wait because the instruction was supported by sufficient evidence even if it was assumed that the defendant offered evidence of a conflicting theory of defense of habitation.  The court noted with respect to lying in wait that the State’s evidence showed that the defendant concealed himself in his darkened garage with a suppressed shotgun and fired through a garage window, bewildering unwarned bystanders.

Judge Tyson dissented, expressing the view that the trial court erred with respect to instructing the jury on murder by lying in wait given that the defendant was wholly inside his home with his family as an armed intruder approached the home and given shortcomings in the trial court’s instructions regarding the State’s burden of disproving the defendant’s assertion of self-defense and the jury’s responsibility to evaluate evidence and inferences on that issue in the light most favorable to the defendant.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a first-degree murder charge based on the theory of lying in wait. The defendant asserted that no ambush occurred because the defendant announced his presence. The evidence showed that the victim was in his residence with friends when the defendant arrived after dark. The victim went outside to speak with the defendant. There was no evidence that the defendant threatened or directed harm at the victim. The victim returned to his trailer, unharmed, after speaking with the defendant. The defendant waited for the victim to go back inside and then fired his weapon into the trailer, killing the victim. The victim had no warning that the defendant intended any harm. When the defendant spoke with the victim, the defendant told the victim to send another person outside, indicating that he only had an issue with the other person. Therefore, the court concluded, the victim was taken by complete surprise and had no opportunity to defend himself.

In this first-degree murder case, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury on a theory of lying in wait. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that this theory required the State to prove a “deadly purpose” to kill, noting that the state Supreme Court has held that "lying in wait is a physical act and does not require a finding of any specific intent." (quotation omitted). The court continued:

As the Supreme Court has previously held, [h]omicide by lying in wait is committed when: the defendant lies in wait for the victim, that is, waits and watches for the victim in ambush for a private attack on him, intentionally assaults the victim, proximately causing the victim's death. In other words, a defendant need not intend, have a purpose, or even expect that the victim would die. The only requirement is that the assault committed through lying in wait be a proximate cause of the victim's death.

(quotation and citation omitted). The court went on to find that the evidence was sufficient to support a lying in wait instruction where the defendant waited underneath a darkened staircase for the opportunity to rob the victim.

The evidence supported a jury instruction for first-degree murder by lying in wait. The evidence showed that the defendant parked outside the victim’s house and waited for her. All of the following events occurred 15-20 minutes after the victim exited her home: the defendant confronted the victim and an argument ensued; the defendant shot the victim; a neighbor arrived and saw the victim on the ground; the defendant shot the victim again while she was lying on the ground; the neighbor drove away and called 911; and an officer arrived on the scene. This evidence suggests that the shooting immediately followed the defendant’s ambush of the victim outside the house.

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