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., 02/26/2024
E.g., 02/26/2024

In this Cumberland County case, defendant appealed his first-degree murder conviction, arguing error in failing to instruct the jury on (1) the affirmative defense of voluntary intoxication, and (2) the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no error. 

Defendant’s wife was found dead in their home in February of 2021. Leading up to the discovery, defendant’s wife had expressed fears that he would shoot her, and told family and friends that defendant kept a handgun on the nightstand. The wife’s pastor and deacon from her church noticed bruises on her neck, and she admitted to them that they came from defendant. Early in the morning on the day defendant’s wife was found dead, defendant called his daughter to confess that he had killed her. At trial, an expert testified that the wife was shot ten times with a single-action revolver, which required the shooter to cock the hammer and pull the trigger each time it was fired. The revolver also held only six rounds, requiring a reload for the ten rounds fired into the wife’s body. Defendant testified at trial and claimed that his wife’s niece had shot her. At the charge conference, defense counsel requested a jury instruction on second-degree murder, but the trial court denied this request. Defendant did not request an instruction on voluntary intoxication.

Considering (1) defendant’s defense of voluntary intoxication, the Court of Appeals noted the standard of review was plain error, as “the trial court explicitly asked if Defendant wanted to include voluntary or involuntary intoxication instructions, to which his counsel declined.” Slip Op. at 4. The court could not find plain error, as defendant was a heavy drinker and testified that he had consumed a normal amount of alcohol for his tolerance, and “[i]n his own testimony, Defendant said he ‘got drunk’ after the killing because his wife was dead, indicating he was not already drunk during the killing.” Id. at 6. Additionally, he recalled the events of the day and night, and was clear-headed enough to attempt to hide the revolver before law enforcement arrived. 

Turning to (2), the court explained that a defendant is entitled to an instruction on second-degree murder “where the State’s evidence, if believed, is capable of conflicting reasonable inferences either that (1) the defendant premeditated/deliberated a specific intent to kill or, alternatively, (2) the defendant merely premeditated/deliberated an assault.” Id. at 9. Here, the court found only one possible conclusion, that “Defendant specifically intended to kill his wife.” Id. The court arrived at this conclusion based on the number of shots fired with a cumbersome weapon, the lack of defensive wounds, the history of defendant’s threats, and defendant’s history of physical abuse towards his wife. 

In this Randolph County case, defendant appealed his conviction for second-degree murder, arguing error in denying his motion to dismiss due to no direct evidence he shot the victim. The Court of Appeals found no error.

Defendant was indicted for first-degree murder for the killing of another dump truck driver from the dump site where defendant worked. The jury ultimately convicted defendant of second-degree murder. On appeal, defendant argued that no direct evidence supported the conviction, and the circumstantial evidence was not sufficient to support his conviction. The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting extensive circumstantial evidence that defendant knew and worked with the victim, was seen with the victim shortly before the killing, and defendant was found next to the truck containing the victim with a gun. The court explained “[t]he State was not required to produce an eyewitness to the shooting or physical evidence linking Defendant to the gun as Defendant implies, considering the other substantial evidence.” Slip Op. at 5.

In this Brunswick County case, defendant appealed denial of his motion to dismiss the murder charge against him, arguing that it represented double jeopardy. The Court of Appeals granted certiorari to review defendant’s interlocutory appeal, and affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion.

In 1997, the fifteen-month-old child of defendant’s girlfriend was taken to the emergency room with severe injuries. A pediatrician who treated the child determined he had Battered Child Syndrome and life-altering brain injuries that would prevent the child from ever living or functioning on his own. One year later, defendant entered an Alford plea to four counts of felony child abuse; defendant completed his sentence in 2008. The child lived in long-term care facility until 2018 when he passed away, allegedly from complications related to his injuries. The State brought charges for first-degree murder against defendant after the 2018 death of the child.

Taking up the double jeopardy argument, the court explained that under the same-elements test from Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), offenses for the same conduct are considered the same unless “each offense contains an element not contained in the other.” Slip Op. at 5, quoting United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688, 696 (1993). The court noted that the charges against defendant for felony child abuse and first-degree murder would normally fail the Blockburger test. However, the court applied the exception found in Diaz v. United States, 223 U.S. 442 (1912), where “a defendant subsequently may be prosecuted for a separate offense if a requisite element for that offense was not an element of the offense charged during the defendant’s prior prosecution.” Slip Op. at 8, citing Diaz. Because the necessary element of the child’s death did not occur until 2018, defendant could not have been prosecuted for the murder in 1998. The court rejected defendant’s arguments to expand the scope of North Carolina’s double jeopardy protection beyond applicable precedent and to apply substantive due process to overturn the denial of his motion.

In this Brunswick County case, defendant appealed denial of her motion to dismiss the murder charge against her, arguing that it represented double jeopardy. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion. The facts of this case are substantially similar to State v. Tripp, 2022-NCCOA-795, as the defendant in this case is the mother of the child that was abused, and the defendant in Tripp was her boyfriend at the time.

Following the same analysis as the opinion in Tripp, the court applied the same-elements test from Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), and the exception for requisite elements of the crime found in Diaz v. United States, 223 U.S. 442 (1912), to establish the prosecution for murder was not double jeopardy under the felony murder theory. The court also noted “prosecution for first-degree murder theories such as premeditation and deliberation or torture satisfies the Blockburger test and does not violate [d]efendant’s constitutional right to be protected against double jeopardy.” Slip Op. at 10. The court dismissed defendant’s argument that due process protections prevented her prosecution so long after the events, noting the State could not bring charges for murder until the victim’s death.

The trial court erred by failing to arrest judgment on one of the underlying felonies supporting the defendant’s felony-murder convictions. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that judgment must be arrested on all of the felony convictions. The defendant asserted that because the trial court’s instructions were disjunctive and permitted the jury to find her guilty of felony-murder if it found that she committed “the felony of robbery with a firearm, burglary, and/or kidnapping,” the trial court should have arrested judgment on all of the felony convictions on the theory that they all could have served as the basis for the felony murder convictions. Citing prior case law the court rejected this argument, stating that “[i]n cases where the jury does not specifically determine which conviction serves as the underlying felony, we have held that the trial court may, in its discretion, select the felony judgment to arrest.”

No double jeopardy violation occurred when the defendant was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious bodily injury based on the same events. Each offense includes an element not included in the other.

Citing State v. Washington, 141 N.C. App. 354 (2000), the court held that the defendant was properly charged and convicted of attempted murder and assault as to each victim, even though the offenses arose out of a single course of conduct involving multiple shots from a gun.

For purposes of double jeopardy, a second-degree murder conviction based on unlawful distribution of and ingestion of a controlled substance was not the same offense as sale or delivery of a controlled substance to a juvenile or possession with intent to sell or deliver a controlled substance.

A defendant may not be sentenced for both involuntary manslaughter and felony death by vehicle arising out of the same death. A defendant may not be sentenced for both felony death by vehicle and impaired driving arising out of the same incident. However, a defendant may be sentenced for both involuntary manslaughter and impaired driving.

A defendant may not be sentenced for both involuntary manslaughter and felony death by vehicle arising out of the same death. A defendant may not be sentenced for both felony death by vehicle and impaired driving arising out of the same incident. However, a defendant may be sentenced for both involuntary manslaughter and impaired driving.

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