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

In this Wake County case, defendant appealed his convictions for forcible rape, sex offense, kidnapping, various assault charges, and interfering with emergency communication, arguing (1) he was deprived of his right to autonomy in the presentation of his defense, (2) he was deprived of effective assistance of counsel when his attorney admitted guilt during closing argument, and (3) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to sentence him for habitual misdemeanor assault due to a facially invalid indictment. The Court of Appeals majority disagreed, finding no error. 

In April of 2020, defendant came to trial for assaulting and raping a woman he was dating at the time. During the trial, defense counsel informed the court that defendant would not testify or present evidence, and the trial court conducted a colloquy to ensure defendant was knowingly waiving this right. During the colloquy, defendant mentioned documentary evidence he wanted to admit, but that his attorney had not admitted. The trial court did not instruct defense counsel to introduce the evidence. During closing argument, defense counsel mentioned that defendant was not guilty of kidnapping, sexual offense, or rape, but did not mention assault. Defendant was subsequently convicted, and appealed.  

In (1), defendant contended that he and defense counsel had reached an absolute impasse about the documentary evidence, and the trial court committed a structural error by failing to instruct defense counsel to comply with defendant’s wishes to admit the evidence. The Court of Appeals first noted the rule that “where the defendant and his defense counsel reach an absolute impasse and are unable come to an agreement on such tactical decisions, the defendant’s wishes must control.” Slip Op. at 5. However, here the court was “unable to determine from the cold record whether there was a true disagreement, which would amount to an absolute impasse.” Id. at 7-8. Additionally, the court explained that even if there was an error, it was not a type recognized as structural by the Supreme Court, referencing the list identified in State v. Minyard, 289 N.C. App. 436 (2023). 

Moving to (2), defendant argued his defense counsel committed an error under State v. Harbison, 315 N.C. 175 (1985), which would represent ineffective assistance of counsel. However, the court did not see a Harbison error, noting “defense counsel here never implied or mentioned any misconduct [by defendant]” while giving closing argument. Slip Op. at 15. Instead, the court held that “[defense counsel’s] statements cannot logically be interpreted as an implied concession of Defendant’s guilt.” Id.  

Finally, in (3) defendant argued that the indictment was flawed as it failed to state the assault caused “physical injury.” Id. at 17. The court explained that here, count VIII of the indictment alleged that defendant caused “serious injury” for the assault inflicting serious injury charge. Id. at 18. The court determined that the broader term was sufficient, as “it logically follows Defendant was noticed of his need to defend against an allegation that he caused physical injury as ‘serious injury’ is defined to include physical injury.” Id. at 21. 

Judge Murphy concurred in part and dissented in part by separate opinion, and would have held that the indictment for habitual misdemeanor assault in (3) was insufficient as physical injury and serious injury were not synonymous.  

In an assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury case, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury that three gunshot wounds to the leg constituted serious injury. The victim was shot three times, was hospitalized for two days, had surgery to remove a bone fragment from his leg, and experienced pain from the injuries up through the time of trial. From this evidence, the court concluded, it is unlikely that reasonable minds could differ as to whether the victim’s injuries were serious.

(1) There was sufficient evidence that the victim suffered serious injury. The defendant shot the victim with a shotgun, causing injuries to the victim’s calf and 18-20 pellets to lodge in his leg, which did not fully work themselves out for six months. One witness testified that the victim had holes in his leg from the ankle up and another observed blood on his leg and noted that the wounds looked like little holes from birdshot from a shotgun. (2) When the trial judge used N.C.P.J.I.—Crim. 208.15 to instruct the jury on the offense of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, it did not err by failing to also give instruction 120.12, defining serious injury.

The trial court did not commit plain error by peremptorily instructing the jury that multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body would constitute serious injury. The victim required emergency surgery, was left with scars on his chest, shoulder, back and neck, and a bullet remained in his neck, causing him continuing pain.

The trial court did not err by failing to instruct on the lesser-included offense of assault with a deadly weapon to the charge on assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. After a beating by the defendant, the victim received hospital treatment, had contusions and bruises on her knee, could not walk for about a week and a half, and her knee still hurt at the time of trial.

The evidence was sufficient to establish serious injury where the defendant had a three-inch knife during the assault; the victim bled “a lot” from his wounds, dripping blood throughout the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen; the victim was on the floor in pain and spitting up blood when the officer arrived; the victim was stabbed or cut 8 or 9 times and had wounds on his lip, back, and arm; the victim was removed by stretcher to the emergency room, where he remained for 12 hours, receiving a chest tube to drain blood, stitches in his back and arm, and was placed on a ventilator because of a lung puncture; the victim received pain medication for approximately one week; and at trial the victim still had visible scars on his lip, arm, and back.

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