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. Edgerton, 368 N.C. 32 (Apr. 10, 2015)

In a case where the defendant was found guilty of violation of a DVPO with a deadly weapon, the court per curiam reversed and remanded for the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below. In the decision below, State v. Edgerton, 234 N.C. App. 412 (2014), the court held, over a dissent, that the trial court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense, misdemeanor violation of a DVPO, where the court had determined that the weapon at issue was not a deadly weapon per se. The dissenting judge did not agree with the majority that any error rose to the level of plain error.

State v. Byrd, 363 N.C. 214 (May. 1, 2009)

Reversing the court of appeals and holding that a temporary restraining order (TRO) entered pursuant to Rule 65(b) of the N.C. Rules of Civil Procedure on a motion alleging acts of domestic violence in an action for divorce from bed and board was not a valid domestic violence protective order as defined by Chapter 50B and was not entered after a hearing by the court or with consent of the parties. Thus, the TRO could not support imposition of the punishment enhancement prescribed by G.S. 50B-4.1(d).

The plaintiff and defendant were in a same-sex dating relationship, and when it ended M.E. sought a domestic violence protective order against T.J. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had engaged in harassment and threatening conduct, and had access to firearms. At a hearing on the requested order, the trial court concluded that it could not enter a 50B protective order because the “allegations are significant but parties are in same sex relationship and have never lived together, therefore do not have relationship required” under the statute. The parties’ relationship fell outside the scope of the statute because “pursuant to the definitions in N.C.G.S. § 50B-1, violence against a person with whom the perpetrator either is, or has been, in a ‘dating relationship’ is not ‘domestic violence,’ no matter how severe the abuse, unless the perpetrator of the violence and the victim of the violence ‘[a]re persons of the opposite sex[.]’ N.C.G.S. § 50B-1(b)(6).” The trial court entered a civil no-contact order pursuant to Chapter 50C instead, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Attorney General’s office and several non-profit groups filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the petitioner, and neither the defendant nor any other parties filed a brief on defendant’s behalf, so the appellate court appointed an amicus curiae to file a brief in response to the plaintiff’s argument. Noting that the trial court would have held that the allegations supported the entry of a 50B order if not for the fact that petitioner and defendant were the same sex, the plaintiff argued that “the trial court’s denial of her request for a DVPO violated constitutional rights protected by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the associated provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.” The plaintiff made an as-applied constitutional challenge, but the appellate court observed that its ruling would apply to any other similarly situated applicants. Noting the “ambiguity surrounding the appropriate test to apply in LGBTQ+ based Fourteenth Amendment cases” in the wake of recent cases including Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015), the Court of Appeals reviewed plaintiff’s claim under several alternative levels of review, but ultimately held that “no matter the review applied, N.C.G.S. § 50B-1(b)(6) does not survive Plaintiff’s due process and equal protection challenges under either the North Carolina Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.” 

First, the appellate court applied the traditional scrutiny framework (rational basis, intermediate scrutiny, or strict scrutiny) to evaluate the plaintiff’s due process and equal protection claims under the state constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment. Pursuant to Obergefell and other precedent, “any member of the LGBTQ+ community has the same rights and freedoms to make personal decisions about dating, intimacy, and marriage as any non-LGBTQ+ individual.” A statute impinging on those liberties on the basis of sex or gender must pass a higher level of scrutiny (“at least” intermediate). Since excluding the plaintiff from the protections of the statute served no legitimate government interest, and was in fact contrary to the broader statutory purpose of protecting all victims of domestic violence, “N.C.G.S. § 50B-1(b)(6) is unconstitutional as-applied to Plaintiff and those similarly situated” under the state constitution, and “cannot survive even the lowest level of scrutiny.” Turning to the Fourteenth Amendment, the court likewise held that the statute did not pass constitutional muster. Plaintiff’s rights and interests were “were identical in every way to those of any other woman in an ‘opposite sex’ relationship” yet she and others similarly situated “are intentionally denied, by the State, the same protections against the domestic violence that may occur after a ‘break-up’” based solely upon sex or membership in a particular class. The court held that the opposite-sex requirement in G.S. 50B-1(b)(6) failed the higher scrutiny test because it was an arbitrary distinction that bore no reasonable or just relation to the classification of protected individuals. The court again noted that the statute would not pass even the lower level of rational basis scrutiny, since there was no cognizable government interest that such a restriction would serve.

Next, reviewing U.S. Supreme Court precedent that culminated in Obergefell, the appellate court found that the cases have “labored to determine the correct standards to apply in the face of government action that had a discriminatory effect on members of the LGBTQ+ community,” resulting in an alternative approach described as a “full Fourteenth Amendment review” that “does not readily fit within the ‘rational basis,’ ‘intermediate scrutiny,’ or ‘strict scrutiny’ triad.” This hybrid approach involves three considerations: (1) the government’s clear intent in passing the law; (2) the impact of majority opposition becoming law and policy, and the consequence it has on those whose liberty is denied; and (3) the particular harms inflicted on same-sex individuals, couples, or families. More specifically, courts must view laws that deny rights to LGBTQ+ individuals as initially suspect, and consider factors such as the state’s actual intent in passing the law, the particular harms suffered by affected individuals, the long history of disapproval of LGBTQ+ relationships, and the injury caused by state action which singles out and stigmatizes those individuals. Those factors are then weighed against any legitimate interest advanced by the law, considering the particular facts and context. Applying those factors and relevant precedent to the present case, the court held that “N.C.G.S. § 50B-1(b)(6) does not survive this balancing test” given the plain language of the statute denying protections to similarly situated people based on sex or gender.

The majority opinion closed by addressing issues related to its appointment of amicus curiae to brief a response to the plaintiff’s appeal. Due to public interest and the potential impact of the decision, as well as the fact that no brief was filed by or on behalf of the defendant, the court appointed an amicus curiae to “defend the ruling of the trial court” and provide the court with the benefit of an opposing view on the constitutionality of the statute. However, the court clarified that an appointed amicus curiae has a limited role under the appellate rules, and does not have the same standing as the original party. As a result, the additional arguments raised by the amicus on behalf of the defendant challenging the court’s jurisdiction and seeking to amend the record on appeal were dismissed as a nullity.

The trial court’s order denying the plaintiff a 50B protective order was reversed and remanded for entry of an appropriate order. The trial court was instructed to apply G.S. 50B-1(b)(6) as stating: “Are persons who are in a dating relationship or have been in a dating relationship.” The court’s ruling applies to any other similarly situated person who seeks a 50B protective order, and the same-sex or opposite-sex nature of the relationship shall not be a factor in the decision to grant or deny the order.

Judge Tyson dissented, and would have held that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to decide the matter based on the plaintiff’s dismissal of the original 50B complaint, as well as her failure to argue and preserve the constitutional issues, join necessary parties, and comply with other procedural and appellate rules.

Because there was insufficient evidence that the defendant knew of the terms of a domestic violence protective order, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of violating a civil DVPO while in possession of a deadly weapon and the trial court erred by instructing the jury on breaking and entering in violation of a protective order.   After being arrested for assaulting the victim, the defendant was served with an ex parte DVPO and notice of a hearing regarding whether another DVPO would be entered.  The defendant did not attend that hearing and, at the time of the incident giving rise to the charges at issue, had not been served with a year-long DVPO that was entered at the hearing in his absence.  As there was no direct evidence that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the DVPO that was entered at the hearing he did not attend, the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the charge of willfully violating the order.  Further, because the defendant did not have knowledge of the DVPO, it was plain error for the trial court to instruct the jury on felony breaking and entering in violation of a valid DVPO.

Judge Murphy concurred in part and in the judgment but dissented from the majority’s discussion of two unpublished cases and also would have sanctioned the State for certain misleading comments included in its brief.

The evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction of unlawfully entering property operated as a domestic violence safe house by one subject to a protective order in violation of G.S. 50B-4.1(g1). The evidence showed that the defendant drove his vehicle to shelter, parked his car in the lot and walked to the front door of the building. He attempted to open the door by pulling on the door handle, only to discover that it was locked. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State was required to prove that he actually entered the shelter building. The statute in question uses the term “property,” an undefined statutory term. However by its plain meaning, this term is not limited to buildings or other structures but also encompasses the land itself.

The trial court erred by entering judgment and sentencing the defendant on both three counts of habitual violation of a DVPO and one count of interfering with a witness based on the same conduct (sending three letters to the victim asking her not to show up for his court date). The DVPO statute states that “[u]nless covered under some other provision of law providing greater punishment,” punishment for the offense at issue was a Class H felony. Here, the conduct was covered under a provision of law providing greater punishment, interfering with a witness, which is a Class G felony.

 

The trial court erred by dismissing an indictment charging the defendant with violating an ex parte domestic violence protective order (DVPO) that required him to surrender his firearms. The trial court entered an ex parte Chapter 50B DVPO prohibiting the defendant from contacting his wife and ordering him to surrender all firearms to the sheriff. The day after the sheriff served the defendant with the DVPO, officers returned to the defendant’s home and discovered a shotgun. He was arrested for violating the DVPO. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding that under State v. Byrd, 363 N.C. 214 (2009), the DVPO was not a protective order entered within the meaning of G.S. 14-269.8 and that the prosecution would violate the defendant’s constitutional right to due process. The State appealed. The court concluded that Byrd was not controlling because of subsequent statutory amendments and that the prosecution did not violate the defendant’s procedural due process rights.

(1) The trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury on the crime of stalking under the new stalking statute, G.S. 14-277.3A, when the charged course of conduct occurred both before and after enactment of the new statute. The new version of the stalking statute lessened the burden on the State. The court noted that where, as here, a defendant is indicted for a continuing conduct offense that began prior to a statutory modification that disadvantages the defendant and the indictment tracks the new statute’s disadvantageous language, the question of whether the violation extended beyond the effective date of the statute is one that must be resolved by the jury through a special verdict. Here, the trial court’s failure to give such a special verdict was plain error. (2) The evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendant knowingly violated a DVPO. The DVPO required the defendant to “stay away from” victim Smith’s place of work, without identifying her workplace. The victim worked at various salons, including one at North Hills. The defendant was charged with violating the DVPO when he was seen in the North Hills Mall parking lot on a day that the victim was working at the North Hills salon. The court concluded that it need not determine the precise contours of what it means to “stay away” because it is clear that there was insufficient evidence that the defendant failed to “stay away” from the victim’s place of work, and no evidence that defendant knowingly did so. It reasoned:

The indictment alleges defendant was “outside” Ms. Smith’s workplace, and although technically the area “outside” of Ms. Smith’s workplace could include any place in the world outside the walls of the salon, obviously such an interpretation is absurd. Certainly the order must mean that defendant could not be so close to Ms. Smith’s workplace that he would be able to observe her, speak to her, or intimidate her in any way, but we cannot define the exact parameters of the term “stay away.” It is clear only that defendant was not seen in an area that could reasonably be described as “outside” of Ms. Smith’s salon, nor was there evidence that he was in a location that would permit him to harass, communicate with, follow, or even observe Ms. Smith at her salon, which might reasonably constitute a failure to “stay away” from her place of work. There was also no evidence that he was in proximity to Ms. Smith’s vehicle or that he was in a location which might be along the path she would take from the salon to her vehicle.

Additionally, there was no evidence that defendant was aware that Ms. Smith worked at the North Hills salon, or that he otherwise knew that he was supposed to stay away from North Hills. The order did not identify North Hills as one of the locations that defendant was supposed to stay away from. The order specified no distance that defendant was supposed to keep between himself and Ms. Smith or her workplace. Defendant was seen walking in the parking structure of a public mall at some unknown distance from the salon where Ms. Smith was working on the night in question.

The trial judge erred by entering a domestic violence protective order. The defendant’s act of hiring a private investigator service to conduct surveillance to determine if the plaintiff was cohabiting does not constitute harassment. There thus was no act of domestic violence.

A consent DVPO that lacked any finding that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence it was void ab initio. The court reasoned: “Without a finding by the trial court that an act of domestic violence had occurred, the trial court had no authority under Chapter 50B to enter an order for the purpose of ceasing domestic violence.”

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