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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021
State v. Hunt, 365 N.C. 432 (Mar. 9, 2012)

(1) Reversing a decision of the court of appeals in State v. Hunt, 211 N.C. App. 452 (May 3, 2011), the court held that expert testimony was not required for the State to establish that the victim had a mental disability for purposes of second-degree sexual offense. In the opinion below, the court of appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction on grounds that there was insufficient evidence as to the victim’s mental disability, reasoning: “where the victim’s IQ falls within the range considered to be ‘mental retardation[,]’ but who is highly functional in her daily activities and communication, the State must present expert testimony as to the extent of the victim’s mental disability as defined by [G.S.] 14-27.5.” The supreme court, however, found the evidence sufficient. First, it noted, there was evidence that the victim was mentally disabled. The victim had an IQ of 61, was enrolled in special education classes, a teacher assessed her to be in the middle level of intellectually disabled students, and she required assistance to function in society. Second, the victim’s condition rendered her substantially incapable of resisting defendant’s advances. The victim didn’t know the real reason why the defendant asked her to come into another room, his initial acts of touching scared her because she didn’t know what he was going to do, she was shocked when he exposed himself, she was frightened when he forced her to perform fellatio and when she raised her head to stop, he forced it back down to his penis. Finally, there was evidence that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known about the victim’s disability. Specifically, his wife testified that she had discussed the victim’s condition with the defendant. The court emphasized that “expert testimony is not necessarily required to establish the extent of a victim’s mental capacity to consent to sexual acts when a defendant is charged with second-degree sexual offense pursuant to section 14-27.5.” (2) Reversing the court of appeals, the court held that the State presented sufficient evidence of crime against nature. The defendant conceded knowing that the victim was 17 years old. For the reasons discussed above, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence that the victim’s conditions rendered her substantially incapable of resisting the defendant’s advances. All of this evidence indicates that the sexual acts were not consensual. In addition, the court noted, the record suggests that the acts were coercive, specifically pointing to the defendant’s conduct of forcing the victim’s head to his penis. The court emphasized that “expert testimony is not necessarily required to establish the extent of a victim’s mental capacity to consent to sexual acts when a defendant is charged with . . . crime against nature.”

State v. Gentle, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 833 (July 3, 2018) aff’d per curiam, ___ N.C. ___, 822 S.E.2d 616 (Feb 1 2019)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss a crime against nature charge. The defendant asserted that the State failed to offer substantial evidence that the offense was committed in a public place. The court noted that although Lawrence v. Texas limited the circumstances in which a defendant can be prosecuted for crime against nature, the State may prosecute conduct in which a minor is involved, involving nonconsensual or coercive sexual acts, occurring in a public place, or involving prostitution or solicitation. Here, the trial court instructed the jury on the public place theory. The defendant argued that the State failed to prove that the offense occurred in a public place because it occurred well outside of public view in a dark and wooded area. There is no requirement that the prohibited conduct occur in public view. Also, the victim’s description of the dark, wooded area does not foreclose its status as a public place. She consistently testified that the offense occurred at the bottom of the stairs in a parking lot and other evidence supported that testimony. Thus there was sufficient evidence that the defendant unlawfully engaged in sexual acts in a public place.

In re J.F., 237 N.C. App. 218 (Nov. 18, 2014)

(1) In a delinquency case where the petitions alleged sexual offense and crime against nature in that the victim performed fellatio on the juvenile, the court rejected the juvenile’s argument that the petitions failed to allege a crime because the victim “was the actor.” Sexual offense and crime against nature do not require that the accused perform a sexual act on the victim, but rather that the accused engage in a sexual act with the victim. (2) The court rejected the juvenile’s argument that to prove first-degree statutory sexual offense and crime against nature the prosecution had to show that the defendant acted with a sexual purpose. (3) Penetration is a required element of crime against nature and in this case insufficient evidence was presented on that issue. The victim testified that he licked but did not suck the juvenile’s penis. Distinguishing In re Heil, 145 N.C. App. 24 (2001) (concluding that based on the size difference between the juvenile and the victim and “the fact that the incident occurred in the presumably close quarters of a closet, it was reasonable for the trial court to find . . . that there was some penetration, albeit slight, of juvenile’s penis into [the four-year-old victim’s] mouth”), the court declined the State’s invitation to infer penetration based on the surrounding circumstances.

State v. Hunt, 21 N.C. App. 489 (July 17, 2012) aff’d per curiam, 367 N.C. 700 (Dec 19 2014)

The defendant could not be convicted of second-degree sexual offense (mentally disabled victim) and crime against nature (where lack of consent was based on the fact that the victim was mentally disabled, incapacitated or physically helpless) based on the same conduct (fellatio). The court found that “on the particular facts of Defendant’s case, crime against nature was a lesser included offense of second-degree sexual offense, and entry of judgment on both convictions subjected Defendant to unconstitutional double jeopardy.” [Author’s note: The N.C. Supreme Court has previously held that crime against nature is not a lesser-included offense of forcible rape or sexual offense, State v. Etheridge, 319 N.C. 34, 50–51 (1987); State v. Warren, 309 N.C. 224 (1983), and that a definitional test applies when determining whether offenses are lesser-included offenses, State v. Nickerson, 316 N.C. 279 (2011).].

In Re R.N., 206 N.C. App. 537 (Aug. 17, 2010)

The trial court erred by denying the juvenile’s motion to dismiss a charge of crime against nature; as to a second charge alleging the same offense, defects in the transcript made appellate review impossible. The first count alleged that the juvenile licked the victim’s genital area. The evidence established that the juvenile licked her private, put his mouth on her private area, and "touch[ed] . . . on her private parts." Citing, State v. Whittemore, 255 N.C. 583 (1961), the court held that the evidence was insufficient to establish penetration. As to the second count, alleging that the juvenile put his penis in the victim’s mouth, the evidence showed that the juvenile forced the victim’s head down to his private and that she saw his private area. Under Whittemore, this was insufficient evidence of penetration. However, when a social worker was asked whether there was penetration, she responded: “[the victim] told me there was (Indistinct Muttering) penetration.” The court concluded that because it could not determine from this testimony whether penetration occurred, it could not meaningfully review the sufficiency of the evidence. The court vacated the adjudication and remanded for a hearing to reconstruct the social worker’s testimony.

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