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., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021
State v. Baker, 369 N.C. 586 (June 9, 2017)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for attempted first-degree rape of a child. The Court of Appeals had reversed the defendant’s conviction finding, in part, that the evidence supported only a conviction for completed rape, not an attempted rape. Citing precedent, the Supreme Court held that evidence of a completed rape is sufficient to support an attempted rape conviction. 

The defendant and his longtime friend, Ivy, began dating in 2017. Per Ivy’s clear and constant requests, their sexual contact with each other was limited to kissing and touching above the waist. Whenever the defendant tried to touch her below the waist, she told him to stop.

On August 1, 2017, Ivy visited the defendant at his home and went with the defendant into his bedroom where they began watching television. They then began to engage in “hot and heavy” physical contact, including kissing, touching Ivy’s breasts, and removing Ivy’s shirt, which she was “okay” with. When the defendant attempted to put his hand down Ivy’s shorts, she pushed him away and told him “no.” The defendant removed his hand momentarily but made repeated attempts. Ivy twisted her legs to keep them together, but eventually the defendant was able to remove her shorts. Ivy again told the defendant “no” and to stop because she “wasn’t ready for that.” The defendant then pinned Ivy’s hands over her head, pushed her underwear aside, and penetrated her vagina with his penis. Ivy told the defendant to stop and said “no,” but he continued to penetrate her. Eventually, Ivy gave up because the defendant did not listen.

After the events, Ivy got dressed and left the home. The defendant walked with her outside, asking if she was okay, to which she responded that she was. Ivy then left in her car. The defendant repeatedly texted Ivy after the incident, asking her via text to promise him she was okay and continuing to text her daily. The defendant made continued attempts to talk to and see Ivy, despite her pleas that he leave her alone. Five days after the incident, Ivy reported the incident to police.

The defendant was indicted on charges of second-degree forcible rape and attempted second-degree forcible rape. The defendant testified that he thought Ivy consented to sex although he admitted Ivy stated “she was not ready” that night and conceded that “she may have pushed me a little bit” when he initiated sexual contact. The defendant was found guilty of second-degree forcible rape and not guilty of attempted second-degree forcible rape.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred, or plainly erred, by failing to provide a jury instruction on the defense of consent based on the defendant’s “reasonable belief” that Ivy consented to the sexual acts. The Court of Appeals reviewed the argument under the plain error standard because the defendant did not request this instruction at trial. The Court rejected this argument, noting that neither the Court nor the State Supreme Court have recognized a “reasonable belief of consent” defense to rape. The Court cited State v. Moorman, 320 N.C. 387, 389–92 (1987), in which the Supreme Court held “that a defendant could be convicted of rape by force and against the will of the victim, who was incapacitated and asleep at the time, despite the defendant’s testimony that he mistook the victim for someone he knew and believed she consented to vaginal intercourse.” The Court concluded that because a defendant’s knowledge of whether the victim consented is not a material element of rape and mistaken belief in consent has not been recognized as a defense to rape, the trial court did not err in failing to provide an instruction to that effect. The Court contrasted other statutes involving rape and sex offense in which the General Assembly has used reasonableness language, such as with respect to revocation of consent in G.S. 14-27.20(1a)(b).

The defendant alternatively argued that he had been denied his right to effective assistance of counsel because his defense counsel did not request an instruction on the defendant’s reasonable belief of consent defense. The Court rejected that argument based on the conclusion that the defendant was not entitled to the instruction.

In this second-degree rape case, the trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury that lack of consent was an element of rape of a physically helpless person. Because lack of consent is implied in law for this offense, the trial court was not required to instruct the jury that lack of consent was an essential element of the crime.

State v. Lawrence, 363 N.C. 118 (Mar. 20, 2009)

The court, per curiam and without an opinion, affirmed the ruling of the court of appeals that there was substantial evidence that the defendant displayed an article which the victim reasonably believed to be a dangerous or deadly weapon. The evidence showed that the defendant grabbed the victim, told her that he was going to kill her and reached into his pocket to get something; although the victim did not see if the item was a knife or a gun, she saw something shiny and silver that she believed to be a knife.

In a case where the defendant was convicted of second-degree rape, breaking or entering, and two counts of attempted second-degree sexual offense, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss one count of attempted second-degree sexual offense. The defendant asserted that the evidence did not show an intent to commit the act by force and against the victim’s will. The court disagreed:

[W]here the request for fellatio is immediately preceded by defendant tricking the victim into letting him into her apartment, raping her, pulling her hair, choking her, flipping her upside down, jabbing at her with a screwdriver, refusing to allow her to leave, pulling her out of her car, taking her car keys, dragging her to his apartment, slapping her so hard that her braces cut the inside of her mouth, screaming at her, and immediately after her denial of his request, raping her again, we hold that this request is accompanied by a threat and a show of force and thus amounts to an attempt. Had [the victim] complied with defendant’s request, thus completing the sexual act, we cannot imagine that the jury would have found that she had consented to perform fellatio. Given the violent, threatening context, defendant’s request and presentation of his penis to [the victim] amounted to an attempt to engage [the victim] in a sexual act by force and against her will.

In a second-degree rape and sexual offense case, the evidence sufficiently established use of force. The victim repeatedly declined the defendant’s advances and told him to stop and that she didn’t want to engage in sexual acts. The defendant pushed her to the ground. When he was on top of her she tried to push him away.

The court reversed a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals in this first-degree sexual offense case, holding that the trial court did not err by giving a disjunctive jury instruction. One of the factors that can elevate a second-degree sexual offense to a first-degree sexual offense is that the defendant was aided and abetted by one or more other persons; another is that the defendant used or displayed a dangerous or deadly weapon. Here, the trial court gave a disjunctive instruction, informing the jury that it could convict the defendant of the first-degree offense if it found that he was aided and abetted by another or that he used or displayed a dangerous or deadly weapon. Where, as here, the trial court instructs the jury disjunctively as to alternative acts which establish an element of the offense, the requirement of unanimity is satisfied. However, when a disjunctive instruction is used, the evidence must be sufficient under both theories. In this case it was undisputed that the evidence was sufficient under the dangerous or deadly weapon prong. The defendant contested the sufficiency of the evidence under the aiding and abetting prong. The court found the evidence sufficient, holding that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that actual or constructive presence is required for aiding and abetting. As the Court stated in State v. Bond, 345 N.C. 1 (1996), actual or constructive presence is no longer required to prove aiding and abetting. Applying that law, the court held that although the defendant’s accomplices left the room before the defendant committed the sexual act, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that the others aided and abetted him. Among other things, two of the accomplices taped the hands of the residents who were present; three of them worked together to separate the sexual assault victim from the rest of the group; one of the men grabbed her and ordered her into a bedroom when she tried to sit in the bathroom; and in the bedroom the defendant and an accomplice groped and fondled the victim and removed her clothes. Most of these acts were done by the defendant and others. The act of taping her mouth shut, taping her hands behind her back, moving her into the bedroom, removing her clothing and inappropriately touching her equate to encouragement, instigation and aid all of which “readily meet the standards of . . . aiding and abetting.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was insufficient because he was the only person in the room when the sex act occurred.

In this rape case, because the evidence was clear and positive and not conflicting with respect to penetration, the trial court did not err by failing to instruct on attempted rape. Here, among other things, a sexual assault nurse testified that the victim told her she was penetrated, the victim told the examining doctor at the hospital immediately after the attack that the defendant had penetrated her, the defendant’s semen was recovered from inside the victim’s vagina.

On remand by the NC Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of State v. Carter, 366 N.C. 496 (2013) (no plain error occurred in a child sexual offense case when the trial court failed to instruct on attempted sexual offense even though the evidence of penetration was conflicting), the court held that no plain error occurred when the trial court failed to instruct the jury on attempted second-degree rape and attempted incest when the evidence of penetration was conflicting. As in Carter, the defendant failed to show that the jury would have disregarded any portions of the victim’s testimony stating that penetration occurred in favor of instances in which she said it did not occur. Thus, the defendant failed to show a “probable impact” on the verdict.

Because evidence of vaginal penetration was clear and positive, the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on attempted rape.

State v. Blow, 368 N.C. 348 (Sept. 25, 2015)

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion, the court reversed the opinion below, State v. Blow, 237 N.C. App. 158 (Nov. 4, 2014). In this child sexual assault case in which the defendant was convicted of three counts of first-degree rape, the court of appeals had held that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss one of the rape charges. The court of appeals agreed with the defendant that because the victim testified that the defendant inserted his penis into her vagina “a couple” of times, without identifying more than two acts of penetration, the State failed to present substantial evidence of three counts of rape. The court of appeals found that the defendant’s admission to three instances of “sex” with the victim was not an admission of vaginal intercourse because the defendant openly admitted to performing oral sex and other acts on the victim but denied penetrating her vagina with his penis. The dissenting judge believed that the State presented substantial evidence that was sufficient, if believed, to support the jury’s decision to convict of three counts of first degree rape. The dissenting judge agreed with the majority that the victim’s testimony about penetration “a couple” of times would have been insufficient to convict the defendant of three counts, but noted that the record contains other evidence, including the defendant’s admission that he “had sex” with the victim “about three times.”

State v. Banks, 367 N.C. 652 (Dec. 19, 2014)

Because the defendant was properly convicted and sentenced for both statutory rape and second-degree rape when the convictions were based on a single act of sexual intercourse, counsel was not ineffective by failing to make a double jeopardy objection. The defendant was convicted of statutory rape of a 15-year-old and second-degree rape of a mentally disabled person for engaging in a single act of vaginal intercourse with the victim, who suffers from various mental disorders and is mildly to moderately mentally disabled. At the time, the defendant was 29 years old and the victim was 15. The court concluded that although based on the same act, the two offenses are separate and distinct under the Blockburger “same offense” test because each requires proof of an element that the other does not. Specifically, statutory rape involves an age component and second-degree rape involves the act of intercourse with a victim who suffers from a mental disability or mental incapacity. It continued:

Given the elements of second-degree rape and statutory rape, it is clear that the legislature intended to separately punish the act of intercourse with a victim who, because of her age, is unable to consent to the act, and the act of intercourse with a victim who, because of a mental disability or mental incapacity, is unable to consent to the act. . . .

Because it is the General Assembly’s intent for defendants to be separately punished for a violation of the second-degree rape and statutory rape statutes arising from a single act of sexual intercourse when the elements of each offense are satisfied, defendant’s argument that he was prejudiced by counsel’s failure to raise the argument of double jeopardy would fail. We therefore conclude that defendant was not prejudiced.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss 33 counts of statutory rape, two counts of statutory sex offense, and 17 counts of indecent liberties as to victim F.H. At trial, the victim testified to sexual contact during her relationship with the defendant; she stated that she and the defendant had vaginal intercourse at least once a week beginning the day they met, and that she performed oral sex before, during, and after each occurrence of sexual intercourse. Two additional witnesses testified to observing the defendant and the victim have sexual intercourse during this time, one of whom also testified to observing oral sex. The defendant asserted that because the State failed to provide a specific number of times that the two had sexual intercourse and oral sex and how many times the defendant touched the victim in an immoral way, the total number of counts is not supported and his motion to dismiss should have been granted. The court disagreed, concluding that although the victim did not explicitly state the specific number of times that the two had sexual relations, a reasonable jury could find the evidence sufficient to support an inference for the number of counts at issue. Specifically, the victim testified that she and the defendant had sexual intercourse at least once a week for span of seventy-one weeks.

The trial court did not err by sentencing the defendant for two crimes—statutory rape and incest—arising out of the same transaction. The two offenses are not the same under the Blockburger test; each has an element not included in the other.

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of rape of a child by an adult under G.S. 14-27.2A(a). The defendant had argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the offense occurred on or after December 1, 2008, the statute’s effective date. (2) The trial court did not err in sentencing the defendant to 300-369 months imprisonment on this charge. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court had discretion to sentence the defendant to less than 300 months.

State v. Huss, 367 N.C. 162 (Nov. 8, 2013)

The court per curiam, with an equally divided court, affirmed the decision below, State v. Huss, 223 N.C. App. 480 (2012). That decision thus is left undisturbed but without precedential value. In this case, involving charges of second-degree sexual offense and second-degree rape, the court of appeals had held that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The State proceeded on a theory that the victim was physically helpless. The facts showed that the defendant, a martial arts instructor, bound the victim’s hands behind her back and engaged in sexual activity with her. The statute defines the term physically helpless to mean a victim who either is unconscious or is physically unable to resist the sexual act. Here, the victim was not unconscious. Thus, the only issue was whether she was unable to resist the sexual act. The court of appeals began by rejecting the defendant’s argument that this category applies only to victims who suffer from some permanent physical disability or condition, instead concluding that factors other than physical disability could render a victim unable to resist the sexual act. However, it found that no such evidence existed in this case. The State had argued that the fact that the defendant was a skilled fighter and outweighed the victim supported the conclusion that the victim was physically helpless. The court of appeals rejected this argument, concluding that the relevant analysis focuses on “attributes unique and personal of the victim.” Similarly, the court of appeals rejected the State’s argument that the fact that the defendant pinned the victim in a submissive hold and tied her hands behind her back supported the conviction. It noted, however, that the evidence would have been sufficient under a theory of force. The defendant also was convicted of kidnapping the victim for the purpose of facilitating second-degree rape. The court of appeals reversed the kidnapping conviction on grounds that the State had proceeded under an improper theory of second-degree rape (the State proceeded on a theory that the victim was physically helpless when in fact force would have been the appropriate theory). The court of appeals concluded: “because the State proceeded under an improper theory of second-degree rape, we are unable to find that the State sufficiently proved the particular felonious intent alleged here.”

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction of second-degree rape. On appeal the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence showing that the victim was physically helpless. The State presented evidence that the victim consumed sizable portions of alcohol over an extended period of time, was physically ill in a club parking lot, and was unable to remember anything after leaving the club. When the victim returned to the defendant’s apartment, she stumbled up the stairs and had to hold onto the stair rail. She woke up the following morning with her skirt pulled up to her waist, her shirt off, and her underwear on the bed. Her vagina was sore and she had a blurry memory of pushing someone off of her. She had no prior sexual relationship with the defendant. Moreover, the defendant’s actions following the incident, including his adamant initial denial that anything of a sexual nature occurred and subsequent contradictory admissions, indicate that he knew of his wrongdoings, specifically that the victim was physically helpless. There was sufficient evidence that the victim was physically unable to resist intercourse or to communicate her unwillingness to submit to the intercourse.

In this second-degree rape case, the trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury that lack of consent was an element of rape of a physically helpless person. Because lack of consent is implied in law for this offense, the trial court was not required to instruct the jury that lack of consent was an essential element of the crime.

State v. Blow, 368 N.C. 348 (Sept. 25, 2015)

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion, the court reversed the opinion below, State v. Blow, 237 N.C. App. 158 (Nov. 4, 2014). In this child sexual assault case in which the defendant was convicted of three counts of first-degree rape, the court of appeals had held that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss one of the rape charges. The court of appeals agreed with the defendant that because the victim testified that the defendant inserted his penis into her vagina “a couple” of times, without identifying more than two acts of penetration, the State failed to present substantial evidence of three counts of rape. The court of appeals found that the defendant’s admission to three instances of “sex” with the victim was not an admission of vaginal intercourse because the defendant openly admitted to performing oral sex and other acts on the victim but denied penetrating her vagina with his penis. The dissenting judge believed that the State presented substantial evidence that was sufficient, if believed, to support the jury’s decision to convict of three counts of first degree rape. The dissenting judge agreed with the majority that the victim’s testimony about penetration “a couple” of times would have been insufficient to convict the defendant of three counts, but noted that the record contains other evidence, including the defendant’s admission that he “had sex” with the victim “about three times.”

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of first-degree rape. Because the victim could not remember the incident, she was unable to testify that she had been raped or that the defendant was the perpetrator. The evidence showed that while out with friends one night, the victim met the defendant. Later that evening, two strangers, John and Jean, responded to a woman screaming for help. They found a man straddling the victim. After throwing the man off, John saw him pull up his pants over an erection. The man ran, chased by John and another person. Jean stayed with the victim, who was on the ground with her pants and underwear pulled to her ankles. An officer saw the chase and detained the defendant, whose pants were undone. John and Jean participated in a show up identification of the defendant shortly thereafter; both identified the defendant as the perpetrator. The victim was taken to the emergency room where a nurse found debris and a small black hair consistent with a pubic hair inside the victim’s vagina. The nurse testified in part that debris cannot enter the vagina unless something had opened the vagina; thus the debris could not have entered merely because she was on the ground. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to dismiss, was convicted and appealed. On appeal the defendant argued that the State failed to produce sufficient evidence that penetration occurred and that he was the perpetrator. The court disagreed, succinctly concluding that a reasonable juror could have inferred that the victim was vaginally penetrated against her will and that the defendant was the perpetrator.

State v. Combs, 226 N.C. App. 87 (Mar. 19, 2013)

In a case in which the defendant was convicted of rape of a child under G.S. 14-27.2A, there was substantial testimony to establish that the defendant engaged in vaginal intercourse with the victim. The victim testified that the defendant put his “manhood inside her middle hole.” Although the victim used potentially ambiguous terms, she explained them, noting that a middle hole is where “where babies come from,” a bottom hole is where things come out of that go in the toilet, and a third hole is for urination. She also described the defendant’s manhood as “down at the bottom but on the front” and not a part a woman has.

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)

In this rape and sex offense case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury that it could find that the victim suffered serious personal injury in the form of mental injury; even if error occurred, it had no probable impact on the verdict. The defendant argued that the jury instruction was improper because the State presented no evidence of mental injury. The court noted that for several decades the appellate courts had held that it was per se error for the trial court to instruct the jury on a theory that was not supported by the evidence. However, in State v. Boyd, 366 N.C. 548 (2013) (per curiam), the Supreme Court shifted away from the per se rule. Now, a reviewing court must determine whether such an instruction constituted reversible error, without being required to assume that the jury relied on the inappropriate theory. Under North Carolina law, evidence of bodily or mental injuries can constitute serious personal injury for the purposes of forcible rape and forcible sex offense. Here, there was substantial evidence that the defendant inflicted bodily harm on the victim, who was seven months pregnant. The victim struggled to protect her stomach while the defendant forcibly dragged her down 33 concrete stairs and into nearby woods. She sustained extensive bruises and abrasions to most of the left side of her body, including her leg, abdomen, back, side, arm, and shoulder. Although some of the wounds were superficial, others were more significant abrasions. A nurse who testified at trial compared her injuries to “road rash” that a person might suffer after falling off a motorcycle traveling at 55 mph. The victim testified that her injuries were painful and she still bore extensive scars at trial. The court concluded that even assuming arguendo that there was no evidence to support the trial court’s instruction on mental injury, the defendant failed to meet his burden of showing that the alleged error had any probable impact on the jury’s verdict.

There was sufficient evidence to support a conviction for first-degree sex offense. The defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to infliction of serious personal injury on the victim. The defendant, a 43-year-old male approximately 5’10” tall with a medium build, physically and sexually assaulted a 22-year-old female, approximately 5’1” tall and weighing only 96 pounds. The defendant unexpectedly grabbed the victim and threw her down a steep, rocky embankment. He punched her face and head numerous times, and straddled her, pinned her down and strangled her. Although he initially ceased his assault when she stopped resisting, he resumed it when she resumed screaming, punching her face and head before forcing her to perform oral sex on him. The victim was diagnosed with a head injury and experienced pain throughout her body for days. She experienced two black eyes, body bruises, and hoarseness in her voice; and she had difficulty concentrating. At trial the victim testified that she continued to have trouble trusting people, opening up to others, and maintaining friendships. Evidence showed that the victim had difficulty concentrating and remembering and suffered from short-term memory loss from the attack, all of which caused her problems at work. This constitutes sufficient evidence of serious personal injury.

 

Where there was evidence to support a finding that the victim suffered serious personal injury, the trial court did not err in instructing the jury on first-degree sexual offense. The trial court’s instructions were proper where an officer saw blood on the victim’s lip and photographs showed that she suffered bruises on her ribs, arms and face. Additionally the victim was in pain for 4 or 5 days after the incident and due to her concerns regarding lack of safety the victim, terminated her lease and moved back in with her family. At the time of trial, roughly one year later, the victim still felt unsafe being alone. This was ample evidence of physical injury and lingering mental injury.

Mistake of age and consent are not defenses to statutory rape.

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