Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 07/20/2024
E.g., 07/20/2024

The trial court did not commit plain error by instructing the jury that it could consider whether or not the use of a bottle constituted a deadly weapon during the commission of a sexual offense. The defendant and his accomplice, after tying the victim’s hands and feet, shoved a rag into his mouth, pulled his pants down, and inserted a bottle into his rectum. The victim thought that he was going to die and an emergency room nurse found a tear in the victim’s anal wall accompanied by “serious drainage.”

The court affirmed a conviction for second-degree sexual offense in a case where the defendant surprised a Target shopper by putting his hand up her skirt and penetrating her vagina. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because his action surprised the victim, he did not act by force and against her will. 

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

In Re T.W., 221 N.C. App. 193 (June 5, 2012)

Because there was no evidence of threat of force or special relationship there was insufficient evidence of constructive force to support second-degree sexual offense charges. The State had argued that constructive force was shown by (a) the fact that the juvenile threatened the minor victims with exposing their innermost secrets and their participation with him in sexual activities, and (2) the power differential between the juvenile and the victims. Rejecting this argument, the court concluded: for “the concept of constructive force to apply, the threats resulting in fear, fright, or coercion must be threats of physical harm.” Acknowledging that constructive force also can be inferred from a special relationship, such as parent and child, the court concluded that the relationships in the case at hand did not rise to that level. In this case the juvenile was a similar age to the victims and their relationship was one of leader and follower in school.

The defendant became abusive and violent toward his romantic partner, D.C., after finding out that she had engaged in an intimate relationship while he was in prison for a year. The defendant forced D.C. to drive him to his cousin’s house, while telling her that she would be having sex with both the defendant and his cousin. During the drive, the defendant repeatedly beat D.C. and threatened to hit her with grip pliers. Once the cousin got in the car, the defendant instructed D.C. to drive to the cousin’s sister’s house, where the three entered a shed behind the house.

While in the shed, the defendant demanded D.C. to perform oral sex on him while the cousin watched and told the cousin to prepare to have sex with D.C. Throughout the incident, D.C. refused the defendant’s demands several times, which resulted in him beating her with his hands, feet, and pliers. The defendant and the cousin forcibly removed D.C.’s shorts as she continued to object. At one point, and after several beatings, D.C. was able to escape and drive to the police station to report the crimes.

At trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sex offense. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court should have given a jury instruction for the lesser included offense of second-degree forcible sex offense. Specifically, the defendant argued that the evidence of the element requiring that the perpetrator be “aided or abetted by one or more persons” supported the instruction on the lesser-included offense. Slip op. at ¶ 22.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the cousin willingly accompanied and rode in the car with the couple; the cousin followed instructions from the defendant and waited while the defendant forced D.C. to enter the shed; the cousin helped the defendant restrain and remove D.C.’s shorts; and the cousin stated to D.C. she “might as well get it over with,” referring to submission to the sexual assault. The Court determined that the cousin was not a passive bystander and in fact assisted, promoted, and encouraged the defendant in the sexual offense. Thus, the Court held that no contradictory evidence was presented in relation to the element in question to justify an instruction on a lesser-included offense.

Assault on a female is not a lesser-included of first-degree sexual offense.

State v. Hunt, 221 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 this juvenile case, the trial court erred by denying the respondent’s motions to dismiss charges of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and first-degree forcible sexual offense but did not err by accepting his admission of attempted larceny in an incident unrelated to the alleged sex crimes.

The State relied on an acting in concert theory in proceeding against the respondent on the second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor charge because all testimony was that a person other than the respondent made a video recording of the respondent apparently engaging in non-consensual sexual contact with the victim.  The court reviewed the evidence presented at trial and found it insufficient to show that the respondent and the person who recorded the video acted with a common plan or scheme to make the recording.  The court stated that the evidence showed that the respondent “did not wish to be recorded and that [the other person’s] decision to record the incident was of his own volition.”

The evidence of penetration was insufficient to support the first-degree forcible sexual offense charge allegedly based on anal intercourse as the victim unambiguously and explicitly denied that anal penetration occurred and the State did not present sufficient other evidence corroborating the allegation of penetration.  The court rejected the State’s argument that a witness’s description of the incident as the respondent and the victim “doing it” was sufficient evidence of penetration and noted that at the adjudicatory hearing the State had conceded “that there was not evidence of penetration.”

There was a sufficient factual basis to support the respondent’s admission to an unrelated charge of attempted misdemeanor larceny of a bicycle where the respondent was found near the crime scene with two people fitting a witness’s description of the suspects, had bolt cutters in his backpack, and denied committing but expressed some knowledge of the larceny to an investigating officer.  Though the trial court did not err by accepting the respondent’s admission to attempted misdemeanor larceny, the court could not remand the matter for a new disposition hearing to account for its rulings related to the sufficiency of the evidence of the sex crimes because the trial court’s juvenile jurisdiction terminated when the respondent turned eighteen years old while the appeal was pending. 

Justice Newby concurred in part and dissented in part, expressing the view that the evidence was sufficient to support the lesser included offense of attempted first-degree forcible sexual offense and that the matter should be remanded for entry of an amended adjudication for that offense.

In this Forsyth County case, the defendant was convicted of four counts of statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult and sixteen charges of indecent liberties with a child based on incidents involving an 8-year-old victim. The victim testified that the defendant rubbed his fingers in circles on her vagina, which she described as “where I wipe at” and “the place where I pee.” She also said that nothing had ever gone “inside” her vagina. On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the sexual offense conviction because there was no evidence of penetration. The Court of Appeals disagreed. A “sexual act” for the purposes of a sexual offense includes the penetration, however slight, by any object into the genital or anal opening of another person’s body, G.S. 14-27.20(4), and case law indicates that penetration of the labia is sufficient penetration within the meaning of that definition. Here, the victim’s testimony indicated that the defendant touched her on her urethral opening, which is located within the labia. The Court of Appeals concluded that the State therefore presented sufficient evidence to support the element of penetration.

In this sex offense with a child case, the trial court did not err by prohibiting the defendant from introducing evidence of the immigration status of the victim’s mother, a testifying witness, on the basis that the evidence was irrelevant under Rule 401.  The mother’s immigration status did not have any tendency to make the existence of a fact of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable.  Further, the trial court did not err by overruling the defendant’s objection to the mother testifying that the defendant had refused to be tested for herpes after it was discovered that the child victim had herpes.  This testimony was not unfairly prejudicial under Rule 403.  Finally, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of first degree statutory sexual offense for insufficient evidence.  The victim testified that the defendant touched her with his fingers “in the inside” in “the place where [she] go[es] pee,” and this testimony was sufficient evidence of a sexual act for purposes of the offense.

Judge Murphy concurred in the result only, writing a separate opinion to discuss when a witness’s immigration status and knowledge of U-Visas may be relevant for cross-examination, as well as other issues in the case.

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for sexual offense of a 13, 14 or 15-year-old. On appeal the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient as to penetration. At trial the prosecutor asked the victim “How far would you say he was able to get with -- did he actually go between your labia? Do you understand my question?” The victim answered, “Yes.” The prosecutor asked again, “Was he able to do that?” The victim responded again, “Yes.” Viewing the victim’s testimony in the light most favorable to the State, reasonable jurors could have concluded that the State presented sufficient evidence that the defendant penetrated the victim’s labia.

State v. Phachoumphone, ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E.2d 748 (Feb. 6, 2018) review granted, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Sep 20 2018)

In this child sexual assault case, the evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for statutory sex offense with a child by an adult. Specifically, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was insufficient evidence that he digitally penetrated the victim. Among other things: during the victim’s testimony, she demonstrated what the defendant did to her vagina by inserting her finger into a hole that the interpreter created with her hand; the victim stated that the defendant “put his finger in” her private part; a doctor testified that the six-year-old victim’s hymen was substantially missing, an irregular finding which could only have been caused by a penetrating injury; and the doctor observed redness in the vaginal area behind where the hymen was, which indicated a penetrating injury within the last 48 hours.

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

In a sexual offense case involving fellatio, proof of penetration is not required.

There was sufficient evidence of penetration during anal intercourse to sustain convictions for statutory sex offense and sexual activity by a substitute parent. The victim testified that the defendant “inserted his penis . . . into [her] butt,” that the incident was painful, and that she wiped blood from the area immediately after the incident.

State v. Carter, 216 N.C. App. 453 (Nov. 1, 2011) rev’d on other grounds, 366 N.C. 496 (Apr 12 2013)

There was sufficient evidence of anal penetration to support a sexual offense charge. Although the evidence was conflicting, the child victim stated that the defendant’s penis penetrated her anus. Additionally, a sexual assault nurse examiner testified that the victim’s anal fissure could have resulted from trauma to the anal area.

The evidence was sufficient of a sexual offense where the child victim testified that the defendant reached beneath her shorts and touched between “the skin type area” in “[t]he area that you pee out of” and that he would rub against a pressure point causing her pain and to feel faint. A medical expert testified that because of the complaint of pain, the victim’s description was “more suggestive of touching . . . on the inside.”

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.”

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.


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

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.

In this Edgecombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions for statutory sex offense with a child under 15, sex offense by a parent, and statutory sex offense with a child by an adult, arguing (1) plain error by failing to exclude evidence of defendant’s prior conduct; (2) an impermissible opinion in the trial court’s qualification of an expert witness; (3) plain error by admitting the expert’s testimony; and (4) error by precluding defense counsel from arguing the possible penalty defendant faced if convicted. The Court of Appeals found no plain error and no error. 

Defendant came to trial in September of 2019 for sexual offenses committed against his step-daughter. In addition to the testimony of the victim, the victim’s cousin testified about two incidents where defendant pulled her swimsuit down and commented on her tan line. The State offered the testimony of an expert in interpretations of interviews of children who are victims of sexual abuse, and defense counsel stipulated “to her being an expert in forensic interviewing.” Slip Op. at 4. The expert testified generally about grooming practices and triggering events for disclosure, but did not testify about the victim or offer opinions on the current case. During closing argument, the State objected to defense counsel’s statement that a guilty verdict would be a life sentence for defendant, and the trial court sustained the objection. Defendant was subsequently convicted and appealed.  

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals explained that because defendant did not object at trial, the standard of review was plain error. The court noted the extensive evidence of defendant’s guilt, and determined that even if admitting the evidence was error, it did not reach plain error.  

The court also found no error in (2), noting that although the stipulation by the defense did not match the qualifications from the State when tendering the expert, the trial court made a normal ruling admitting the expert. Moving to (3), the court applied Rule of Evidence 702(a) to confirm that an expert is permitted to testify generally if it is appropriate “to give the jury necessary information to understand the testimony and evaluate it.” Slip Op. at 12. Here, the court found relevant testimony from the expert for concepts like grooming that fit the facts of the present case.  

Finally, in (4), the court noted that defense counsel was permitted to read the relevant provisions of the statute to the jury, but could not do so in a way that asked the jury to consider punishment as part of its deliberations. Here, “[r]ather than merely informing the jury of the statutory penalties associated with the charges, defense counsel implied Defendant should not be convicted because the punishment would be severe . . . improperly comment[ing] upon the statutory punishment to sway the jury’s sympathies in its substantive deliberations.” Id. at 14. 

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.

State v. Sweat, 216 N.C. App. 321 (Oct. 18, 2011) aff’d in part, rev’d in part, 366 N.C. 79 (Jan 1 2012)

In a case in which there was a dissenting opinion, the court held that the trial court did not err with respect to instructions on two counts because the jury could properly have found either anal intercourse or fellatio and was not required to agree as to which one occurred.

The defendant was properly convicted of two counts of sexual offense when the evidence showed that the victim awoke to find the defendant’s hands in her vagina and in her rectum at the same time.

In this Surry County case, defendant appealed his conviction of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, arguing error in denying his motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence showing he took photographs of a minor which depicted “sexual activity.” The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In 2021, defendant took nude photographs of his girlfriend’s daughter after promising to buy her whatever she wanted for Christmas. The girl eventually told her school guidance counselor, who reported it to the sheriff’s office. Defendant admitted he had taken pictures of the girl during an interview with law enforcement, but said he deleted the pictures the next day. At trial, the State presented testimony from the guidance counselor, law enforcement officers, and a video of defendant’s confession, while defendant did not present any evidence. Defendant moved to dismiss at the close of evidence but the trial court denied the motion.

Defendant argued that the State “failed to present direct evidence that the photographs showed sexual activity” for sexual exploitation of a minor under G.S. 14-190.16. Slip Op. at 4. The Court of Appeals noted the two relevant cases in this area exploring “sexual activity” in photographs of minors, State v. Ligon, 206 N.C. App. 458 (2010), and State v. Corbett, 264 N.C. App. 93 (2019). The court found the current case more similar to Corbett when looking at the “lascivious way” the photographs exhibited the girl’s body. Slip Op. at 8. Although defendant argued that the photographs themselves must be present in evidence, the court disagreed, noting that defendant “failed to show precedent which states the photographs must be available at trial to prove the charge of sexual exploitation.” Id. at 11. 


With respect to a sexual offense charge allegedly committed on Melissa in Burke County, the court held that the State failed to present substantial evidence that a sexual act occurred. The only evidence presented by the State regarding a sexual act that occurred was Melissa’s testimony that the defendant placed his finger inside her vagina. However, this evidence was not admitted as substantive evidence. The State presented specific evidence that the defendant performed oral sex on Melissa—a sexual act under the statute--but that act occurred in Caldwell County, not Burke. Although Melissa also testified generally that she was "sexually assaulted" more than 10 times, presumably in Burke County, nothing in her testimony clarified whether the phrase "sexual assault," referred to sexual acts within the meaning of G.S. 14-27.4A, vaginal intercourse, or acts amounting only to indecent liberties with a child. Thus, the court concluded the evidence is insufficient to support the Burke County sexual offense conviction.

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.

In this child sexual abuse case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss first-degree sex offense charges where there was no substantive evidence of a sexual act; the evidence indicated only vaginal penetration, which cannot support a conviction of sexual offense.

Deciding an issue of first impression, the court held that the defendant’s act of forcing the victim at gunpoint to penetrate her own vagina with her own fingers constitutes a sexual act supporting a conviction for first-degree sexual offense.

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