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., 06/22/2024
E.g., 06/22/2024

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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