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., 11/27/2021
E.g., 11/27/2021

(1) The evidence was insufficient to support a conviction under G.S. 14-208.18(a)(1), for being a sex offender on the premises of a daycare. The defendant was seen in a parking lot of a strip mall containing a daycare, other businesses, and a restaurant. Next-door to the daycare was a hair salon; next to the hair salon was a tax business. The three businesses shared a single building as well as a common parking lot. A restaurant in a separate, freestanding building shared the same parking lot. None of the spaces in the parking lot were specifically reserved or marked as intended for the daycare. The daycare, including its playground area, was surrounded by a chain-link fence. The court agreed with the defendant that the State failed to present sufficient evidence that the shared parking lot was part of the premises of the daycare. It stated: “[T]he shared parking lot is located on premises that are not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors. Therefore, we conclude that a parking lot shared with other businesses (especially with no designation(s) that certain spaces “belong” to a particular business) cannot constitute “premises” as set forth in subsection (a)(1) of the statute.” (2) The defendant’s guilty plea to unlawfully being within 300 feet of a daycare must be vacated in light of a Fourth Circuit’s decision holding G.S. 14-208.18(a)(2) to be unconstitutional. The defendant was indicted and pled guilty to violating G.S. 14-208.18(a)(2), which prohibits certain persons from being within 300 feet a location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors. While his direct appeal was pending, the Fourth Circuit held that statute to be unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment. Thus the conviction must be vacated.

(1) In a case involving charges under G.S. 14-208.18(a) (sex offender being present at a location used by minors, here a church preschool), where the State was required to prove (in part) that the defendant was required to register as a sex offender and was so required because of a conviction for an offense where the victim was less than 16 years old, the age of the victim was a factual question to which the defendant could stipulate. (2) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss, which had asserted that the State failed to produce substantial evidence that the defendant knew that a preschool existed on the church premises. The evidence showed that the church advertised the preschool with flyers throughout the community, on its website, and with signs around the church. Additionally, the entrance to the church office, where defendant met with the pastor, was also the entrance to the nursery and had a sign explicitly stating the word “nursery.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State was required to show that he should have known children were actually on the premises at the exact time when he was there. It reasoned: “[T]he actual presence of children on the premises is not an element of the crime, and the State needed only to demonstrate that defendant was ‘knowingly’ ‘[w]ithin 300 feet of any location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors when the place is located on premises that are not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors’ whether the minors were or were not actually present at the time.” (3) The court rejected the defendant’s facial overbreadth challenge to the statute reasoning that because his argument was not based on First Amendment rights, he lacked standing to assert the challenge. (4) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that G.S. 14-208.18(a) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him, stating: “[G.S.] 14-208.18(a)(2) may be many things, but it is not vague.”

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge that the defendant was a registered sex offender unlawfully on premises used by minors in violation of G.S. 14-208.18(a). The statute prohibits registered sex offenders from being “[w]ithin 300 feet of any location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors when the place is located on premises that are not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors[.]” The charges arose out of the defendant’s presence at a public park, specifically, sitting on a bench within the premises of the park and in close proximity to the park’s batting cage and ball field. The court agreed with the defendant that the State failed to present substantial evidence that the batting cages and ball fields constituted locations that were primarily intended for use by minors. At most, the State’s evidence established that these places were sometimes used by minors.

(1) G.S. 14-208.18(a)(1)-(3) creates three separate and distinct criminal offenses. (2) Although the defendant did not have standing to assert that G.S. 14-208.18(a)(3) was facially invalid, he had standing to raise an as applied challenge. (3) G.S. 14-208.18(a)(3), which prohibits a sex offender from being “at any place” where minors gather for regularly scheduled programs, was unconstitutionally vague as applied to the defendant. The defendant’s two charges arose from his presence at two public parks. The State alleged that on one occasion he was “out kind of close to the parking lot area or that little dirt road area[,]” between the ballpark and the road and on the second was at an “adult softball field” adjacent to a “tee ball” field. The court found that on these facts, the portion of G.S. 14-208.18(a)(3), prohibiting presence “at any place,” was unconstitutionally vague as applied to the defendant because it fails to give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, and it fails to provide explicit standards for those who apply the law. (4) The trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule that G.S. 14-208.18(a)(2) was unconstitutional where the defendant only was charged with a violation of G.S. 14-208.18(a)(3) and those provisions were severable.

North Carolina’s statute, G.S. 14–202.5, making it a felony for a registered sex offender to gain access to a number of websites, including common social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, violates the First Amendment. After the defendant, a registered sex offender, accessed Facebook, he was charged and convicted under the statute. The Court of Appeals struck down his conviction, finding that the statute violated the First Amendment. The N.C. Supreme Court reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed North Carolina’s high court. Noting the case “is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet,” the Court noted that it “must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.” The Court found that even assuming that the statute is content neutral and thus subject to intermediate scrutiny, it cannot stand. In order to survive intermediate scrutiny, a law must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest. Considering the statute at issue, the Court concluded:

[T]the statute here enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens. Social media allows users to gain access to information and communicate with one another about it on any subject that might come to mind. By prohibiting sex offenders from using those websites, North Carolina with one broad stroke bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge. These websites can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard. They allow a person with an Internet connection to “become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox.”

In sum, to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights. It is unsettling to suggest that only a limited set of websites can be used even by persons who have completed their sentences. Even convicted criminals—and in some instances especially convicted criminals—might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, in particular if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives. (citations omitted)

The Court went on to hold that the State had not met its burden of showing that “this sweeping law” is necessary or legitimate to serve its preventative purpose of keeping convicted sex offenders away from vulnerable victims. The Court was careful to note that its opinion “should not be interpreted as barring a State from enacting more specific laws than the one at issue.” It continued: “Though the issue is not before the Court, it can be assumed that the First Amendment permits a State to enact specific, narrowly tailored laws that prohibit a sex offender from engaging in conduct that often presages a sexual crime, like contacting a minor or using a website to gather information about a minor.”

State v. Crockett, 368 N.C. 717 (Mar. 18, 2016)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, 238 N.C. App. 96 (2014), the court affirmed the defendant’s convictions, finding the evidence sufficient to prove that he failed to register as a sex offender. The defendant was charged with failing to register as a sex offender in two indictments covering separate offense dates. The court held that G.S. 14-208.9, the “change of address” statute, and not G.S. 14-208.7, the “registration” statute, governs the situation when, as here, a sex offender who has already complied with the initial registration requirements is later incarcerated and then released. The court continued, noting that “the facility in which a registered sex offender is confined after conviction functionally serves as that offender’s address.” Turning to the sufficiency the evidence, the court found that as to the first indictment, the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that defendant had willfully failed to provide written notice that he had changed his address from the Mecklenburg County Jail to the Urban Ministry Center. As to the second indictment, the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find that the defendant had willfully changed his address from Urban Ministries to Rock Hill, South Carolina without providing written notice to the Sheriff’s Department. As to this second charge, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that G.S. 14-208.9(a) applies only to in-state address changes. The court also noted that when a registered offender plans to move out of state, appearing in person at the Sheriff’s Department and providing written notification three days before he intends to leave, as required by G.S. 14-208.9(b) would appear to satisfy the requirement in G.S. 14-208.9(a) that he appear in person and provide written notice not later than three business days after the address change. Having affirmed on these grounds, the court declined to address the Court of Appeals’ alternate basis for affirming the convictions: that the Urban Ministry is not a valid address at which the defendant could register because the defendant could not live there.

State v. Barnett, 368 N.C. 710 (Mar. 18, 2016)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, 239 N.C. App. 101 (2015), the court reversed, holding that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the defendant’s conviction to failing to register as a sex offender. Following Crockett (summarized immediately above), the court noted that G.S. 14-208.7(a) applies solely to a sex offender’s initial registration whereas G.S. 14-208.9(a) applies to instances in which an individual previously required to register changes his address from the address. Here, the evidence showed that the defendant failed to notify the Sheriff of a change in address after his release from incarceration imposed after his initial registration.

State v. Abshire, 363 N.C. 322 (June 18, 2009)

Rejecting an interpretation of the term “address” as meaning where a person resides and receives mail or other communication, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the term carries the “ordinary meaning of describing or indicating the location where someone lives”; as such, the court concluded, the word indicates a person’s residence, whether permanent or temporary. The court went on to hold that the state presented sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant changed her address, thus triggering the reporting requirement.

Over a dissent, the court held in this failure to register as a sex offender case that there was insufficient evidence that the defendant willfully failed to timely return an address verification form, deciding as a matter of first impression that the federal holiday Columbus Day is not a “business day” for purposes of G.S. 14-208.9A.  G.S. 14-208.9A requires registrants to return verification forms to the sheriff within “three business days after the receipt of the form.”  The defendant received the address verification form on Thursday, October 9, 2014.  The defendant brought the form to the sheriff’s office on Wednesday, October 15, 2014.  The intervening Monday, October 13, 2014 was Columbus Day.  The defendant was arrested for failing to timely return the form while he was at the sheriff’s office.

Noting that some statutory definitions of the term “business day” exclude Columbus Day while others include it, the court found the term as used in G.S. 14-208.9A ambiguous.  The court looked to the legislative history of the statute and the circumstances surrounding its adoption but was unable to discern a clear meaning of the term in that effort.  Operating under the rule of lenity, the court held that “the term ‘business day,’ as used in Chapter 27A, means any calendar day except Saturday, Sunday, or legal holidays declared in [G.S. 103-4].”  Because Columbus Day is among the legal holidays declared in G.S. 103-4, there was insufficient evidence that the defendant violated G.S. 14-208.9A.  A dissenting judge would have held that Columbus Day is a “business day,” in part because the sheriff’s office actually was open for business on that day and in part because G.S. 103-4 lists as “public holidays” various days “which no one would reasonably expect the Sheriff’s Office to be closed for regular business to the public.”  The dissenting judge identified several such days, including Robert E. Lee’s Birthday and Greek Independence Day.

In this sex offender registration case where the defendant was charged with failing to notify of an address change, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant changed his address. After the defendant registered in 2011, he was incarcerated and then released in 2013. The Supreme Court has clarified that while incarcerated, a registrant’s address is that of the facility or institution in which he is confined and that when he is released from incarceration, his address necessarily changes. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his incarceration for only a month was not long enough to establish a new address at his place of confinement.

In this sex offender registration case, double jeopardy barred convictions under both G.S. 14-208.11(a)(2) and (a)(7). The defendant was convicted of two separate crimes: one pursuant to G.S. 14-208.11(a)(2) (failure to notify the last registering sheriff of a change in address) and one pursuant to 14-208.11(a)(7) (failure to report in person to the sheriff’s office as required by, here, G.S. 14-208.9(a) (in turn requiring that a person report in person and provide written notice of an address change)). The court noted that it has previously held that the elements of an offense under G.S. 14-208.11(a)(2) and under G.S. 14-208.9(a) are the same: that the defendant is required to register; that the defendant changed his or her address; and that the defendant failed to notify the last registering sheriff of the change. It concluded: “Because in this case North Carolina General Statute § 14-208.11(a)(2) and (a)(7) have the same elements, one of defendant’s convictions must be vacated for violation of double jeopardy.” The court went on to reject the State’s argument that the legislature intended to allow separate punishment under both subsection (a)(2) and (a)(7).

(1) The State presented sufficient evidence to support a conviction for failure to register as a sex offender. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was not required to register in connection with a 1994 indecent liberties conviction. The court took judicial notice of the fact that the defendant’s prison release date for that conviction was Sept. 24, 1995 but that he was not actually released until Jan. 24, 1999 because he was serving a consecutive term for crime against nature. Viewing the later date as the date of the defendant’s release from prison, the court held that the registration requirements were applicable to him because they took effect in January 1996 and applied to offenders then serving time for a reportable sexual offense. The court further held that because the defendant was a person required to register when the 2008 amendments to the sex offender registration statute took effect, those amendments applied to him as well. (2) Where there was no evidence that the defendant willfully gave an address he knew to be false, the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for submitting information under false pretenses to the sex offender registry in violation of G.S. 14-208.9A(a)(1). The State’s theory of the case was that the defendant willfully made a false statement to an officer, stating that he continued to reside at his father’s residence. Citing prior case law, the court held that the statute only applies to providing false or misleading information on forms submitted pursuant to the sex offender law. Here, the defendant never filled out any verification form listing the address in question. It ruled: “An executed verification form is required before one can be charged with falsifying or forging the document.”

In this failure to register case based on willful failure to return a verification form as required by G.S. 14-208.9A, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss. To prove its case, the State must prove that the defendant actually received the letter containing the verification form. It noted: “actual receipt could have been easily shown by the State if it simply checked the box marked “Restricted Delivery?” and paid the extra fee to restrict delivery of the … letter to the addressee, the sex offender.” The court also found that there was insufficient evidence that the sheriff’s office made a reasonable attempt to verify the defendant’s address, another element of the offense. The evidence indicated that the only attempt the Deputy made to verify that the defendant still resided at his last registered address was to confirm with the local jail that the defendant was not incarcerated. Finally, the court found that State failed to show any evidence that the defendant willfully failed to return the verification form.

In a failing to register case there was sufficient evidence that the defendant changed his address from Burke to Wilkes County. Among other things, a witness testified that the defendant was at his ex-wife Joann’s home in Wilkes County all week, including the evenings. The court concluded: “the State presented substantial evidence that, although defendant may still have had his permanent, established home in Burke County, he had, at a minimum, a temporary home address in Wilkes County.” (quotation omitted). It explained:

[T]he evidence . . . showed that defendant still received mail, maintained a presence, and engaged in some “core necessities of daily living,” at his home in Burke County. However, the evidence also would allow a jury to reasonably conclude that he temporarily resided at Joann’s in Wilkes County. Specifically, [witnesses] testified that defendant was often at Joann’s all week. Furthermore, [a witness] testified that defendant engaged in activities that only someone living at Joann’s would do. Thus . . . the evidence supported a reasonable conclusion that not only did defendant maintain a permanent domicile in Burke County, but he also had a temporary residence or place of abode at Joann’s in Wilkes County. Although defendant may have considered the house in Burke County his “home,” . . . his subjective belief and even the fact that he was “in and out” of the Burke County house does not prevent him from having a second, temporary residence. (citations omitted).

Falsely stating an address on any verification form required by the sex offender registration program supports a conviction for failing to register as a sex offender. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the only verification forms that count are the initial verification form and those required to be filed every 6 months thereafter, noting that under G.S. 14-208.9A(b) additional verification may be required. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his false reporting of his address on two separate verification forms constituted a continuing offense and could support only one conviction. The court concluded that the submission of each form was a distinct violation of the statute.

(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that G.S. 14-208.11 (2011) (failure to notify of a change in address) is void for vagueness as applied to him. He argued that because he is homeless, a person of ordinary intelligence person could not know what “address” means in his case. The court noted that in State v. Abshire, 363 N.C. 322 (2009), the N.C. Supreme Court clearly and unambiguously defined the term “address” as used in the statute well before the defendant was released from prison. It further noted that in State v. Worley, 198 N.C. App. 329 (2009), it rejected the defendant’s argument that homeless sex offenders have no address for purposes of the registration statutes. It concluded:

Even assuming that the language of the statute is ambiguous, defendant had full notice of what was required of him, given the judicial gloss that the appellate courts have put on it. Certainly after Abshire and Worley, if not before, a person of reasonable intelligence would understand that a sex offender is required to inform the local sheriff’s office of the physical location where he resides within three business days of a change, even if that location changes from one bridge to another, or one couch to another. Although this obligation undoubtedly places a large burden on homeless sex offenders, it is clear that they bear such a burden under [G.S.] 14-208.9 and that under [G.S.] 14-208.11(a)(2) they may be punished for willfully failing to meet the obligation. Moreover, the fact that it may sometimes be difficult to discern when a homeless sex offender changes addresses does not make the statute unconstitutionally vague or relieve him of the obligation to inform the relevant sheriff’s office when he changes addresses.

(Citations omitted) (2) The evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant for failing to notify of a change in address. Conceding that the State presented evidence that he was not residing at his registered address, the defendant argued that the State failed to presented evidence of where he was actually residing. The court rejected this argument, reasoning that the State is not required to prove the defendant’s new address, only that he failed to register a change of address. It stated: “proof that [the] defendant was not living at his registered address is proof that his address had changed.”

(COA11-273) In a case involving a sex offender’s failure to give notice of an address change, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant changed his address. Among other things, a neighbor at the new address testified that the defendant stayed in an upstairs apartment every day and evening. Although the defendant claimed that he had not moved from his father’s address, his father told an officer that the defendant did not live there any longer.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of failing to register as a sex offender by failing to verify his address. In order to be convicted for failure to return the verification form, a defendant must actually have received the form. In this case, the evidence was uncontroverted that the defendant never received the form.

The trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of failure to notify of a change of address within 10 days where the evidence showed, at a minimum, that the defendant ceased to reside at his last listed reported address on or before August 10th, but did not submit a change of address form until September 16th. The court noted that individuals required to notify the sheriff of a change address must do so, even if the change of address is temporary; it rejected the defendant’s contention that there may be times when a registered sex offender lacks a reportable address, such as when the person has no permanent abode.

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