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., 07/22/2024
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In this Iredell County case, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals majority decision affirming defendant’s conviction for failure to comply with the sex offender registry.

Defendant is a registered sex offender, and in June 2019 he registered as a homeless in Iredell County. Because of the county’s requirements for homeless offenders, he had to appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to sign a check-in log at the sheriff’s office. On June 21, 2019, defendant moved into a friend’s apartment, but the apartment was under eviction notice and defendant vacated this apartment sometime on the morning of June 26, 2019. Defendant reported all of this information at the sheriff’s office and signed a form showing his change of address on June 21; however, due to the way the form was set up, there was way to indicate defendant planned to vacate on June 26. Instead, defendant signed the homeless check-in log. A sheriff’s deputy went through and attempted to verify this address, unaware that defendant had since vacated; compounding the confusion, the deputy went to the incorrect address, but did not attempt to contact defendant by phone. As a result, the deputy requested a warrant for defendant’s arrest, defendant was indicted, and went to trial for failure to comply with the registry requirements. At trial defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that there was no evidence of intent to deceive, but the trial court denied the motion.

Examining the appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with defendant that the record did not contain sufficient evidence of defendant’s intent to deceive. The court examined each piece of evidence identified by the Court of Appeals majority, and explained that none of the evidence, even in the light most favorable to the state, supported denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. Instead, the court noted the record did not show any clear intent, and that the state’s theory of why defendant would be attempting to deceive the sheriff’s office (because he couldn’t say he was homeless) made no sense, as defendant willfully provided his old address and signed the homeless check-in log at the sheriff’s office. Slip Op. at 16.

Justice Barringer, joined by Chief Justice Newby and Justice Berger, dissented and would have held that sufficient evidence in the record supported the denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. Id. at 18.

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.

In this Wake County case, defendant appealed on several grounds after being convicted of violating the provisions of the sex offender registry and attaining habitual felon status. In 2015 defendant was residing at a homeless shelter in Raleigh, but in July of 2015 he was taken to a drug treatment program in Goldsboro. Defendant left the program after only two days, but did not update the address where he was residing with the local sheriff. Defendant was arrested in August of 2015, and indicted for violating the requirements of the sex offender registry.

At trial, defendant made motions to dismiss based in the indictment being defective and for insufficiency of the evidence presented. These motions were denied. During sentencing, the trial court did not allow defendant to get his papers in order to make a statement to the court; after a back-and-forth exchange, the court moved on without allowing defendant to make a statement. The trial court imposed a sentence in September of 2019, and defendant appealed.

Defendant argued that (1) the indictment failed to allege three essential elements of the sex offender registry violation; (2) the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury as to an element of the offense and misstated an element of the defense; (3) the trial court improperly denied defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of substantial evidence; (4) the trial court deprived defendant of his right to allocution; and (5) the trial court erred by ordering defendant to pay attorney fees.

The Court of Appeals examined issue (1) of the appeal by defining the three essential elements of the violation: (a) that defendant is a person who must register; (b) that defendant has changed addresses; and (c) that defendant failed to notify the last registering sheriff of the change within three business days. The court concluded that while the indictment could have been more explicit and precise, it was sufficient to support the trial court’s jurisdiction and was not subject to hyper-technical scrutiny.

Taking up issue (2) of the appeal, the court examined the jury instructions contested by defendant. In particular, the Court of Appeals reviewed the instructions regarding (a) whether they adequately put the burden of proof on the State to prove that defendant changed his address, and (b) whether they adequately directed the jury to determine whether the defendant willfully failed to report his change of address (rather than simply that he willfully changed his address). Regarding (a), the court found that the instructions were clear and showed that the standard was beyond a reasonable doubt through repeated portions of the instructions given to the jury. Considering (b), the court examined the language “willfully changed defendant’s address and failed to provide written notice of defendant’s new address” from the instruction given to the jury. When examined with the surrounding language of the instructions that more clearly connected the willfulness requirement with the failure to report, the Court of Appeals found that this language, even if erroneous, did not constitute error because it was not sufficiently prejudicial when considered with the entirety of the instruction.

When considering the existence of substantial evidence for issue (3), the court found testimony in the record showing defendant’s awareness of his obligation to update his address. Additionally, evidence in the record showed that defendant left the drug treatment facility after only two days, and did not return to his registered address, supporting willful failure to update his address with the sheriff. The court also examined the evidence supporting the felonies used to justify habitual felon status, and found sufficient evidence showing the felonies did not overlap and were all committed after defendant turned 18 years old.  

The Court of Appeals found that defendant’s issue (4) had merit; the trial court did not adequately allow defendant to address the court and deprived him of his right to allocution. During the exchange with the trial court, defendant repeatedly asked to get his papers. The trial court refused to allow this, but did not provide an opportunity for defendant to speak after the third time defendant referenced needing his papers. Because defendant was not clearly told he could speak without his papers, and the court did not inquire about defendant’s desire to speak without them, the trial court effectively refused to allow defendant to make a statement. Based upon this failure, the court vacated defendant’s sentence and remanded to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

Finally, the court denied the petition underlying issue (5), regarding the judgment for attorney fees, as no civil judgment was entered against defendant. An order for attorney fees appears in the record, but it does not appear to be filed with the Wake County Clerk of Court. As a result, the court dismissed this portion of defendant’s appeal.

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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