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., 06/29/2024
E.g., 06/29/2024
State v. China, 370 N.C. 627 (Apr. 6, 2018)

On appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 797 S.E.2d 324 (2017), the court reversed, holding that because there was evidence of restraint beyond that inherent in the commission of the sex offense the defendant could be convicted of both the sex offense and kidnapping. The defendant was convicted of a number of several offenses, including first-degree sexual offense and second-degree kidnapping. The Court of Appeals concluded that there was insufficient evidence of restraint separate and apart from that inherent in the sex offense to support the kidnapping conviction. The Supreme Court disagreed. Here, the defendant exercised restraint over the victim during the sexual offense. However, after that offense was completed, the defendant pulled the victim off the bed, causing his head to hit the floor, and called to an accomplice who then, with the defendant, physically attacked the victim, kicking and stomping him. These additional actions increased the victim’s helplessness and vulnerability beyond the initial attack that enabled the defendant to commit the sex offense. The court concluded: these actions constituted an additional restraint, which exposed the victim to greater danger than that inherent in the sex offense. For example, the victim testified that as a result of the kicking and stomping on his knees and legs, which had not been targeted or harmed during the sex offense, he was unable to walk for 2 to 3 weeks after the attack.

State v. Curtis, 369 N.C. 310 (Dec. 21, 2016)

The court per curiam affirmed the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 782 S.E.2d 522 (2016). The Court of Appeals had held, over a dissent, that where the restraint and removal of the victims was separate and apart from an armed robbery that occurred at the premises, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss kidnapping charges. The defendant and his accomplices broke into a home where two people were sleeping upstairs and two others--Cowles and Pina-- were downstairs. The accomplices first robbed or attempted to rob Cowles and Pina and then moved them upstairs, where they restrained them while assaulting a third resident and searching the premises for items that were later stolen. The robberies or attempted robberies of Cowles and Pina occurred entirely downstairs; there was no evidence that any other items were demanded from these two at any other time. Thus, the court could not accept the defendant’s argument that the movement of Cowles and Pina was integral to the robberies of them. Because the removal of Cowles and Pina from the downstairs to the upstairs was significant, the case was distinguishable from others where the removal was slight. The only reason to remove Cowles and Pina to the upstairs was to prevent them from hindering the subsequent robberies of the upstairs residents and no evidence showed that it was necessary to move them upstairs to complete those robberies. Finally, the court noted that the removal of Cowles and Pina to the upstairs subjected them to greater danger.

State v. Stokes, 367 N.C. 474 (Apr. 11, 2014)

The court reversed and remanded the decision below, State v. Stokes, 227 N.C. App. 649 (Jun. 4, 2013) (vacating the defendant’s conviction for second-degree kidnapping on grounds that the evidence was insufficient to establish removal when during a robbery the defendant ordered the clerk to the back of the store but the clerk refused). The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his removal of the victim was inherent in the robbery and thus could not support a separate kidnapping conviction. It explained:

Defendant ordered [the victim] at gunpoint to the back of the store and then into an awaiting automobile outside the store after stealing the cigarettes and money, the only two items defendant demanded during the robbery. At this point defendant was attempting to flee the scene of the crime. The armed robbery was complete, and defendant’s attempted removal of [the victim] therefore cannot be considered inherent to that crime. By ordering [the victim] into an awaiting automobile after completing the armed robbery, defendant attempted to place [the victim] in danger greater than that inherent in the underlying felony.

In this Macon County case, defendant appealed his convictions for forcible rape, kidnapping, burglary, assault on a female, and interfering with an emergency communication, arguing error in (1) denying his motion to dismiss the kidnapping charge, (2) allowing expert testimony about a sexual assault nurse examination (“SANE”) from a nurse who did not conduct the examination, and (3) failing to intervene ex mero motu in response to the prosecutor’s statements during closing argument. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In May of 2019, defendant appeared at the door of the victim’s home, telling her that his car was stuck in a ditch and he needed a place to stay for the night. Defendant was known to the victim through previous employment, and she offered her guesthouse to defendant for the night. According to the victim’s testimony, defendant then reappeared at her door asking for a cigarette lighter, barged in when she opened the door, and raped her on her bed. The victim eventually escaped and found officers from the sheriff’s department, who arrested defendant as he slept in the victim’s bed. The victim underwent a SANE the next morning. At trial, defendant moved to dismiss the kidnapping charge, arguing the State did not admit evidence he confined the victim separate from his alleged sexual assault; the trial court denied the motion. The State called a forensic nursing supervisor to testify regarding the SANE report, although she was not the nurse that performed the SANE. Defendant did not object to the nurse expert’s testimony, and he was subsequently convicted of all charges. 

Finding no error in (1), the Court of Appeals explained that “[i]n rape cases, this Court has previously determined a separate charge of second-degree kidnapping requires a defendant’s restraint or confinement of the victim to be separate from that necessary to accomplish the rape.” Slip Op. at 10. The court found just such evidence here, noting that the struggle between defendant and the victim began as she fled from him at the door, then moved to the bedroom, where defendant restrained her on the bed prior to the sexual assault. 

Moving to (2), the court first gave an overview of the applicable Confrontation Clause issues, noting “an expert witness may properly base her independent opinion ‘on tests performed by another person, if the tests are of the type reasonably relied upon by experts in the field,’ without violating the Confrontation Clause.” 15, quoting State v. Fair, 354 N.C. 131, 162 (2001). Here, the nurse expert’s qualifications were established, and she testified about her independent conclusions after reviewing the SANE, subject to cross-examination by defendant. The court found no error in admitting the SANE and expert testimony under these circumstances. 

Finally, the court found no error in (3), explaining “the Prosecutor’s closing statements were consistent with the record, as his arguments highlighted the differences between Defendant’s statements to the police two days after the incident, which were properly admitted at trial, and Defendant’s own testimony during his trial.” Id. at 20. Because the prosecutor’s statements were simply a credibility argument against defendant’s testimony, the court did not find an error prejudicing defendant. 

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of second-degree kidnapping and did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury on the confinement theory of kidnapping alleged in the indictment.  The second-degree kidnapping indictment alleged that the defendant unlawfully confined the victim without consent and for the purpose of facilitating felony armed robbery.  In moving to dismiss the kidnapping charge, the defendant argued that the victim was not restrained to a degree over that inherent in the underlying robbery, which involved the defendant entering the victim’s bedroom while brandishing a gun and motioning for the victim to move from that room to another and ordering the victim to lie on the ground upon moving rooms.  Noting the State’s acknowledgement that the question of whether confinement or restraint is of a degree beyond that inherent in robbery such that a kidnapping conviction also is proper involves “a very tangled area of the law,” the court reviewed relevant precedent on its way to determining that there was no error in the defendant’s kidnapping conviction.  The court explained that the movement of the victim from his bedroom to the other room was not essential to complete the robbery, that the victim was held in the other room for some time, and was exposed to greater danger by being moved and held at gunpoint.

In response to the defendant’s argument that the trial court plainly erred by instructing the jury on kidnapping by restraint or removal but not confinement despite the indictment alleging kidnapping based solely on confinement, the court conducted a “highly fact sensitive” analysis and concluded that the defendant failed to show a possibility that a reasonable jury would have found that the victim in this case was removed or retrained but was not confined. 

Judge Murphy concurred in result only, expressing the view that the majority improperly equated removal and confinement when analyzing the defendant’s motion to dismiss the kidnapping charge.  Judge Murphy also expressed the view that the trial court erred in its jury instruction on kidnapping because the instruction did not track the indictment, but found that the error did not rise to the level of plain error.

The defendant was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and other charges and appealed. He argued the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress, his motion to dismiss, and in admitting certain evidence. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed.

The defendant objected that a charge of kidnapping should have been dismissed for failure to show confinement or restraint beyond that necessary for the accompanying robbery. “Whether a restraint was more than that which is an inherent or inevitable part of another felony depends on ‘whether the victim is exposed to greater danger than is inherent in the armed robbery itself.’” Here, the defendant assaulted, robbed, and murdered the victim’s boyfriend before walking her through the house at gunpoint and attempting to twice shoot her in the head before leaving (the gun malfunctioned). This was sufficient removal beyond what was necessary to accomplish the robbery. Those acts were not “inherent” to the robbery, and “increased [the victim’s] vulnerability and helplessness beyond what was necessary to enable the defendant to rob her.” The motion to dismiss was therefore properly denied.

In this kidnapping and sexual assault case, the evidence was sufficient to establish confinement or restraint for purposes of kidnapping that was separate and apart from the force necessary to facilitate the sexual offense. Here, the defendant forced the victim into his car after he had sexually assaulted her.

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss a first-degree kidnapping charge. The restraint of the victim was not inherent in the also charged offense of assault by strangulation. The evidence showed two separate, distinct restraints sufficient to support the two offenses. After the initial restraint when the defendant choked the victim into unconsciousness, leaving her unresponsive on the ground, he continued to restrain her by holding her hair, wrapping his arm around her neck, and dragging her to a new location 100 to 120 feet away.

State v. Knight, 245 N.C. App. 532 (Feb. 16, 2016) modified and affirmed on other grounds, 369 N.C. 640 (Jun 9 2017)

(1) Where a kidnapping indictment alleged that the defendant confined and restrained the victim for purposes of facilitating a forcible rape, the State was not required to prove both confinement and restraint. (2) In a case where the defendant was charged with sexual assault and kidnapping, there was sufficient evidence of restraint for purposes of kidnapping beyond that inherent in the assault charge. Specifically, the commission of the underlying sexual assault did not require the defendant to seize and restrain the victim and to carry her from her living room couch to her bedroom.

In a case in which the defendant was convicted of kidnapping, rape and sexual assault, because the restraint supporting the kidnapping charge was inherent in the rape and sexual assault, the kidnapping conviction cannot stand. The court explained:

Defendant grabbed Kelly from behind and forced her to the ground. Defendant put his knee to her chest. He grabbed her hair in order to turn her around after penetrating her vaginally from behind, and he put his hands around her throat as he penetrated her vaginally again and forced her to engage him in oral sex. Though the amount of force used by Defendant in restraining Kelly may have been more than necessary to accomplish the rapes and sexual assault, the restraint was inherent “in the actual commission” of those acts. Unlike in Fulcher, where the victims’ hands were bound before any sexual offense was committed, Defendant’s acts of restraint occurred as part of the commission of the sexual offenses. (citation omitted).

The defendant’s conviction for kidnapping was improper where the restraint involved was inherent in two sexual assaults and an assault by strangulation for which the defendant was also convicted.

State v. Bell, 221 N.C. App. 535 (July 17, 2012)

(1) The defendant’s confinement of the victims was not inherent in related charges of armed robbery and sexual offense and thus could support the kidnapping charges. The defendant robbed the victims of a camera and forced them to perform sexual acts. He then continued to hold them at gunpoint while he talked to them about what had happened to him, grilled one about Bible verses, and made them pray with him. The additional confinement after the robbery and sex offenses were finished was sufficient evidence of kidnapping separate from the other offenses. (2) With respect to a charge of kidnapping a child under 16, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant confined the child. While threatening the child and his mother with a gun, the defendant told the mother to put her son in his room and she complied. After that, whenever her son called out, the victim called back to keep him in his bedroom.

The trial court erred by instructing the jury that it need only find that the restraint or removal aspect of the kidnapping “was a separate, complete act independent of and apart from the injury or terror to the victim.” As such, it did not distinguish between the restraint as a part of the kidnapping and any restraint or removal that was part of the assault or robbery of the victim. However, because the evidence indicates that the assault stopped before the victim’s removal, the court determined that this error was not prejudicial.

State v. Cole, 199 N.C. App. 151 (Aug. 18, 2009)

Because the restraint of the victim did not go beyond that inherent in the accompanying robbery, the kidnapping conviction could not stand. The victim was not moved to another location or injured and was held for only 30 minutes.

The trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss kidnapping charges where the removal and restraint of the victims was inherent in a charged robbery. Distinguishing cases where the victims were bound and physically harmed, the court noted that in this case, the victims only were moved from a bathroom area to the bathroom (a movement deemed merely a technical asportation), and were asked to lie on the bathroom floor until the robbery was complete. The removal and restraint did not expose the victims to greater danger than the robbery itself and thus were inherent in the robbery.

The evidence was sufficient to support a charge of kidnapping where the restraint used against the victim was not inherent in the assaults committed. The defendant kept the victim from leaving her house by repeatedly striking her with a bat. When she was able to escape, he chased her, grabbed her, and shot her. Detaining the victim in her home and again outside was not necessary to effectuate the assaults.

In a case in which the defendant was convicted of kidnapping and rape, the kidnapping conviction could stand where the confinement and restraint of the victim went beyond the restraint inherent in the commission of the rape. The defendant threatened the victim with a gun while she was in his car. When she tried to escape, he pulled her back into the car and sprayed her with mace. He drove her away from her car and children. When she jumped out, he forced her back into the car at gunpoint. He then drove her to a secluded wooded area, where he raped her.

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