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., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of first-degree kidnapping which asserted that the State failed to present substantial evidence that the defendant did not release the victim in a safe place. The defendant held the victim at gunpoint and threatened to shoot him in the back if the victim did not repair his truck. While the victim was examining the truck, the defendant fired a shot into the asphalt near the victim’s feet. The defendant then turned his back and fired a second shot into the air. When the defendant turned away, the victim saw an opportunity to run away. The defendant never told or indicated to the victim that he was free to leave, nor gave any indication that he would not shoot the victim if he ran away. The mere act of an armed kidnapper turning his back does not constitute a conscious, willful act on the part of the kidnapper to assure his victim’s release in a place of safety.

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss a first-degree kidnapping charge. The defendant did not leave the victim in a safe place where he dragged her to the middle of a gravel driveway and left her, unconscious and injured. The defendant did not consign her to the care of the witnesses who happened to be nearby; he was running away because they saw him. Additionally, the defendant took one of her cell phones, perhaps not realizing that she had a second phone. Additionally, the statute requires finding either that the victim was not left in a safe place or that the victim suffered serious injury (or sexual assault, not at issue here). Here, the State’s evidence established that the victim suffered serious injury requiring emergency room treatment, as well as serious emotional trauma which required therapy for many months continuing through the time of trial.

In this kidnapping case, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant failed to release the victim in a safe place. The defendant left the victim in a clearing in the woods located near, but not easily visible from, a service road that extended off an interstate exit ramp. The area was described at trial as “very, very remote,” “very, very secluded” and almost impossible to see from the highway. The victim “in a traumatized state, had to walk out of the clearing, down an embankment, and across a four-lane highway to get to her apartment. Defendant did not take any affirmative steps to release [her] in a location where she was no longer exposed to harm. He chose to abandon [her] in the same secluded location he had chosen to assault her.”

A person who is killed in the course of a kidnapping is not left in a safe place. Alternatively, if the victim still was alive when left by the defendant and his accomplice, he was not left in a safe place given that he was bound so tightly that he suffered a fracture to his spine and ultimately suffocated.

The fact that the state proceeded on a theory of acting in concert does not require the conclusion that the defendants released the victim in a safe place simply because one of the other perpetrators arguably did so. The record contained substantial evidence that defendants did not undertake conscious, willful action to assure that the victim was released in a safe place.

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