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., 06/19/2024
E.g., 06/19/2024

The Supreme Court affirmed per curiam State v. Wright, 273 N.C. App. 188 (2020), a case where the Court of Appeals majority determined there was sufficient evidence of the value of a stolen propane tank for purposes of felonious larceny and felonious possession of stolen goods.

In this Durham County case, defendant appealed his conviction for first-degree murder based on the felony-murder rule, arguing insufficient evidence of the underlying felony because the State did not admit evidence establishing the value of the victim’s car. The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing defendant’s conviction and remanding for the trial court to enter judgment on the lesser-included offense of involuntary manslaughter. 

In July of 2018, police found the victim dead in her apartment; the police noted the apartment looked as if there had been a party, as it was in disarray. Defendant was known to have spent time drinking with the victim, and his fingerprints were found on beer cans in the apartment. Later that day, police found defendant in Chapel Hill near defendant’s car, and defendant asked “is she dead?” when he was arrested. Police found the victim’s driver’s license and debit card in defendant’s wallet and determined defendant sold the victim’s smartphone in Burlington. Defendant was subsequently convicted based on the felony-murder rule as the determination was that the victim died while defendant was stealing her car. 

The Court of Appeals first considered defendant’s argument that the jury instruction sheets were flawed as they did not have a selection for “not guilty.” The court noted defendant did not raise this objection during trial, and that the plain error standard applied. Because the jury selection sheet had a space for “no” for each charge, the court determined this did not represent plain error. The court noted this was not ideal, but when combined with the jury instructions from the trial court, the issue did not rise to the level of plain error. 

Moving to the felony murder argument, the court explained that “in order to prove felony larceny, the State had the burden of proving that the victim’s car was worth over $1,000.00.” Slip Op. at 8. Here, “the State did not offer any opinion evidence regarding the vehicle’s value, evidence of what the victim paid for the vehicle, or any other evidence which included a dollar amount from which the jury could make a value determination.” Id. at 10. Although the State referenced various pieces of evidence in the record that could have supported the value was over $1,000, the court noted this was insufficient. Under State v. Holland, 318 N.C. 602 (1986), providing information about the vehicle’s make and year, a picture of the vehicle, and evidence the vehicle was operational did not represent sufficient evidence for a jury to establish a monetary value, and the court noted that here, the State presented even less evidence than in Holland.

The court also provided an explanation of the basis for entering judgment or retrying defendant for lesser-included offenses, explaining “[a] retrial for second-degree murder and/or voluntary manslaughter is one of ‘continuing jeopardy,’ as the original indictment in this case embraced second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter as lesser-included offenses of first-degree premeditated murder and also embraced misdemeanor manslaughter as a lesser-included offense of first-degree felony murder.” Slip Op. at 14. 

Judge Stroud concurred as to the insufficiency of the evidence related to the car’s value, but dissented from the conclusions related to the jury selection sheet, and would have granted defendant a new trial. 

State v. Wright, 273 N.C. App. 188 (Aug. 18, 2020) aff’d per curiam, 379 N.C. 93, 2021-NCSC-126 (Oct 29 2021)

In this larceny and possession of stolen property case, (1) the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss where there was sufficient evidence of the value of the stolen goods; (2) the trial court did not err in jury instructions on felonious larceny; and (3) the trial court erred by sentencing the defendant on both felonious larceny and felonious possession of the goods stolen during the larceny. 

(1) At trial, a witness testified that the value of a stolen propane tank, which was the basis for both the charges of felonious larceny and felonious possession of stolen goods, was “roughly $1,330.”  In moving to dismiss, the defendant argued that removing the cost of two regulators and the amount of propane necessary to fill the tank, items which there was some testimony about, dropped the value of the tank below the $1,000 threshold for the felony versions of the offenses.  The court rejected this argument, largely because of precedent establishing that the State is merely required to present some competent evidence of the fair market value of stolen property, which the jury may then consider.  The witness’s testimony of the roughly $1,330 value of the tank was sufficient on this issue and the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

(2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury with respect to larceny that the defendant carried away “another person’s property” instead of “a propane tank,” an instruction taken verbatim from the relevant pattern jury instruction and which the defendant characterized as permitting the jury to find him guilty of felonious larceny based on the value of additional items not included in the indictment.  Noting that “the better practice may have been to designate the specific property taken,” the court found no reason to assume that the jury based its verdict on any consideration other than the value of the tank alone and concluded that the trial court did not err.

(3) The State conceded and the court agreed that the trial court erred in sentencing the defendant for both larceny and possession of the property stolen during the larceny.

Judge Collins concurred, writing separately to add additional analysis on the jury instruction issue.  Judge Murphy concurred in part and dissented in part, expressing the view that the State’s evidence of the value of the propane tank was insufficient because the testimony concerning valuation was in reference to the combined value of the propane tank, the unknown quantity of propane it contained, and associated regulators.

The defendant stole fuel injectors from a salvage yard. Among other issues: (1) The defendant’s indictment for larceny of motor vehicle parts in violation of G.S. 14-72.8 was insufficient. The statute requires that “the cost of repairing the motor vehicle is one thousand dollars . . . or more,” but the indictment alleged only that the total value of all the injectors taken from an unspecified number of vehicles was $10,500. The court of appeals construed the statute to require at least $1,000 in damage to a single motor vehicle. (2) A detective testified that he contacted an auto parts company in Maryland and learned that the defendant had sold the company 147 fuel injectors for nearly $10,000. This testimony was not hearsay as it was admitted “to describe [the detective’s] investigation,” not to prove that the defendant stole anything.

State v. Bacon, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 402 (July 18, 2017) temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 802 S.E.2d 460 (Aug 4 2017)

Because there was insufficient evidence to establish that the value of the stolen items exceeded $1000, the trial court erred by failing to dismiss a charge of felonious larceny. The items in question, stolen during a home break-in, included a television and earrings. Although the State presented no specific evidence concerning the value of the stolen items, the trial court ruled that their value was a question of fact for the jury. This was error. A jury cannot estimate the value of an item without any evidence put forward to establish a basis for that estimation. Although certain property may, by its very nature, be of value obviously greater than $1000 the television and earrings in this case are not such items.

State v. Fish, 229 N.C. App. 584 (Sept. 17, 2013)

The State presented sufficient evidence that the fair market value of the stolen boat batteries was more than $1,000 and thus supported a conviction of felony larceny.

In a felony larceny case, there was sufficient evidence that a stolen vehicle was worth more than $1,000. The value of a stolen item is measured by fair market value and a witness need not be an expert to give an opinion as to value. A witness who has knowledge of value gained from experience, information and observation may give his or her opinion of the value of the stolen item. Here, the vehicle owner’s testimony regarding its value constituted sufficient evidence on this element.

In a felony larceny case, there was sufficient evidence that the goods were valued at more than $1,000 where the victim testified that $500 in cash and a laptop computer valued at least at $600 were taken.

There was sufficient evidence that a stolen truck was worth more than $1,000. The sole owner purchased the truck new 20 years ago for $9,000.00. The truck was in “good shape”; the tires were in good condition, the radio and air conditioning worked, and the truck was undamaged, had never been in an accident and had been driven approximately 75,000 miles. The owner later had an accident that resulted in a “total loss” for which he received $1,700 from insurance; he would have received $2,100 had he given up title. An officer testified that the vehicle had a value of approximately $3,000. The State is not required to produce direct evidence of value, provided that the jury is not left to speculate as to value.

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