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., 12/05/2021
E.g., 12/05/2021

(1) There was sufficient evidence that a burglary occurred at nighttime. The defendant left his girlfriend’s apartment after 10 pm and did not return until 6 am the next day. The burglary occurred during that time period. After taking judicial notice of the time of civil twilight (5:47 am) and the driving distance between the victim’s residence and the apartment, the court concluded that it would have been impossible for the defendant to commit the crime after 5:47 am and be back at the apartment by 6 am. (2) When the victim’s laptop and other items were found in the defendant’s possession hours after the burglary, the doctrine of recent possession provided sufficient evidence that the defendant was the perpetrator.

Although the victim’s testimony tended to show that the crime did not occur at nighttime, there was sufficient evidence of this element where the victim called 911 at 5:42 am; she told police the attack occurred between 5:00 and 5:30 am; a crime scene technician testified that “it was still pretty dark” when she arrived, and she used a flashlight to take photographs; and the defendant stipulated to a record from the U.S. Naval Observatory showing that on the relevant date the sun did not rise until 6:44 am.

In this burglary case, the evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendants entered the premises where it showed that the defendants used landscaping bricks and a fire pit bowl to break a back window of the home but no evidence showed that any part of their bodies entered the home (no items inside the home were missing or had been tampered with) or that the instruments of breaking were used to commit an offense inside. 

An entering did not occur for purposes of burglary when the defendant used a shotgun to break a window, causing the end of the shotgun to enter the premises. The court reiterated that to constitute an entry some part of the defendant’s body must enter the premises or the defendant must insert into the premises some tool that is intended to be used to commit the felony or larceny therein (such as a hook to grab an item).

The evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant of felony breaking or entering. After detaining the defendant for larceny, a Belk loss prevention associate entered the defendant’s name in a store database. The associate found an entry for the defendant’s name at Belk Store #329 in Charlotte, along with a photograph that resembled the defendant and an address and date of birth that matched those listed on his driver’s license. The database indicated that, as of 14 November 2015, the defendant had been banned from Belk stores for a period of 50 years pursuant to a Notice of Prohibited Entry following an encounter at the Charlotte store. The notice contained the defendant’s signature. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient because it showed he entered a public area of the store during regular business hours. Deciding an issue of first impression, the court disagreed. In order for an entry to be unlawful, it must be without the owner’s consent. Here, Belk did not consent to the defendant’s entry. It had issued a Notice expressly prohibiting him “from re-entering the premise[s] of any property or facility under the control and ownership of Belk wherever located” for a period of 50 years. The loss prevention associate testified that the Notice had not been rescinded, that no one expressly allowed the defendant to return to store property, and that no one gave the defendant permission to enter the store on the date in question.

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for misdemeanor breaking or entering. Although the defendant had consent to enter the home’s garage, he did not have consent to enter the residence itself, which he did by breaking down a door. 

The defendant did not have implied consent to enter an office within a video store. Even if the defendant had implied consent to enter the office, his act of theft therein rendered that implied consent void ab initio.

Reversing the decision below, State v. Campbell, 234 N.C. App. 551 (2014), the court held that the State presented sufficient evidence of the defendant’s intent to commit larceny in a place of worship to support his conviction for felonious breaking or entering that facility. The evidence showed that the defendant unlawfully broke and entered the church; he did not have permission to be there and could not remember what he did while there; and the church’s Pastor found the defendant’s wallet near the place where some of the missing items previously had been stored. 

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on January 1, 2018, the defendant woke Mr. and Mrs. Ridenhour by loudly banging on the front door of their residence. Mr. Ridenhour, thinking a neighbor was at the door, went to the front door and flipped the deadbolt. The defendant violently pushed the front door open, knocking Mr. Ridenhour backwards. The defendant entered the house and began beating Mr. Ridenhour, who shouted for his wife to call the police and grab his pistol. The defendant struck Mr. Ridenhour multiple times, causing him to fall down a flight of stairs and knocking him unconscious. Mrs. Ridenhour entered the hall, pointed a gun at the defendant, and told him to leave. The defendant then left the house, and Mr. Ridenhour regained consciousness and locked the door. The defendant briefly walked in the front yard but returned and began banging on the front door again. Caldwell County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived at the scene and detained the defendant at the front door. The defendant was indicted for first-degree burglary and the lesser included offense of felonious breaking and entering.

During a bench trial, the defendant twice moved to dismiss, arguing that the State had not presented sufficient evidence of his intent to commit an underlying felony when he entered the Ridenhour house, as required for first-degree burglary. The trial court denied both motions. In a subsequent charge conference, the trial court stated it was considering larceny, attempted murder, and a violation of G.S. 14-54(a1) (breaking or entering a building with intent to terrorize or injure an occupant) as potential underlying felonies for the first-degree burglary charge. However, the trial court, as finder of fact, convicted the defendant of first-degree burglary solely on the basis of G.S. 14-54(a1), stating that “the defendant . . . committed first-degree burglary by committing the felony of [G.S. 14-54(a1)] when he broke and entered into the building with the intent to terrorize and injure the occupant, because that’s what happened.” Slip op. at 5.

On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, specifically arguing that G.S. 14-54(a1) cannot be an underlying felony for first-degree burglary because “grammatically and logically, the initial breaking and entering must be distinct from the crime which a burglar subsequently intends to commit therein.” Slip op. at 6. The Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant, reasoning that “for G.S. 14-54(a1) to satisfy the felonious intent element of first-degree burglary, a defendant must (1) break and enter a dwelling (2) with the intent to therein (3) break or enter a building (4) with the intent to terrorize or injure an occupant” Slip op. at 8–9. (emphasis in original). The Court held that sufficient evidence was not presented to support the inference that the defendant broke and entered the Ridenhours’ residence with the intent to subsequently break or enter another building within the residence and therein terrorize the Ridenhours and as a result, the defendant’s motion to dismiss should have been granted. Moreover, the Court explained that in determining that the first-degree burglary charge was only supported by the defendant’s intent to violate G.S. 14-54(a1), the trial court acquitted the defendant of the other potential underlying felonies, including attempted murder, assault inflicting serious bodily injury, and larceny. The Court reversed the defendant’s first-degree burglary conviction and remanded for entry of judgment for misdemeanor breaking or entering, a lesser included offense that does not require proof of intent to commit an underlying felony.

The evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant of felony breaking or entering a building. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence showed only his presence at the scene, noting, among other things, that responding to a possible break-in, officers found the defendant scaling a 10-foot brick wall near the barn. The court also found that the evidence was sufficient to support an inference that the defendant intended to commit a larceny when he entered the barn, noting, among other things, that items had been removed from the barn and placed in the fenced in area around it. 

State v. Mims, 241 N.C. App. 611 (June 16, 2015)

(1) The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for attempted first-degree burglary. In this case, which involved an attempted entry into a home in the wee hours of the morning, the defendant argued that the State presented insufficient evidence of his intent to commit a larceny in the premises. The court concluded that the case was controlled by State v. McBryde, 97 N.C. 393 (1887), and that because there was no evidence that the defendant’s attempt to break into the home was for a purpose other than to commit larceny, it could be inferred that the defendant intended to enter to commit a larceny inside. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence suggested that he was trying to enter the residence to seek assistance or was searching for someone. (2) Applying the McBryde inference to an attempted breaking or entering that occurred during daylights hours, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for that offense.

In this burglary case, the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendants intended to commit a felony or larceny in the home. Among other things, an eyewitness testified that the defendants were “casing” the neighborhood at night. Additionally, absent evidence of other intent or explanation for a breaking and entering at night, the jury may infer that the defendant intended to steal. 

In a first-degree burglary case, the evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendant broke and entered an apartment with the intent to commit a felonious restraint inside. Felonious restraint requires that the defendant transport the person by motor vehicle or other conveyance. The evidence showed that the defendant left his car running when he entered the apartment, found the victim, pulled her to the vehicle and drove off. The court reasoned: “In view of the fact that the only vehicle in which Defendant could have intended to transport [the victim] was outside in a parking lot, the record provides no indication Defendant could have possibly intended to commit the offense of felonious restraint against [the victim] within the confines of [the] apartment structure . . . .” The court rejected the State’s argument that the intent to commit a felony within the premises exists as long as the defendant commits any element of the intended offense inside.

Evidence of missing items after a breaking or entering can be sufficient to prove the defendant’s intent to commit a larceny therein, raising the offense to a felony. When such evidence is presented, the trial court need not instruct on the lesser offense of misdemeanor breaking or entering.

The evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendant intended to commit a larceny in the vehicle. The evidence suggested that the defendant’s only intent was to show another how to break glass using a spark plug and that the two left without taking anything once the vehicle’s glass was broken.

The evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant intended to commit a felony assault inside the dwelling. Upon entering the residence, carrying an axe, the defendant asked where the victim was and upon locating her, assaulted her with the axe.

The defendant, along with two others, went to the home of an individual to whom they paid cash to provide them with controlled substances. The individual neither obtained the illegal drugs nor returned any of the drug purchase money to the defendant. At the home of the individual, the individual was assaulted, accompanied by a demand for the return of the money. While leaving, the defendant fired a shot into the residence. The defendant was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, and discharging a weapon into an occupied property. At trial, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges against him for insufficiency of the evidence, and the trial court denied the motion. The defendant was found guilty on all charges.

The Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and felonious breaking or entering. The Court of Appeals relied on State v. Spratt, 265 N.C. 524 (1965), and State v. Lawrence, 262 N.C. 162 (1964), in concluding that the defendant could not be guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon because the defendant did not have the requisite felonious intent when attempting to take property from the individual, under a bona fide claim of right to the money which had been given on defendant’s behalf. The Court of Appeals also held that the lack of felonious intent negated the defendant’s ability to be convicted of the offense of felonious breaking or entering, and remanded the matter in order for the trial court to enter judgment against defendant for misdemeanor breaking or entering, which does not require felonious intent.

The Supreme Court held that the case precedent on which the Court of Appeals relied did not apply to the facts at hand. The Court concluded that “neither Spratt, nor Lawrence, nor any other case in this state has heretofore authorized a party to legally engage in ‘self-help’ by virtue of the exercise of a bona fide claim of right or title to property which is the subject of an illegal transaction,” and therefore held that there was no error in the defendant’s convictions of the offense of conspiracy to commit armed robbery with a dangerous weapon and the offense of felonious breaking or entering.

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 6 (2018), the Supreme Court determined that the evidence presented at trial supported the defendant’s conviction under the doctrine of recent possession. Pursuant to a tip, a detective discovered stolen property from the victim’s house at another house on nearby Ridge Street. Several days later, another detective saw the defendant across from the Ridge Street house, sitting in a white pickup truck. The truck matched the description of one that had reportedly been used to deliver the previously discovered property to the Ridge Street house, and now contained more items from the victim’s house. After the trial judge denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence and instructed the jury on the doctrine of recent possession, the jury found the defendant guilty of felony breaking or entering and felony larceny for the first incident, and guilty of felony larceny for the second incident.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to send the charges to the jury as to both her culpable possession of the items allegedly stolen in the first incident and the recency of her possession of those items. Considering the trial court ruling on a motion to dismiss de novo and with all evidentiary conflicts resolved in favor of the State, the court determined that the defendant’s acknowledgment that she had been in control of the victim’s items found at the Ridge Street house two weeks after the first incident brought her within the doctrine of recent possession. Though she claimed to have been acting at the direction of another man—a co-defendant also charged in connection with the initial offense—“exclusive possession” within the meaning of the doctrine of recent possession can, the court said, include joint possession of co-conspirators or persons acting in concert. As a result, the court concluded that there was substantial evidence of exclusive possession, and that the Court of Appeals majority erred by holding to the contrary and vacating the defendant’s convictions. The court thus reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of the defendant’s remaining arguments. 

Justice Earls dissented, writing that the evidence to support the defendant’s conviction was insufficient in that the defendant was never found in possession of the items allegedly stolen in the first incident. To the contrary, she only admitted to having the items at the behest of her employer (the co-defendant), and her possession was therefore not that of herself but of her employer.

Because there was insufficient evidence that the defendant knew of the terms of a domestic violence protective order, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of violating a civil DVPO while in possession of a deadly weapon and the trial court erred by instructing the jury on breaking and entering in violation of a protective order.   After being arrested for assaulting the victim, the defendant was served with an ex parte DVPO and notice of a hearing regarding whether another DVPO would be entered.  The defendant did not attend that hearing and, at the time of the incident giving rise to the charges at issue, had not been served with a year-long DVPO that was entered at the hearing in his absence.  As there was no direct evidence that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the DVPO that was entered at the hearing he did not attend, the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the charge of willfully violating the order.  Further, because the defendant did not have knowledge of the DVPO, it was plain error for the trial court to instruct the jury on felony breaking and entering in violation of a valid DVPO.

Judge Murphy concurred in part and in the judgment but dissented from the majority’s discussion of two unpublished cases and also would have sanctioned the State for certain misleading comments included in its brief.

The evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant of felony breaking or entering. After detaining the defendant for larceny, a Belk loss prevention associate entered the defendant’s name in a store database. The associate found an entry for the defendant’s name at Belk Store #329 in Charlotte, along with a photograph that resembled the defendant and an address and date of birth that matched those listed on his driver’s license. The database indicated that, as of 14 November 2015, the defendant had been banned from Belk stores for a period of 50 years pursuant to a Notice of Prohibited Entry following an encounter at the Charlotte store. The notice contained the defendant’s signature. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient because it showed he entered a public area of the store during regular business hours. Deciding an issue of first impression, the court disagreed. In order for an entry to be unlawful, it must be without the owner’s consent. Here, Belk did not consent to the defendant’s entry. It had issued a Notice expressly prohibiting him “from re-entering the premise[s] of any property or facility under the control and ownership of Belk wherever located” for a period of 50 years. The loss prevention associate testified that the Notice had not been rescinded, that no one expressly allowed the defendant to return to store property, and that no one gave the defendant permission to enter the store on the date in question.

(1) The evidence was insufficient to convict the defendant of breaking or entering into a place of religious worship. The defendant was alleged to have broken into a place of religious worship used by Vision Phase III International Outreach Center (“Vision”), a church engaged in international missions and renting a building called the “Chapel” for the purpose of conducting its church services. Several other structures were situated behind the Chapel, including a small barn, located approximately 50 away. The property owner allowed Vision to use the barn to store equipment that could not be kept in the Chapel. The only building that the defendant was alleged to have broken into was the barn, which the State conceded was not used for religious worship. However, the State argued that the barn was within the curtilage of the Chapel, and for this reason should be deemed an extension of the Chapel for purposes of the statute. The court rejected this argument reasoning, in part, that based on the statute’s wording “it is clear” that to be convicted of breaking or entering into a place of religious worship, the specific building broken into must be a “building that is regularly used, and clearly identifiable, as a place for religious worship.” 

The defendant was charged with felony breaking or entering a pickup truck that was parked overnight at a business. The trial record did not include any evidence that the truck contained an item of even trivial value, and there was no evidence that anything had been taken from inside. In responding to the defendant’s motion to dismiss at trial, the State did not address the element of “goods, wares, freight, or other thing of value,” nor did the State argue that the evidence presented was sufficient to support that element. The Court of Appeals held there was insufficient evidence that the motor vehicle contained “goods, wares, freight, or other thing of value” and reversed the defendant’s conviction for felony breaking or entering a motor vehicle.

The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury on first-degree trespass as a lesser-included of breaking or entering a motor vehicle. Although the defendant argued that he may have broken into the vehicle in order to sleep and thus lacked the intent to commit a larceny therein, no evidence supported that argument.

(1) When an indictment charging breaking or entering into a motor vehicle alleged that the defendant broke and entered the vehicle, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury that it could find the defendant guilty if he broke or entered the vehicle. The statute required only a breaking or entering, not both. (2) There was sufficient evidence to establish that either the defendant or his accomplice entered the vehicle where among other things, the defendant was caught standing near the vehicle with its door open, there was no pollen inside the vehicle although the outside of the car was covered in pollen, the owner testified that the door was not opened the previous day, and the defendant and his accomplice each testified that the other opened the door. (3) There was sufficient evidence that the defendant broke into the vehicle “with intent to commit any felony or larceny therein." Citing prior case law, the court held that the intent to steal the motor vehicle itself may satisfy the intent element.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss charges of breaking or entering a boat where the State failed to present evidence that the boats contained items of value. Although even trivial items can satisfy this element, here the record was devoid of any evidence of items of value. The batteries did not count because they were part of the boats.

Citing State v. Jackson, 162 N.C. App. 695 (2004), in this breaking or entering a motor vehicle case, the court held that the evidence was insufficient where it failed to show that that the vehicle contained any items of value apart from objects installed in the vehicle.

An indictment properly alleges the fifth element of breaking and entering a motor vehicle—with intent to commit a felony or larceny therein—by alleging that the defendant intended to steal the same motor vehicle.

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for felony breaking or entering with intent to terrorize or injure. On appeal the defendant challenged only the element of intent to injure or terrorize. Here, the evidence shows that the defendant entered uninvited and did not announce himself. When the victim saw the defendant, the defendant began to argue with the victim, believing that he was involved in an incident with the defendant’s girlfriend. The defendant, a mixed martial arts fighter, then violently attacked the victim. The jury could find the circumstances put the victim in a high degree of fear or that the defendant acted so recklessly or manifestly indifferent to the consequences to the victim that there was constructive intent to injure. Thus, the evidence was sufficient to support an inference that the defendant entered the victim’s home with the intent to terrorize or injure the victim.

The evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant of possession of burglar’s tools. Specifically, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant had constructive possession of a prybar and bolt cutters found at the scene. These tools were found within the fenced in area. Although the defendant was not in exclusive possession of them, there were other incriminating circumstances, including, among other things, that the defendant was found alone inside a privately owned fenced in area at 1 am and was scaling a 10-foot brick wall in an apparent attempt to avoid apprehension.

Although first-degree trespass is a lesser-included offense of felonious breaking or entering, the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on the trespass offense when the evidence did not permit a reasonable inference that would dispute the State’s contention that the defendants intended to commit a felony. 

First-degree trespass is a lesser included offense of felony breaking or entering.

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