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., 10/03/2022
E.g., 10/03/2022

The defendant, during his time as a police sergeant in Georgia, used his patrol car computer to run a license plate search in the law enforcement database in exchange for money. The defendant’s conduct was in violation of his department’s policy, which authorized access to database information only for law enforcement purposes. The federal government charged the defendant with a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for “exceeding authorized access.” The defendant was convicted in district court, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The CFAA subjects to criminal liability anyone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” 18 U. S. C. § 1030(a)(2). The term “exceeds authorized access” is defined to mean “to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter.” § 1030(e)(6).

The Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Barrett, did not dispute that the phrase “exceeds authorized access” readily encompasses the defendant’s conduct, but concluded that the defendant did not exceed his authorized access as the CFAA defines that phrase. The Court resolved that the phrase “is not entitled so to obtain” plainly refers to information that a person is not entitled to obtain, specifically by using a computer that he is authorized to access. The Court also noted that a broad interpretation of the statute would criminalize a wide array of commonplace computer activity.

The Court held that the “exceeds authorized access” clause covers those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer to which their computer access does not extend, but does not cover those who have improper motives for obtaining information that is otherwise available to them. Because the defendant had authorization to use the system to retrieve license plate information, he did not exceed authorized access within the meaning of the CFAA, even though he obtained the information for an improper purpose.

Justice Thomas, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, dissented, declining to give the statute any limiting function and choosing to rely on the plain meaning of the phrase.

In this case arising from a high-profile incident where William Joseph Barber was convicted of second-degree trespass for refusing to leave the office area of the General Assembly while leading a protest related to health care policy after being told to leave by security personnel for violating a building rule prohibiting causing disturbances, the Court of Appeals found that the superior court had subject matter jurisdiction to conduct the trial and that the trial was free from error.  

The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the superior court lacked jurisdiction to try him for the misdemeanor because the charging document upon which the State proceeded in superior court was a statement of charges rather than an indictment and Defendant had not first been tried in district court.  Here, the defendant was indicted by a grand jury following a presentment but the prosecutor served a misdemeanor statement of charges on him on the eve of trial and proceeded on that charging document in superior court.  The Court of Appeals noted that the superior court does not have original jurisdiction to try a misdemeanor charged in a statement of charges but went on to explain that because the prosecution in this case was initiated by an indictment, the superior court had subject matter jurisdiction over the misdemeanor.  The Court characterized the statement of charges as a permissible amendment to the indictment (because it did not substantially change the nature of the charged offense) rather than a new charging document.

The Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by disallowing certain evidence that went to his assertion that his prosecution implicated his First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly.  The Court determined that his First Amendment rights were not implicated in the conduct for which he was charged because he was removed from the General Assembly because of the loudness of his speech rather than its content.  The Court then determined that even if his First Amendment rights were implicated, they were not violated as a matter of law.  The Court held that the interior of the General Assembly “is not an unlimited public forum” and therefore “the government may prohibit loud, boisterous conduct on a content-neutral basis that would affect the ability of members and staff to carry on legislative functions.”  It went on to conclude that “Defendant’s First Amendment rights were not violated by the application of the legislative rules that support his conviction” because those “rules serve a significant interest of limiting loud disruptions and [he] has various other channels to make his concerns known and to engage in protests of legislative policies.”

Judge Inman concurred in part and concurred in the result in part by a separate opinion.  Judge Inman applied United State v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968) to determine that the building rule at issue was more than an incidental burden on speech and instead was a time, place, and manner restriction subject to intermediate First Amendment scrutiny.  Judge Inman also concluded, in contrast to her reading of the view in the majority opinion, that the hallway where the defendant was arrested was a designated public forum.  Nevertheless, Judge Inman concurred in the ultimate conclusion that the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated as the building rule was a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction that survived intermediate scrutiny.

The trial court did not commit plain error in its jury instructions on second-degree trespass. The defendant was indicted for remaining on the premises after having been notified not to remain there by officer Wall, “a person in charge of the premises.” The trial court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant guilty if she was told not to remain on the premises “by a person in charge of the premises, a lawful occupant or another authorized person.” The additional words “a lawful occupant, or another authorized person” “do not constitute other disjunctive theories included in the jury instructions.” The court explained: “Examining the statute’s language, it is apparent the list of persons is merely a disjunctive list of descriptors, not additional theories.”

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of second-degree trespass. On appeal the defendant argued that she had implied consent to be on the premises of a DMV office. After the defendant raised her voice and began swearing at a DMV employee, an officer told the defendant to leave, thereby revoking her implied consent to remain.

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for domestic criminal trespass. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the owner, his former girlfriend, never forbade him from entering her residence. The girlfriend ended her relationship with the defendant and ordered him to leave her residence. She affirmed that directive by locking the door and activating her alarm system upon discovering the defendant in her driveway. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that because he had permission to enter a portion of the premises, he had permission to enter the residence itself. The girlfriend granted the defendant limited permission to enter the garage to collect his belongings, but this consent did not extend to the inside of the residence. Thus, the fact that the defendant initially entered a portion of the premises with the owner’s consent did not render him incapable of later trespassing upon a separate part of the premises where his presence was forbidden. Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that because the girlfriend was not physically present when he entered the interior of her home, the statute’s requirement that the premises be “occupied” at the time of the trespass was not satisfied. The court held that this offense does not require the victim to be physically present at the time of the trespass. 

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

A male juvenile’s entry into a school’s female locker room with a door marked “Girl’s Locker Room” was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile’s adjudication of second-degree trespass. The sign was reasonably likely to give the juvenile notice that he was not authorized to go into the locker room. 

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