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 First Amendment shields members of a church from tort liability for picketing near a soldier’s funeral. A jury held members of the Westboro Baptist Church liable for millions of dollars in damages for picketing near a soldier’s funeral service. The picket signs reflected the church’s view that the United States is overly tolerant of sin and that God kills American soldiers as punishment. The picketing occurred in Maryland. Although that state now has a criminal statute in effect restricting picketing at funerals, the statute was not in effect at the time the conduct at issue arose. Noting that statute and that other jurisdictions have enacted similar provisions, the Court stated: “To the extent these laws are content neutral, they raise very different questions from the tort verdict at issue in this case. Maryland’s law, however, was not in effect at the time of the events at issue here, so we have no occasion to consider how it might apply to facts such as those before us, or whether it or other similar regulations are constitutional.” Slip Op. at 11. [Author’s note: In North Carolina, G.S. 14‑288.4(a)(8), criminalizes disorderly conduct at funerals, including military funerals. In a prosecution for conduct prohibited by that statute, the issue that the U.S. Supreme Court did not have occasion to address may be presented for decision].

(1) On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. ___, 818 S.E.2d 324 (2018), the court, over a dissent, reversed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to send a charge of disorderly conduct, based upon the juvenile’s act of throwing a chair in a school cafeteria, to the jury.  The court first addressed the question of whether the juvenile delinquency petition sufficiently alleged a violation of G.S. 14-288.4.  Finding that the State followed the “true and safe rule” by substantially employing the terminology of the statute in the petition, the court found it sufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction to the district court.  Though the petition did not specifically cite the subdivision of the statute that the juvenile was alleged to have violated, the court found that the petition’s allegation that the juvenile had thrown a chair toward another student “averred that the juvenile was delinquent for a violation of [G.S. 14-288.4(a)(1)].”  Subsection (a)(1) describes a form of disorderly conduct that occurs when a person “engages in fighting or other violent conduct or in conduct creating the threat of imminent fighting or other violence.” 

(2) Having found the petition sufficient, the court went on to conclude that evidence that the juvenile threw a chair at his brother across the cafeteria where other students were present, when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, was substantial evidence that the juvenile “engag[ed] in violent conduct” in violation of the statute.

A dissenting judge said that the evidence could “fairly be said to raise a suspicion that [the juvenile] engaged in violent conduct, but no more than a suspicion.”  The dissenting judge would have held that the evidence was insufficient to send the charge to the jury.

The defendant was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer based on events that occurred in the parking lot outside her daughter’s high school. A drug sniffing dog alerted to the defendant’s car, which her daughter had driven to the school. The defendant came to the school to observe the search of her vehicle. She remained close to the officers who were conducting the search, used profanity throughout the encounter, and refused to comply with officers’ requests for her to back up and away. The defendant said to a class of students walking through the parking lot on the way to their weightlifting class, “‘[y]ou-all about to see a black woman – an unarmed black woman get shot.’” Slip op. at 3.

While officers were searching the car, the defendant walked out of an officer’s view for about three seconds. She then refused to stand precisely where she was instructed to stand, telling officers, “you can keep an eye on me from right here.” Slip op. at 4. One of the officers asked her, “‘are you refusing to come back here?’” Id. The defendant said, “’I’m not breaking no law.’” Id. The officer then arrested her. The defendant asked what she was being arrested for and told the officers she had broken no law.

At the close of the evidence in her trial for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges for insufficient evidence.  The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was convicted.  She appealed.

(1) The Court of Appeals determined that the defendant’s conduct, viewed in the light most favorable to the State, was not disorderly conduct in violation of G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6) as it did not constitute a substantial interference with and disruption and confusion of the operation of the school in its program of instruction and training of its students. Defendant’s behavior did not cause students to be directed around the area of the search — the search alone required that redirection. And the defendant did not disrupt classroom instruction when she spoke to students as they were walking through the parking lot on the way to class. Finally, her use of profanity did not interfere with students by drawing their attention to the commotion; that would have happened anyway given the presence of the police officer and the dog.

The only interference with a school function caused by defendant that the appellate court identified was the class of high school students hearing profanity during their normal walk to class. The Court held that alone did not constitute a substantial interference.

(2) The Court of Appeals held that there was not substantial evidence to show that the defendant resisted, delayed, or obstructed a sheriff’s deputy in discharging his official duties or that she acted willfully and unlawfully. First, the Court noted that merely remonstrating with an officer or criticizing or questioning (in an orderly manner) an officer who is performing his duty does not amount to obstructing or delaying an officer in the performance of his duties. The Court noted that the defendant’s actions and words were not aggressive or suggestive of violence. Instead, she orderly (if loudly) remonstrated by remaining where she could see the officer executing the search. Moreover, the Court concluded that the evidence did not indicate that the defendant stood near her car with a purpose to do so without authority or careless of whether she had the right to stand there. In fact, on the scene, she stated, “‘I’m not breaking no law’” when she was told she needed to return to the deputy and then was arrested. Slip op. at 4. The Court thought it clear that even after the officers asked the defendant to move several times, she believed she had the right to stand and observe the search, so long as the deputy could see her and she was not obstructing the other officer’s search of the vehicle. The Court held that a reasonable mind would not conclude that the evidence supported a finding that the defendant acted purposely and deliberately, indicating a purpose to act whether she had the right or not.

In the context of deciding whether a manifest injustice existed that would warrant the court’s invocation of Rule 2 to consider on appeal an issue that was otherwise waived in this juvenile delinquency case, the court determined that sufficient evidence supported a delinquency adjudication on grounds that the juvenile engaged in disorderly conduct. The juvenile encouraged another middle school student to pull the fire alarm on the last day of school. Because the other student complied and the alarm was sounded, the juvenile’s actions disrupted, disturbed and interfered with the teaching of students and disturbed the peace, order or discipline at the middle school within the meaning of G.S. 14-288.4(6).

State v. Dale, 245 N.C. App. 497 (Feb. 16, 2016)

The court rejected the defendant’s constitutional challenge to G.S. 14-132(a)(1), proscribing disorderly conduct in a public building or facility. Because the North Carolina Supreme Court has already decided that a statute “that is virtually identical” to the one at issue is not void for vagueness, the court found itself bound to uphold the constitutionality of the challenge the statute. 

The evidence was sufficient to establish that a juvenile engaged in disorderly conduct by disrupting students (G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6)), where the juvenile’s conduct caused a substantial interference with, disruption of, and confusion of the operation of the school. The juvenile’s conduct “merited intervention by several teachers, the assistant principal, as well as the school resource officer” and “caused such disruption and disorder . . . that a group of special needs students missed their buses.” 

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