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

There was sufficient evidence in a case where the defendant was convicted of perpetrating a hoax on law enforcement officers by use of a false bomb or other device in violation of G.S. 14-69.2(a). Specifically, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant concealed, placed or displayed the fake bomb in his vehicle and of his intent to perpetrate a hoax.

In this impersonating a law enforcement officer and possession of a weapon of mass death and destruction case, the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that “flash bang” grenades did not constitute weapons of mass death and destruction as defined in G.S. 14-288.8(c)(1).  The defendant had argued that the intended purpose of a flash bang grenade is “to merely stun, disable or disorient others.”  The Supreme Court examined the language of G.S. 14-288(c)(1), which explicitly provides that “[a]ny explosive or incendiary . . . [g]renade” is a weapon of mass death and destruction, and determined that the General Assembly did not intend to differentiate between different types of grenades for purposes of the offense.  The Court of Appeals erred by engaging in a fact-intensive examination of the extent to which any particular weapon is capable of causing mass death and destruction, and instead should have simply referred to the “straightforward list of [prohibited] weapons,” which includes any “explosive or incendiary” grenade.

The defendant was convicted at trial of impersonating an officer and possession of a weapon of mass destruction (flashbang grenades) in Onslow County. On appeal, the Court of Appeals determined that flashbang grenades did not qualify as a weapon of mass destruction and vacated that conviction. The N.C. Supreme Court reversed on that point and remanded for the Court of Appeals to consider the defendant’s other arguments. The defendant filed a new brief with the court, arguing the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury about the exception for lawful possession of weapons of mass destruction. See G.S. § 14-288.8(b)(3). The defendant contended that he presented evidence that he qualified for the exception as a person “under contract with the United States” and it was error to fail to instruct the jury on the exception. While the defendant challenged jury instructions in his original brief to the Court of Appeals, he did not raise this issue. He therefore asked the court to invoke Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to review this argument, and the court granted that request.

At trial, the defendant presented evidence that he was an active-duty U.S. Marine serving as a weapons technician, and that he came into possession of the grenades as part of his duties in that capacity. The State did not contest this evidence at trial, but argued on appeal that the defendant failed to promptly return the weapons to the Marine Corps and that the defendant was “on a detour” (and not acting in his capacity as a solider) at the time of the offense. “Even if the State’s argument is true, this would not overcome Defendant’s properly admitted testimony and his right for the jury to resolve this issue.” Carey Slip op. at 8. The trial court had a duty to instruct the jury on all substantial features of the case, including the defense of lawful possession raised by the defendant’s evidence, and its failure to do so was plain error. The judgment of conviction for possession of a weapon of mass destruction was therefore vacated and the matter remanded for a new trial on that offense.

Judge Young dissented. According to his opinion, the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision remanding the case was limited to “the defendant’s remaining challenges” – those that were raised but not decided in the defendant’s original appeal to the Court of Appeals. The mandate therefore did not include new arguments that had not previously been raised at all, and Judge Young would not have considered the lawful possession argument.

The evidence was sufficient to support multiple counts of possession of a weapon of mass death and destruction and possession of a firearm by a felon. The defendant had argued that the evidence was insufficient to support multiple charges because it showed that a single weapon was used, and did not show that the possession on each subsequent date of offense was a new and separate possession. The court distinguished State v. Wiggins, 210 N.C. App. 128  (Mar. 1, 2011), on grounds that in that case, the offenses were committed in close geographic and temporal proximity. Here, the court determined, the offenses occurred in nine different locations on ten different days over the course of a month. It concluded: “While the evidence tended to show that defendant used the same weapon during each armed robbery, the robberies all occurred on different days and in different locations. Because each possession of the weapon was separate in time and location, . . . the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to dismiss the multiple weapons possession charges.”

There was sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant constructively possessed a weapon of mass death and destruction. Following law from other jurisdictions, the court held that “constructive possession may be established by evidence showing the defendant’s ownership of the contraband.” Because the evidence showed that the defendant owned the sawed-off shotgun at issue, it was sufficient to show possession of a weapon of mass death and destruction.

In a prosecution under G.S. 14-288.8 (manufacture, assembly, possession, storage, transportation, sale, purchase, delivery, or acquisition of weapon of mass death and destruction), the State is not required to prove that the defendant knew of the physical characteristics of the weapon that made it unlawful.

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