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 defendant in this case was in possession of five guns and two knives on educational property. After threatening a school bus driver and attempting to shoot the first responding deputy, the defendant was taken into custody after a struggle with additional officers. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of attempted first degree murder, five counts of possessing a gun on educational property, and one count each of possessing a knife on educational property, cruelty to animals, and assault by pointing a gun. On appeal, the defendant argued that it was error to enter judgment on five separate counts of possessing a gun on educational property because the language in G.S. 14-269.2(b) which prohibits possessing “any gun” is ambiguous as to whether it authorizes multiple punishments for the simultaneous possession of more than one firearm. The Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that the language was ambiguous, and therefore under the rule of lenity the statute had to be construed as permitting only a single conviction even if the defendant possessed more than one firearm.

The North Carolina Supreme Court granted the state’s petition for discretionary review and affirmed the ruling from the Court of Appeals. Citing State v. Garris, 191 N.C. App. 276 (2008), a case in which the Court of Appeals addressed similar statutory language prohibiting possession of “any firearm” by a convicted felon and held that only one conviction for the possession of multiple firearms was proper, the higher court agreed that the language was ambiguous in this case because it could be construed as referring to either a single or multiple firearms. Pursuant to State v. Smith, 323 N.C. 439 (1988), another case involving ambiguity as to the number of permissible convictions, when a statute fails to “clearly express the General Assembly’s intent as to the allowable unit of prosecution” the “ambiguity should be resolved in favor of lenity toward the defendant.” The court rejected the state’s arguments in favor of a contrary interpretation that would permit multiple convictions, holding that it “would be an act of pure judicial speculation in guessing which interpretation the legislature actually intended.”

Justice Morgan dissented, joined by Justice Newby. The dissent distinguished the cases cited in the majority opinion by arguing that the legislative intent to permit multiple convictions under this particular statute can be inferred from the unique dangers posed by guns on educational property “and the legislature’s clear intent to protect a vulnerable population from potential school shootings.”

In a per curiam decision and for the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, the supreme court reversed State v. Huckelba, 240 N.C. App. 544 (2015). Deciding an issue of first impression, the court of appeals had held that to be guilty of possessing or carrying weapons on educational property under G.S. 14-269.2(b) the State must prove that the defendant “both knowingly possessed or carried a prohibited weapon and knowingly entered educational property with that weapon” and the trial court committed reversible error by failing to so instruct the jury. The dissenting judge concluded that “even accepting that a conviction … requires that a defendant is knowingly on educational property and knowingly in possession of a firearm” any error in the trial court’s instructions to the jury in this respect did not rise to the level of plain error, noting evidence indicating that the defendant knew she was on educational property.

The evidence was sufficient to support the court’s adjudication of a juvenile as delinquent for possession of a weapon on school grounds in violation of G.S. 14-269.2(d). The evidence showed that while on school grounds the juvenile possessed a 3/8-inch thick steel bar forming a C-shaped “link” about 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. The link closed by tightening a ½-inch thick bolt and the object weighed at least 1 pound. The juvenile could slide several fingers through the link so that 3-4 inches of the 3/8-inch thick bar could be held securely across his knuckles and used as a weapon.

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