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., 11/27/2021
E.g., 11/27/2021

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.

The defendant was found guilty by a Cleveland County jury of impaired driving and resisting a public officer and was found responsible for possession of open container. He appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to dismiss, the denial of his mid-trial motion to suppress, an evidentiary ruling, and alleging constitutional violations for lost evidence. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed.

(1) The defendant claimed there was insufficient evidence that he operated the vehicle while impaired. As to operation, the defendant was found asleep behind the wheel with the car running in the middle of the road and had a bottle of vodka between his legs. No passengers were present, and the defendant asked the officer if he could move the car, revving the engine several times. He also used the driver side door to exit the vehicle. This was sufficient to establish operation. “An individual who is asleep behind the wheel of a car with the engine running is in actual physical control of the car, thus driving the car within the meaning of the statute.”  As to impairment, while the defendant’s blood alcohol content was only 0.07, the defendant’s blood revealed the presence of marijuana, amphetamine and methamphetamine. In addition to the blood test, the defendant “failed” horizontal and vertical gaze nystagmus tests, refused a breath test, had a strong odor of alcohol, was “confused and disoriented,” and exhibited other signs of impairment. This was sufficient evidence of impairment.

The defendant also claimed there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for resisting a public officer. Specifically, he argued that he was merely confused and in pain at the time of his interactions with the officers, and that this was the cause of his “negative interactions” with the officers. The court rejected this argument, noting: “The conduct proscribed under [N.C. Gen. Stat. §] 14-223 is not limited to resisting an arrest but includes any resistance, delay, or obstruction of an officer in discharge of his duties.” Here, the defendant committed multiple acts that obstructed the officer’s duties. The defendant would not roll down his window when asked by the officer, he repeatedly tried to start his car after being commanded to stop, he refused a breath test at least 10 times, and repeatedly put his hands in his pockets during the nystagmus testing after being instructed not to do so. He also refused to get into the patrol car once arrested and refused to voluntarily allow his blood to be drawn after a search warrant for it was obtained. In the court’s words:

Through these actions and his inactions, Defendant directly opposed the officers in their efforts to discharge their investigative duties of identifying him, speaking with him, and performing field sobriety tests. Thus, Defendant resisted the officers within the meaning of the statute.

The motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence of resisting a public officer was therefore properly denied.

The defendant also claimed his motion to dismiss for insufficiency as to the possession of open container of alcohol should have been granted. He pointed out that the bottle found in his car was not missing much alcohol and the officer admitted to emptying the bottle on the side of the road. Rejecting this argument, the court observed:

[T]he amount of alcohol missing from the container is irrelevant for purposes of this offense, because a contained is opened ‘[i]f the seal on [the] container of alcoholic beverages has been broken.’ Additionally, the fact that [the officer] poured out the contents of the container goes to the weight of the evidence, not its sufficiency.

The trial court therefore did not err in denying the motion for insufficient evidence for this offense.

(2) As to the suppression motion, the issue was preserved despite the motion being untimely because the court considered and ruled on the motion. The defendant argued that the forcible blood draw violated his rights to be free to unreasonable force. He did not challenge the validity of the search warrant authorizing the blood draw. Claims of excessive force are evaluated under the Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard. Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). “Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is ‘reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of ‘the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests’ against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Id. at 22 (citations omitted). Here, the officer had a valid warrant (obtained after the defendant’s repeated refusals to provide a breath sample), and the blood draw was performed by medical professionals at a hospital. Any acts of force by police to obtain the blood sample were the result of the defendant’s own resistance. The court observed:

Defendant had no right to resist the execution of a search warrant, and in fact, his actions rose to the level of criminal conduct under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223, for resisting a public officer. . . Defendant ‘cannot resist a lawful warrant and be rewarded with the exclusion of the evidence.’

The force used to effectuate the blood draw was reasonable under the circumstances and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The defendant also argued that his motion to suppress should have been granted for failure of the State to show that his blood was drawn by a qualified professional. G.S. 20-139.1(c) provides that doctor, registered nurse, EMT, or other qualified person shall take the blood sample. “An officer’s trial testimony regarding the qualifications of the person who withdrew the blood is sufficient evidence of the person’s qualifications.” Here, the officer testified that a nurse drew the blood, although he could not identify her by name and no other proof of her qualifications was admitted.  This was sufficient evidence that the blood was drawn by qualified person, and this argument was rejected.

(3) The trial court admitted into evidence the bottle found between the defendant’s legs at the time of arrest. According to the defendant, this was an abuse of discretion because the officers admitted to destroying the content of the bottle (by pouring it out) before trial. The defendant argued this was prejudicial and required a new trial. Because the defendant offered no authority that admission of the bottle into evidence was error, this argument was treated as abandoned and not considered.

(4) During the arrest, the stopping officer forgot to turn on his body camera and only began recording the investigation mid-way through. The officer also failed to record interactions with the defendant during processing after arrest in violation of department policy. The trial court found no constitutional violation. The defendant complained on appeal that the “intentional suppression” of this camera footage violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and sought dismissal or a new trial. However, the defendant only argued the Fourteenth Amendment Brady violation on appeal. His Sixth Amendment argument was therefore abandoned and waived.

As to the alleged Brady violation, the defendant did not seek dismissal in the trial court. “We are therefore precluded from reviewing the denial of any such motion, and Defendant’s request that this Court ‘dismiss the prosecution against him’ is itself dismissed.” However, the defendant’s argument at suppression that the failure to record the blood draw violated due process and warranted suppression was preserved. Under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), suppression of material evidence relevant to guilt or punishment violates due process, regardless of the government’s good or bad faith. Here though, there was no evidence that the State suppressed anything—the video footage was simply not created. Brady rights apply to materials within the possession of the State. “Defendant essentially asks this Court to extend Brady’s holding to include evidence not collected by an officer, which we decline to do.” There was also no indication that the video footage would have been helpful to the defendant. The court therefore rejected this claim. “Although the officers’ failure to record the interaction violated departmental policy, such violation did not amount to a denial of Defendant’s due process rights under Brady in this case.”

The defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony and resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer. The State dismissed the resisting charge before trial, and the defendant filed a motion to suppress the firearm. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress, the defendant did not object to the introduction of the firearm at trial, and the defendant was convicted. Because the defendant failed to object to the firearm at trial, the Court of Appeals applied plain error review to the denial of his suppression motion.

(1) The evidence showed that the police chief received a call about possible drug activity involving two black males outside a store and radioed the information to patrol officers. A patrol officer saw two men who matched the description walking on the sidewalk, and he parked his marked patrol car. The patrol officer testified that the two men saw him and continued walking. When the officer yelled for the defendant to stop, he looked at the officer and then ran. Another officer eventually located the defendant and arrested him for resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer.

The Court of Appeals found that the evidence did not support the trial judge’s findings of fact in its denial of the defendant’s suppression motion. Thus, the trial judge found the area had been the scene of several drug investigations and shootings in the previous months, but the police chief testified that for approximately seven years he could recall three arrests for drugs and marijuana and did not testify that they took place in the past several months. The patrol officer testified that he had responded to one shooting in the area but didn’t indicate when the shooting occurred and since then had responded to loitering and loud music issues. The trial judge also found that the defendant walked away “briskly” when he first saw the patrol officer, but the officer testified that the defendant was just walking down the sidewalk. The officer’s later testimony at trial that the defendant kept walking away faster and faster was not before the judge at the suppression hearing and could not be used to support the judge’s findings of fact. The Court found next that the trial judge’s supported findings of fact did not support his conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant initially or probable cause to arrest for resisting. Thus, even assuming the incident took place in a high crime area, the defendant’s presence there and his walking away from the officer did not provide reasonable suspicion to stop. (The Court noted that the patrol officer was unaware of the tip received by the police chief and therefore did not consider the tip in measuring the reasonableness of the stopping officer’s suspicion.) Because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop, the Court found that the defendant was not fleeing from a lawful investigatory stop and the trial judge erred in concluding that there was probable cause to arrest the defendant for resisting.

(2) When the second officer detained the defendant, the defendant did not have a firearm on him. Rather, a K-9 unit recovered the firearm underneath a shed along the defendant’s “flight path.” The Court of Appeals found that the defendant voluntarily abandoned the firearm before he was seized by law enforcement officers. The evidence was therefore not the fruit of an unlawful seizure, and the Fourth Amendment did not bar its admission at trial.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of resisting an officer. The defendant argued that the State presented insufficient evidence that the officer was discharging a duty of his office. Here, the officer was discharging a duty falling within the scope of G.S. 20-49 and 20-49.1. Specifically, commanding the defendant to leave the premises of a DMV office and arresting her when she failed to comply with that command. Additionally, under G.S. 15A-401 an officer may arrest without a warrant any person the officer has probable cause to believe has committed a criminal offense in the officer’s presence. When the defendant refused to leave the DMV office, the officer had probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a crime.

The indictment properly charged resisting a public officer. On appeal the defendant argued that the indictment was invalid because it failed to sufficiently allege the officer’s public office. The indictment alleged that the defendant “did resist, delay and obstruct Agent B.L. Wall, a public officer holding the office of North Carolina State Law Enforcement Agent, by refusing commands to leave the premises, assaulting the officer, refusing verbal commands during the course of arrest for trespassing and assault, and continuing to resist arrest.” Count I of the indictment which charged the separate offense of assault on a government officer, identified the officer as “Agent B.L. Wall, a state law enforcement officer employed by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.” Both counts, taken together, provided the defendant sufficient information to identify the office in question.

     The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to fully and clearly articulate a duty that the officer was discharging. After noting the language in Count II, the court noted that Count III, alleging trespass, asserted that the defendant remained on the premises of the specified DMV office “after having been notified not to remain there by a person in charge of the premises.” The court held that “the charges” specifically state the duties the officer was attempting to discharge, namely: commanding the defendant to leave the premises and arresting or attempting to rest her when she failed to comply.

     The court went on to hold that the officer was acting within the scope of his duties at the time. It noted that G.S. 20-49.1(a) “contains an expansive grant of power,” vesting DMV inspectors with the same powers vested in law enforcement officers by statute or common law. Thus, the officer was acting under the authority given to him under the statute at the time and was acting within the scope of his duties. The court concluded: “Even though the indictment could have been be more specific, we decline to require that it be hyper-technical.”

In re T.T.E., ___ N.C. App. ___, 818 S.E.2d 324 (July 17, 2018) rev’d in part on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, 831 S.E.2d 293 (Aug 16 2019)

There was insufficient evidence to support an adjudication of delinquency resisting a public officer. A school resource officer testified that he saw the juvenile throw a chair in the cafeteria. After throwing the chair, the juvenile ran out of the cafeteria. The officer followed and without calling out to the juvenile, grabbed him from behind. The juvenile initially cursed when the officer caught him and then told the officer that he was playing with his brother. There was insufficient evidence of resisting an officer. The officer testified that he never told the juvenile to stop before he grabbed him. In fact he testified that he “kind of, snuck up on him” and then grabbed him. On these facts the juvenile did not know or have reasonable grounds to believe that the victim was a public officer until after the officer stopped him. There is also no evidence that the juvenile resisted, delayed, or obstructed the officer in discharging or attempting to discharge a duty once he realized that an officer had grabbed him. He did not hit, fight, or physically engage with the officer. While the State focused on the fact that the juvenile yelled “no” and cursed when the officer grabbed him, his language does not rise to the level of resisting an officer, particularly as the statements appear to have been made when he was grabbed and before he knew who was grabbing him. Additionally, saying “no” and cursing does not show that the juvenile acted willfully and unlawfully, without justification or excuse. Most people would have a similar reaction grabbed from behind by an unknown person.

The evidence was sufficient to sustain a conviction for resisting, delaying, and obstructing an officer (RDO). The court rejected the argument that the evidence was insufficient evidence to show that the defendant delayed or intended to delay an officer. The officer responded to a Walmart store, where a loss prevention officer had detained the defendant for theft. When the officer asked the defendant for an identification card, the defendant produced a North Carolina ID. The officer then radioed dispatch, asking for information related to the license number on the identification. Dispatch reported that the name associated with the identification number different from the one listed on the identification card. The officer asked the defendant if the numbers were correct, and the defendant confirmed that they were. Upon further questioning the defendant noted that there may have been a missing “8” at the end of the identification number. The defendant confirmed that no other numbers were missing. However dispatch again reported that the name did not match the new identification number. The officer then asked dispatch to search using the defendant’s name and date of birth. The search revealed that the defendant’s identification number also included a “0.” The defendant was charged with RDO based on verbally giving an incorrect driver’s license identification number. The evidence showed that the defendant’s conduct delayed the officer and that she intended such a delay. The court noted, in part, that the officer testified, based on his experience, that individuals being investigated for charges similar to those at issue scratch numbers off the of their identification cards to create difficulty in identification.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of resisting an officer. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the officer was not discharging a lawful duty at the time of the stop because he did not have reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed a crime. Having held otherwise in another portion of the opinion, the court rejected this argument. 

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of resisting, delaying, or obstructing a public officer where the evidence showed that the defendant refused to provide the officer with his identification so that the officer could issue a citation for a seatbelt violation. The court held: “failure to provide information about one’s identity during a lawful stop can constitute resistance, delay, or obstruction within the meaning of [G.S.] 14-223.” It reasoned that unlike failing to provide a social security number, the “Defendant’s refusal to provide identifying information did hinder [the] Officer . . . from completing the seatbelt citation.” It continued:

          There are, of course, circumstances where one would be excused from providing his or her identity to an officer, and, therefore, not subject to prosecution under N.C. Gen. Stat. §14-223. For instance, the Fifth Amendment’s protection against compelled self-incrimination might justify a refusal to provide such information; however, as the United States Supreme Court has observed, “[a]nswering a request to disclose a name is likely to be so insignificant in the scheme of things as to be incriminating only in unusual circumstances.” Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Dist. Court of Nev., 542 U.S. 177, 191, 124 S. Ct. 2451, 2461, 159 L. Ed.2d 292, 306 (2004). In the present case, Defendant has not made any showing that he was justified in refusing to provide his identity to Officer Benton.

There was insufficient evidence to support a conviction of resisting an officer in a case that arose out of the defendant’s refusal to allow the officer to search him pursuant to a search warrant. Because the arresting officer did not read or produce a copy of the warrant to the defendant prior to seeking to search the defendant's person as required by G.S. 15A-252, the officer was not engaged in lawful conduct and therefore the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction.

(1) In a resisting, delaying, obstructing case, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury that an arrest for indecent exposure would be a lawful arrest where the defendant never claimed at trial that he was acting in response to an unlawful arrest, nor did the evidence support a reasonable inference that he did so. Although the defendant argued on appeal that the arrest was not in compliance with G.S. 15A-401, the evidence indicated otherwise. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he willfully resisted arrest. Responding to a call about indecent exposure, the officer found the defendant in his car with his shorts at his thighs and his genitals exposed. When the defendant exited his vehicle his shorts fell to the ground. The defendant refused to give the officer his arm or put his arm behind his back. According to the defendant he was merely trying to pull up his pants. 

(1) The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer during a 10-15 second incident. Officers observed members of the Latin Kings gang yelling gang slogans and signaling gang signs to a group of rival gang members. To prevent conflict, the officers approached the Latin Kings. The defendant stepped between the officer and the gang members, saying, “[t]hey was (sic) waving at me[,]” and “you wanna arrest me ‘cuz I’m running for City Council.” The officer told the defendant to “get away” and that he was “talking to them, not talking to you.” The defendant responded, “[y]ou don’t gotta talk to them! They (sic) fine!” Because the defendant refused the officer’s instructions to step away, there was sufficient evidence that he obstructed and delayed the officers. Furthermore, there was sufficient evidence of willfulness. Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that his conduct was justified on grounds that he acted out of concern for a minor in his care. The court found no precedent for the argument that an individual’s willful delay or obstruction of an officer’s lawful investigation is justified because a minor is involved. In fact, case law suggest otherwise. (2) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for a jury instruction stating that merely remonstrating an officer does not amount to obstructing. The defendant’s conduct went beyond mere remonstrating.

The defendant’s flight from a consensual encounter with the police did not constitute probable cause to arrest him for resisting an officer.

State v. Joe, 213 N.C. App. 148 (July 5, 2011) vacated on other grounds, 365 N.C. 538 (Apr 13 2012)

There was insufficient evidence of resisting an officer when the defendant fled from a consensual encounter. When the officer approached an apartment complex on a rainy, chilly day, the defendant was standing outside, dressed appropriately in a jacket with the hood on his head. Although the officer described the complex as a known drug area, he had no specific information about drug activity on that day. When the defendant saw the officer’s van approach, “his eyes got big” and he walked behind the building. The officer followed to engage in a consensual conversation with him. When the officer rounded the corner, he saw the defendant run. The officer chased, yelling several times that he was a police officer. The officer eventually found the defendant squatting beside an air conditioning unit and arrested him for resisting.

The trial court erred by denying the juvenile’s motion to dismiss a charge of resisting a public officer when no reasonable suspicion supported a stop of the juvenile (the activity that the juvenile allegedly resisted). An anonymous caller reported to law enforcement “two juveniles in Charlie district . . . walking, supposedly with a shotgun or a rifle” in “an open field behind a residence.” A dispatcher relayed the information to Officer Price, who proceeded to an open field behind the residence. Price saw two juveniles “pop their heads out of the wood line” and look at him. Neither was carrying firearms. When Price called out for them to stop, they ran around the residence and down the road.

There was insufficient evidence of resisting an officer. The State argued that the defendant resisted by exiting a home through the back door after officers announced their presence with a search warrant. “We find no authority for the State’s presumption that a person whose property is not the subject of a search warrant may not peacefully leave the premises after the police knock and announce if the police have not asked him to stay.” 

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of felony failure to appear. To survive a motion to dismiss a charge of felonious failure to appear, the State must present substantial evidence that (1) the defendant was released on bail pursuant to G.S. Article 26 in connection with a felony charge or, pursuant to section G.S. 15A-536, after conviction in the superior court; (2) the defendant was required to appear before a court or judicial official; (3) the defendant did not appear as required; and (4) the defendant's failure to appear was willful. In this case, the defendant signed an Appearance Bond for Pretrial Release which included the condition that the defendant appear in the action whenever required. The defendant subsequently failed to appear on the second day of trial. The court further held that the defendant, who failed to appear on felony charges, was not entitled to an instruction on misdemeanor failure to appear even though the felony charges resulted in misdemeanor convictions.

The defendant in this Wake County case was convicted at trial of accessory after the fact to sexual abuse by a substitute parent, felony obstruction of justice based on her failure to report the abuse, and an additional count of felony obstruction based on her interference with the attempts of investigators to interview her daughter (the victim). A divided Court of Appeals initially found the evidence insufficient to support the accessory after the fact conviction, as well as the felony obstruction based on the denial of access by law enforcement to the victim. A divided North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed as to the accessory conviction, but reversed as to the felony obstruction, finding the evidence sufficient (summarized here). The court remanded the matter to the Court of Appeals for it to consider whether the evidence was sufficient for felony or misdemeanor obstruction—specifically, whether the evidence supported a finding that the defendant acted with “deceit and intent to defraud” in denying investigators access to her daughter. An again-divided Court of Appeals determined the evidence supported felony obstruction (summarized here), and the defendant again appealed.

The record showed that the defendant actively obstructed multiple interviews of her daughter by investigators and affirmatively encouraged the daughter to lie to them. While these obstructive acts alone did not establish the element of deceit, there was evidence in the record tending to show that the defendant knew the allegations were true and acted to protect her husband. This evidence included an early admission to investigators acknowledging probable abuse of her daughter; the defendant’s knowledge of her husband’s practice of giving the victim full-body massages; continued acts of obstruction even after being made aware of inappropriate emails sent by her husband to her daughter; and statements by the defendant to her daughter that the allegations would destroy the family. Additionally, the defendant acted to protect her husband even after observing her husband in the act of abusing the child by destroying the bed sheets and by failing to report the abuse to a detective she met with later the same day. Finally, she also attempted flight and instructed her child to not go with police at the time of her arrest (among other circumstances indicating an intent to deceive). This was “more than sufficient” to show the defendant acted with a deceitful motive, and the Court of Appeals was unanimously affirmed.

The defendant’s husband sexually abused the defendant’s daughter. (The husband was not the daughter’s biological father, but he had adopted her after he married her mother.) The daughter told an aunt about the abuse. This led to law enforcement and DSS investigations. However, the defendant initially did not believe her daughter and instead pressured her to recant her allegations. Even after walking in on the abuse in progress, the defendant sought to prevent her daughter from cooperating with authorities. The defendant was charged with (a) being an accessory after the fact to sexual activity by a substitute parent, based on her failure to report the abuse that she personally observed; (b) felony obstruction of justice for pressuring her daughter to recant; and (c) felony obstruction of justice for denying law enforcement and DSS access to her daughter during the investigation. She was convicted on all counts and appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support each conviction. The case eventually reached the state supreme court, which ruled: (1) There was insufficient evidence to support the accessory after the fact conviction. “[T]he indictment alleged that [the defendant] did not report [her husband’s] sexual abuse of [her daughter, and] a mere failure to report is not sufficient to make someone an accessory after the fact under North Carolina law.” The court distinguished failure to report a crime from affirmative concealment of a crime. The court also “decline[d] to consider any of defendant’s other acts not alleged in this indictment” that might have supported the accessory after the fact charge. (2) There was sufficient evidence to support the defendant’s conviction of obstruction of justice for denying the authorities access to the daughter during the investigation. The court noted that the defendant interrupted one interview of the daughter by investigators, was present and “talked over” the daughter in several others, and generally “successfully induced [the daughter] to refuse to speak with investigating officers and social workers.” The court remanded the matter to the court of appeals for further consideration of whether there was sufficient evidence that the obstruction was felonious by virtue of an intent to deceive or defraud. (The other count of obstruction of justice, for pressuring the daughter to recant, had been affirmed by the court of appeals and was not before the supreme court.) Two dissenting Justices would have found sufficient evidence of accessory after the fact.

The defendant, the former District Attorney for Person and Caldwell Counties, was tried for obtaining property by false pretenses, conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, aiding and abetting obtaining property by false pretenses, three counts of obstruction of justice, and failure to discharge the duties of his office. The jury acquitted on one count of felony obstruction and the conspiracy count but convicted on the remaining charges (with the exception that the jury returned a verdict of guilty of misdemeanor obstruction on one of the remaining felony obstruction counts). The trial court subsequently arrested judgment on the aiding and abetting obtaining property conviction. The charges stemmed from a scheme whereby the defendant and another elected District Attorney hired each other’s wives to work in each other’s offices. Under this arrangement, both wives were wrongfully paid for working hours that they had not actually worked.

(1) There was insufficient evidence to support the conviction for obtaining property by false pretenses. The State alleged that the defendant acted in concert with the employee who improperly submitted work hours. Acting in concert requires the actual or constructive presence of the defendant at the scene of the crime. “A person is constructively present during the commission of a crime if he is close enough to provide assistance if needed and to encourage the actual execution of the crime.” Slip op. at 15 (citation omitted). Although the employee at issue worked for the defendant, she was allowed to work at her husband’s office in another district. The defendant was therefore not physically present when the fraud of reporting unworked hours occurred. The State argued that the defendant was constructively present, pointing out that the fraudulent hours were approved by a supervisor at the defendant’s direction. The court rejected this argument, noting that the approval of hours occurred at a much later time than when the hours were submitted. While “actual distance is not determinative, . . . the accused must be near enough to render assistance if need be and to encourage the actual perpetration of the crime.” Id. at 19 (citation omitted). Here, the defendant was not in the same county as the employee who submitted the fraudulent hours at the time they were submitted. The fact that the employee could have called the defendant for help with the crime at the time was not enough to satisfy the constructive presence element. “To hold the theory of acting in concert would be satisfied merely where ‘remote assistance’ is possible would broadly expand the universe of criminal conduct under this theory.” Id. at 22. Thus, the defendant’s conviction for acting in concert to obtain property by false pretenses was vacated for insufficient evidence [although the trial court was instructed on remand to reinstate the judgment previously arrested for aiding and abetting obtaining property].

(2) There was also insufficient evidence of felony obstruction of justice. That offense requires the State to prove that the defendant actually impeded the administration of justice. The indictment alleged that the defendant made false statements to an SBI investigator concerning the employee. One of the defendant’s statements at issue was “at most misleading, and not false,” as it was a misrepresentation by omission and not affirmatively a false statement as the indictment charged. There was sufficient evidence that another of the defendant’s statements to the investigator was false, but there was no evidence that this statement actually obstructed the course of the investigation. The defendant responded truthfully to some of the investigator’s questions about the employee, which actually facilitated the investigation. The defendant was never directly asked whether the employee was in fact performing work for the defendant. “To support a conviction for obstruction of justice, the State must establish substantial evidence for every element of the crime, including that the act in question ‘obstructed justice[.]’” Id. at 27 (citation omitted). The motion to dismiss for felony obstruction of justice therefore should have been granted, and that conviction was vacated. 

(3) The defendant argued that the trial court improperly excluded testimony regarding an email sent by an assistant to the Administrative Office of the Courts at the defendant’s direction. At trial, the defendant argued that the email fell within the business records exception to the prohibition on hearsay, that the email was simply not hearsay, and that the State opened the door to the admission of the email through its questions of the witness. On appeal, the defendant argued that the email should have been admitted because it was a directive to his employee, pointing to cases holding that commands are not hearsay because they are not offered for the truth of the matter (rather, they are offered to show that the command was given). It was not apparent from context that the defendant was arguing for the email’s admission as a command, and the parties and trial court did not address that argument. Since this argument was not made at the trial level, it was not preserved and was waived on appeal.

(4) The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury on the specific misrepresentations for the obtaining property by false pretenses offenses. “[A] jury instruction that is not specific to the misrepresentation in the indictment is acceptable so long as the court finds ‘no variance between the indictment, the proof presented at trial, and the instructions to the jury.’” Id. at 34 (citation omitted). The defendant argued that the evidence showed alternative false representations that the jury could have improperly relied on in rending its verdict of guilty for the two offenses. Reviewing the evidence, the court rejected this argument. “We hold the trial court did not err, nor plainly err, in failing to give an instruction about the misrepresentation alleged in the indictment.” Id. at 37.

The defendant was convicted of accessory after the fact to a felony and felony obstruction of justice in Cleveland County relating to her efforts to assist a murder suspect (later convicted of second-degree murder) evade capture. (1) The defendant argued the statutory offense of accessory after the fact abrogated the common law offense of obstruction of justice in part, such that she could not be convicted of both. The North Carolina Supreme Court previously rejected this argument inIn re Kivett, 309 N.C. 635, 670 (1983), which defeated this claim. The defendant also argued that the two offenses were the same for purposes of double jeopardy, in that they are greater- and lesser-included offenses of each other. This argument has also been rejected by the prior decisions of the Court of Appeals, as the offenses have different elements: “This Court has expressly held that accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice do not constitute the same offense, and that neither is a lesser-included offense of the other.” Cruz Slip op. at 9 (citation omitted). Substantial evidence supported each instruction as well. As to the accessory conviction, the evidence showed the defendant provided personal assistance to the suspect while knowing he was wanted for murder. As to the obstruction conviction, the defendant lied to detectives about seeing or communicating with the suspect and deleted information from her phone showing she was in communication with him after police expressed an interest in her phone. This evidence was sufficient to support the instructions for each offense and the trial court did not err by so instructing the jury.

(2) The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury that if the defendant believed the killing was done in self-defense, she could not be convicted of accessory after the fact. Even if the defendant believed the killing was justified, the evidence here was sufficient to raise “a reasonable inference that the [D]efendant knew precisely what had taken place,” as she had notice of the suspect’s outstanding arrest warrant for murder at the time of her assistance to the defendant and her deceptions to law enforcement. The convictions were therefore unanimously affirmed.

Over a dissent, the court held that there was sufficient evidence in this common law obstruction of justice case that the defendant’s obstructive acts were done “with deceit and intent to defraud” such that under G.S. 14-3(b) the offense was punishable as a felony rather than as a misdemeanor.  The defendant was told by another family member that the defendant’s daughter was the victim of sexual abuse by the defendant’s husband, who was the daughter’s adoptive stepfather.  The State’s evidence showed that despite believing that abuse had occurred, the defendant engaged in a course of conduct whereby she denied child protective services and sheriff’s department investigators access to her daughter and otherwise frustrated their investigation.  The defendant intervened in the investigation by remaining within hearing distance or being present during “almost every interview” investigators conducted with her daughter, not permitting her daughter to answer certain questions and answering for her during one interview, sending text messages to her daughter and physically interrupting another interview, “constantly” influencing her daughter’s statements in interviews by verbally abusing and punishing her, instructing her daughter not to speak with investigators, and directing investigators not to speak with her daughter in private.  The defendant also directed her daughter to lie to investigators.  The court stated that this conduct regarding investigative interviews which occurred while the defendant believed her daughter had been the victim of abuse was sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to infer that the defendant’s denial of access to her daughter was committed with deceit and intent to defraud.  The court went on to hold that subsequent similar obstructive actions occurring after the defendant had actually witnessed her daughter being raped by the defendant’s husband was sufficient circumstantial evidence that the defendant had acted with deceit and intent to defraud when she denied investigators access to her daughter while merely under the belief that she had been sexually abused.

Judge Tyson dissented, expressing the view that evidence showing that the defendant “presented her daughter and allowed access every time upon request” by investigators negated the “deceit and intent to defraud” element of the felony version of the offense.  Judge Tyson noted that all of the interactions between investigators and the defendant’s daughter were “voluntary,” in that none of them were supported by a warrant or other court order.

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a felony stalking charge. Felonious stalking occurs when the defendant commits the offense while a court order is in effect prohibiting the conduct at issue. The State presented evidence that at the time of the conduct at issue, the defendant was subject to conditions of pretrial release orders specifying that he have no contact with the victim. The defendant asserted that he was not subject to these orders because he never posted bond and remained in jail during the relevant time period. He argued that because he was not “released,” the conditions of release orders could not apply to him. The court rejected this argument finding that the relevant orders were in effect until the charges were disposed of, regardless of whether the defendant remained committed or was released. Here, two separate pretrial conditions orders were at issue. The court found that at all relevant times either the first order, the second order or both were in effect. Furthermore, the orders included the prohibition that the defendant have no contact with the victim.

(2) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss felony obstruction of justice charges. The obstruction of justice charges involved sending threatening letters. The defendant argued that this conduct could not be elevated to a felony because the offense does not include the elements of secrecy and malice. The court rejected this argument, noting that obstruction of justice may be elevated to a felony under G.S. 14-3(b) when it is done in secrecy and malice, or with deceit and intent to defraud. Thus, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss charges of felony obstruction of justice and felony attempted obstruction of justice.

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of felonious obstruction of justice where the defendant gave eight written contradictory statements to law enforcement officers concerning a murder. In his first statements, the defendant denied being at the scene but identified individuals who may have been involved. In his next statements he admitted being present and identified various alternating persons as the killer. At the end of one interview, he was asked if he was telling the truth and he responded “nope.” A SBI agent testified to the significant burden imposed on the investigation because of the defendant’s conflicting statements. He explained that each lead was pursued and that the SBI ultimately determined that each person identified by the defendant had an alibi. (2) No double jeopardy violation occurred when the trial court sentenced the defendant for obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact arising out of the same conduct. Comparing the elements of the offenses, the court noted that each contains an element not in the other and thus no double jeopardy violation occurred.

(1) By enacting G.S. 14-223 (resist, delay, obstruct an officer), the General Assembly did not deprive the State of the ability to prosecute a defendant for common law obstruction of justice, even when the defendant’s conduct could have been charged under G.S. 14-223. (2) In a case in which the defendant, a sheriff’s chief deputy, was alleged to have obstructed justice by interfering with police processing duties in connection with a DWI charge against a third-person, the trial judge did not err by failing to instruct the jury on the lack of legal authority to require the processing with which the defendant allegedly interfered.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of felony obstruction of justice. The State argued that the defendant knowingly filed with the State Board of Elections (Board) campaign finance reports with the intent of misleading the Board and the voting public about the sources and uses of his campaign contributions. The defendant was a member of the House of Representatives and a candidate for re-election. He was required to file regular campaign finance disclosure reports with the Board to provide the Board and the public with accurate information about his compliance with campaign finance laws, the sources of his contributions, and the nature of his expenditures. His reports were made under oath or penalty of perjury. The defendant’s sworn false reports deliberately hindered the ability of the Board and the public to investigate and uncover information to which they were entitled by law: whether defendant was complying with campaign finance laws, the sources of his contributions, and the nature of his expenditures. Further, his false reports concealed illegal campaign activity from public exposure and possible investigation. The lack of any pending judicial proceeding or a specific investigation into whether the defendant had violated campaign finance laws was immaterial. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s jury instructions deviated from the indictment. The defendant argued that the indictment alleged that he obstructed public access to the information but that the jury instructions focused on obstructing the Board’s access to information. The court found this to be a distinction without a difference.

In an interfering with a witness case, the trial court properly instructed the jury that the first element of the offense was that “a person was summoned as a witness in a court of this state. You are instructed that it is immaterial that the victim was regularly summoned or legally bound to attend.” The second sentence properly informed the jury that the victim need only be a “prospective witness” for this element to be satisfied.

Over a dissent, the court extended G.S. 14-226(a) (intimidating witnesses) to apply to a person who was merely a prospective witness. The local DSS filed a juvenile petition against the defendant and obtained custody of his daughter. As part of that case, the defendant was referred to the victim for counseling. The defendant appeared at the victim’s office, upset about a letter she had written to DSS about his treatment. The defendant grabbed the victim’s forearm to stop her and stated, in a loud and aggravated tone, that he needed to speak with her. The defendant asked the victim to write a new letter stating that he did not require the recommended treatment; when the victim declined to do so, the defendant “became very loud.” The victim testified, among other things, that every time she wrote a letter to DSS, she was “opening [her]self up to have to testify” in court. The court found the evidence sufficient to establish that the victim was a prospective witness and thus covered by the statute.

The defendant was the twin brother of another criminal defendant and was attending his brother’s trial for assault on a government official in Watauga County (itself the subject of a published opinion, here). Following the guilty verdict in his brother’s case, the defendant made comments to several jurors as they exited the courthouse. These included statements that the jurors “got it wrong,” that his brother was innocent, that the jurors had “ruined his [brother’s] life,” that he “hoped they slept well,” and similar remarks. Before those comments, the defendant’s brother’s girlfriend exited the courtroom visibly upset, and courthouse video footage showed the defendant briefly comforting her before approaching the jurors. The defendant was charged with six counts of intimating jurors and conspiracy to intimidate jurors with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend under G.S. 14-225.2(a)(2). That subsection provides that a defendant is guilty of juror harassment when he “threatens . . . or intimidates [a] former juror or spouse [of a juror] . . . as a result of the prior official action of [the] juror in a grand jury proceeding or trial.”  

The trial court denied pretrial motions challenging the jury intimidation statute as unconstitutional under the First Amendment, denied the motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence, and declined to instruct the jury on the definition of “intimidate.” The defendant was convicted of conspiracy to intimidate jurors at trial and acquitted on the other counts. A majority of the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s First Amendment arguments, finding the statute constitutional. The majority also found that the conviction was supported by sufficient evidence, and that the trial court did not err in failing to give the requested jury instructions (here). Chief Judge McGee dissented on each point. The Supreme Court agreed that the evidence was insufficient to support a conspiracy and reversed.

A criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime with intent to carry out the agreement. While such agreement may be proven by circumstantial evidence, the evidence must show either an express agreement between the conspirators, or facts warranting an inference of the agreement. On the other hand, “[c]onspiracies cannot be established by mere suspicion, nor [by] evidence of mere relationship between the parties . . .” Slip op. at 8. The State’s evidence here raised no more than a conjecture of guilt, and the motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence should have been granted. “The record is almost entirely devoid of any interactions between defendant and [his brother] or defendant and [the girlfriend] from which the formation of any agreement can be inferred.” Id. at 13. The court acknowledged that “synchronized, parallel conduct” among defendants can support an inference of criminal agreement but rejected the State’s argument that such circumstances existed here. According to the court:

. . . [S]uch an inference would be far stronger where the conduct at issue is more synchronized, more parallel, and more clearly in furtherance of a crime. . .Moreover, while defendant was acquitted of the charges of harassment of a juror by threats or intimidation and we express no opinion on the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to those charges, the evidence was far from overwhelming. Put simply, this is not a situation like a drug transaction or bank robbery where it is evident that an unlawful act has occurred, and where the degree of coordination associated with those unlawful acts renders an inference of ‘mutual, implied understanding’ between participants far more reasonable. Id. 13-14 (citations omitted).

The matter was therefore reversed and remanded for the conviction to be vacated. In light of its holding, the court declined to consider the First Amendment challenges to the statute.

Justice Ervin dissented, joined by Justices Davis and Newby. According to the dissent, the majority failed to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, and the trial court should have been affirmed as to the sufficiency of evidence. Without expressing an opinion on the merits of the issue, the dissenters would have therefore proceeded to examine the defendant’s First Amendment challenges.

The evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for altering, stealing, or destroying criminal evidence under G.S. 14-221.1. The charges were based on the defendant’s alleged theft of money obtained from the controlled sale of illegal drugs. The money in question was not evidence as defined by the statute: “any article or document in the possession of a law-enforcement officer or officer of the General Court of Justice.”

The defendant in this case was not a licensed bondsman, but over a period of five to six years he paid an employee at the clerk’s office to make entries into a computer record system indicating that the defendant had filed motions to set aside the bond forfeiture in numerous cases, even though no motions had been filed. Since no motions were actually filed or served on the district attorney or board of education, neither agency was on notice to file a response within the statutorily required 20-day period, meaning the bond forfeitures would be set aside automatically. The clerk was eventually fired for his role in the scheme and began cooperating with the State Bureau of Investigation. The defendant was ultimately convicted of aiding and abetting obtaining property by false pretenses, accessing a government computer, and altering court records, as well as unlicensed bail bonding.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motions to dismiss on the grounds that the state had failed to present sufficient evidence that he (i) aided and abetted the commission of the felony offenses, or (ii) obtained property in excess of $100,000, since at the time the false representations were made the interests of the state and the school board in the bonds to be forfeited were only speculative. The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments, finding that they were not properly preserved at trial. The aiding and abetting argument was never specifically raised in the defendant’s motions, and while the defendant did raise the property argument in his first motion to dismiss, his later motion to dismiss at the close of all the evidence only challenged the dollar value of the property rather than the issue of whether it qualified as a thing of value at all, so the court ruled that the second argument was likewise barred on appeal.

The North Carolina Supreme Court disagreed and held that the defendant properly preserved both arguments for appeal. Distinguishing objections and constitutional challenges which must be specifically argued at trial to be preserved, the arguments challenging the sufficiency of the evidence in this case were properly preserved under Rule 10(a)(3) of the Rules of Appellate Procedure. A motion to dismiss “places an affirmative duty upon the trial court to examine the sufficiency of the evidence against the accused for every element of each crime charged,” so the “simple act of moving to dismiss at the proper time preserved all issues related to the sufficiency of the evidence for appellate review.” The jurisprudence of the Court of Appeals that has attempted to distinguished between general and specific motions to dismiss for sufficiency of the evidence “and to assign different scopes of appellate review to each category, is inconsistent with Rule 10(a)(3).”

Turning to the merits of the defendant’s arguments, the court held that the state presented sufficient evidence to withstand a motion to dismiss on both issues. First, viewed in the light most favorable to the state, the evidence established that the defendant aided and abetted the clerk’s actions by meeting with him and agreeing to the scheme, sending him text messages with instructions and case names, and paying him for entering the fraudulent motions. Second, G.S. 14-100 covers both obtaining and attempting to obtain a thing of value, so the defendant’s efforts to reduce the amount he would have to pay on the forfeited bonds constituted a “thing of value” within the broad scope of the statute.

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for unlicensed bail bonding in violation of G.S. 58-71-40. The defendant admitted at trial that he was not licensed as a bondsman in North Carolina. However he asserted that there was insufficient evidence that he acted in the capacity of or performed the functions duties or powers of a bondsman. The evidence introduced at trial established that the relevant agency had interpreted the governing statutes as prohibiting an unlicensed person from, other things, discussing motions and petitions with court staff that relate to a bond forfeiture. Here, the defendant was engaged with a member of court staff in falsifying motions to set-aside bond forfeitures. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was insufficient because he was discussing false motions with court staff.

The State presented sufficient evidence the defendant violated G.S. 58-71-165. The case arose out of false information submitted by the defendant in connection with his work as a bail bondsman. On appeal the defendant argued that information was missing from his reports due to clerical errors committed by his staff. The court disagreed, concluding that the State presented substantial evidence to withstand a motion to dismiss this charge. Specifically, false reports, that the defendant signed the attestation clause certifying that he submitted true information, and that the reports were filed via the government system. Whether the omissions were fraud or clerical errors was for the jury to decide.

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