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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

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 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.”

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.

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.” 

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