Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

About

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.

Instructions

Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

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

The defendant was stopped for a traffic violation after leaving a Buncombe County house that officers were surveilling due to complaints of illegal drug activity. Officers recovered from the defendant’s car one large bag and several smaller bags of a white crystalline substance, a bag of a leafy green substance believed to be marijuana, a baggie of cotton balls, several syringes, rolling papers, and a lockbox containing several smoked marijuana blunts and a number of plastic baggies. When he was arrested, the defendant offered to provide information about a woman he was supposed to meet who was involved in heroin trafficking.

The defendant was indicted for several drug charges including possession of methamphetamine and possession with intent to sell or deliver methamphetamine and for attaining habitual felon status. At trial, a forensic analyst from the State Crime Lab testified that that the white crystalline substance in the large plastic baggie was 6.51 grams of methamphetamine. The arresting officer testified that a typical methamphetamine sale for personal drug use was usually between one-half of a gram to a gram, and that two of the smaller baggies containing white crystalline substances (which were not analyzed) weighed 0.6 and 0.9 grams. The officer also testified that the baggies found in the car were consistent with those used in drug sales.

The defendant moved at the close of the State’s evidence to dismiss the charge of possession with intent to sell or deliver methamphetamine on the basis that the search of his person and vehicle yielded no cash, guns, financial records or other evidence to show that the defendant was a drug dealer as opposed to a drug user in possession of drugs. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was convicted of this charge and others and of being a habitual felon. The defendant appealed.  Over a dissent, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the possession with intent to sell or deliver charge. The majority opined that “‘[w]hile it is possible that [d]efendant had 13 hits of methamphetamine solely for personal use, it is also possible that [d]efendant possessed that quantity of methamphetamine with the intent to sell or deliver the same’” and that the issue was thus “‘properly resolved by the jury.’” Slip op. at ¶ 8.

On appeal, the Supreme Court considered whether the State presented sufficient evidence that the defendant intended to sell or deliver methamphetamine. The Court applied the following factors from State v. Nettles, 170 N.C. App. 100 (2005), to evaluate whether the defendant’s intent to sell or deliver could be inferred from the evidence: (1) the packaging, labeling and storage of the controlled substance, (2) the defendant’s activities, (3) the quantity of the drugs found, and (4) the presence of cash or drug paraphernalia including plastic baggies. The Court determined that the State’s evidence satisfied every factor and that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. Specifically, the court pointed to the following evidence: (1) the packaging of the confirmed methamphetamine and the untested white crystalline substances and the presence of clear plastic baggies in the car; (2) the storage of the methamphetamine in the center console after leaving a house where drug activity was suspected and while having a pending meeting with a drug trafficker; (3) the driving to a suspected drug house, entering and remaining inside for ten minutes, planning to meet with a drug trafficker, and driving a car with a large bag of methamphetamine inside and other items that appeared to be drug-related; and (4) the more than 8 grams of white crystalline substances in the defendant’s car, with 6.51 grams confirmed as methamphetamine (23.3 percent of the threshold amount to establish trafficking in methamphetamine), combined with evidence that the typical packaging of such a substance is one-half of a gram to a gram; and (5) the loaded syringe, bag of new syringes and baggie of cotton balls in the defendant’s car along with a lock box with plastic baggies in the back floorboard of the car. Focusing on the presence of evidence that could reasonably support an inference that the defendant possessed methamphetamine with intent to sell or deliver, the Court concluded that the State presented sufficient evidence of the defendant’s intent to sell or deliver methamphetamine. 

Justice Earls, joined by Justice Hudson, dissented. Justice Earls wrote that the majority had jettisoned the requirement that the State present substantial evidence of the defendant’s specific intent to sell or deliver the controlled substance by relying on evidence that was common to any individual who possesses a controlled substance.

The Court per curiam affirmed the opinion below, ___ N.C. App. ___, 804 S.E.2d 742 (2017). Over a dissent, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana. The defendant argued that the State failed to present sufficient evidence of his intent to sell or deliver the drugs and that the evidence shows the marijuana in his possession was for personal use. The defendant possessed 10.88 grams of marijuana. Although the amount of drugs may not be sufficient, standing alone, to support an inference of intent to sell or deliver, other facts supported this element, including the packaging of the drugs. Additionally, the 20-year-old defendant was carrying a large amount of cash ($1,540) and was on the grounds of a high school. Moreover, a stolen, loaded handgun was found inside the glove compartment of the vehicle.

The defendant was convicted of possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine (PWISD-Cocaine), felony possession of cocaine and attaining habitual felon status. He argued on appeal that State failed to offer sufficient evidence of an intent to sell or deliver cocaine. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument, determining that there was sufficient evidence to support submission of the PWISD-Cocaine charge to the jury.

The State’s evidence showed that the defendant possessed cocaine contained in two packages: a corner bag containing .34 grams and a package containing 11.19 grams. Though this amount is less than half the amount that would support a trafficking charge and less than what courts have previously recognized as a substantial amount, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the amount was not insubstantial and that it well exceeded amounts previously deemed to support a PWISD-Cocaine conviction. Thus, the court deemed evidence that the defendant possessed more than 11 grams of cocaine an important circumstance. Moreover, the court stated that evidence of the packaging (one small corner bag indicative of personal use and a larger package containing the bulk of the cocaine) supported an inference of intent to sell or deliver. The defendant’s actions at the time he possessed the cocaine further supported an inference of an intent to sell and distribute. The defendant was driving (and thus transporting the cocaine) to his brother’s apartment complex when a law enforcement officer signaled for him to stop. The defendant did not immediately stop. Instead, he accelerated away from the officer, only stopping once he reached the apartment complex. Once there, the defendant got out of his car, refused to comply with the officer’s directions, and ducked behind a parked car where the larger bag of cocaine was later found. The court stated that this supported an inference that the defendant attempted to hide the larger amount of cocaine while leaving the smaller corner bag—associated with only personal use—in plain view.

The court acknowledged that there was no evidence of cash, paraphernalia or other tools of the drug trade. Nevertheless, it viewed the amount of cocaine, the packaging, and the defendant’s evasive behavior to be enough to establish, “at a minimum, a borderline case to support submission of the PWISD-Cocaine charge to the jury.”

The evidence was sufficient to sustain a conviction for possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana. The defendant’s vehicle contained 11.5 grams of marijuana packaged in two sandwich bags, a digital scale, and 23 additional loose sandwich bags. On appeal, the defendant’s primary argument was that the amount of marijuana found in his vehicle was too small to establish the requisite intent to sell or deliver. Citing prior case law, the court noted that with respect to showing intent, prior decisions have placed particular emphasis on the amount of drugs discovered, their method of packaging, and the presence of paraphernalia typically used to package drugs for sale. Moreover, the inquiry is fact specific in which the totality of the circumstances must be considered unless the quantity of drugs is so substantial that quantity alone supports an inference of intent to sell or deliver. Here, the relatively small quantity of marijuana was not be enough on its own to support an inference regarding the defendant’s intent. However, given the additional presence of the scale and the sandwich bags the evidence was sufficient to go to the jury.

 

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of possession with intent to sell or deliver. The defendant argued that the amount of marijuana found in his car—84.8 grams—was insufficient to show the required intent. The court rejected this argument noting that the marijuana was found in multiple containers and a box of sandwich bags and digital scales were found in the vehicle. This evidence shows not only a significant quantity of marijuana, but the manner in which the marijuana was packaged raised more than an inference that defendant intended to sell or deliver the marijuana. Further, it noted, the presence of items commonly used in packaging and weighing drugs for sale—a box of sandwich bags and digital scales—along with a large quantity of cash in small denominations provided additional evidence that defendant intended to sell or deliver marijuana.

(No. COA10-534). The trial court erred by submitting to the jury the charge of possession with intent to manufacture cocaine because it is not a lesser-included offense of the charged crime of trafficking by possession of cocaine. However, possession of cocaine is a lesser of the charged offense; because the jury convicted on possession with intent to manufacture, the court remanded for entry of judgment on possession of cocaine.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of possession with intent to sell or deliver. Evidence that an officer found 1.89 grams of marijuana on the defendant separated into three smaller packages, worth about $30, and that the defendant was carrying $1,264.00 in cash was insufficient to establish the requisite intent.

Show Table of Contents