Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

In this DWI case in which a State Highway Patrol officer arrested the defendant, a non-Indian, on Indian land, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State lacked jurisdiction over the crime. The court noted that pursuant to the Tribal Code of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and mutual compact agreements between the Tribe and other law enforcement agencies, the North Carolina Highway Patrol has authority to patrol and enforce the motor vehicle laws of North Carolina within the Qualla boundary of the Tribe, including authority to arrest non-Indians who commit criminal offenses on the Cherokee reservation. Thus, the court concluded, “Our State courts have jurisdiction over the criminal offense of driving while impaired committed by a non-Indian, even where the offense and subsequent arrest occur within the Qualla boundary of the Cherokee reservation.” 

The State’s evidence tended to show that the defendant was driving a van with a trailer attached behind it when he cut off two motorcycles, made rude gestures, and caused one of the motorcycles to crash. The driver of the motorcycle sustained serious injuries and a passenger died as a result of the accident. The defendant slowed down briefly and then fled the scene. 

(1) The trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges of felony hit and run because there was sufficient evidence that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known, that the vehicle he was driving was involved in a crash and that someone was killed or seriously injured as a result. First, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence that he knew or reasonably should have known that the vehicle he was operating was involved in a crash or that the crash had resulted in serious bodily injury because the evidence could have shown that the defendant could not have seen behind his van and trailer or that there may not have been contact between the victim’s motorcycle and the defendant’s trailer. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument for multiple reasons, largely centering on evidence of the defendant’s awareness of the position of his vehicle relative to the motorcyclists and other traffic and evidence that the defendant slowed down immediately following the crash and then sped away at a high rate of speed.

(2) The defendant argued that the trial court erred in giving the jury an instruction on flight as evidence of the defendant’s consciousness of guilt because “leaving the scene of the offense, which could be considered flight under the challenged instruction, is an essential element of felony hit and run.” Slip op. at ¶ 37. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the defendant’s assertion that flight is an essential element of felony hit and run, explaining that flight requires some evidence of a defendant taking steps to avoid apprehension while a driver’s motive for leaving the scene of a crash for purposes of felony hit and run is immaterial. The court went on to find the instruction supported by evidence of the defendant speeding away, later lying about why his tire was blown out, and asking for directions to a destination that would allow him to arrive there without traveling on the interstate.

Hit and run resulting in injury is a lesser included offense of hit and run resulting in death. The defendant was indicted for a felonious hit and run resulting in death. At trial the State requested that the jury be instructed on the offense of felonious hit and run resulting in injury. Over the defendant’s objection, the trial court agreed to so instruct the jury. The jury found the defendant guilty of that offense. On appeal, the court held that because felonious hit and run resulting in injury is a lesser included offense of hit and run resulting in death no error occurred.

In a hit and run case involving failure to remain at the scene, the trial court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury with respect to willfulness where the defendant’s sole defense was that his departure was authorized and required to get assistance for the victim. The court continued:

To prevent future confusion and danger, we also take this opportunity to address the State’s argument that N.C.G.S. § 20-166 prohibits a driver from leaving the scene of an accident to obtain medical care for himself or others and instead only authorizes a driver to temporarily leave to in order to call for help. While it is true that subsection (a) instructs that a driver may not leave the scene of an accident “for any purpose other than to call for a law enforcement officer, to call for medical assistance or medical treatment,” we do not read statutory subsections in isolation. Instead, statutes dealing with the same subject matter must be construed in pari materia and reconciled, if possible.

Applying that principle here leads us to conclude that, even though N.C.G.S. §20-166(a) instructs that drivers may only leave for the limited purpose of calling for aid, that authorization is expanded by N.C.G.S. § 20-166(b)’s requirement that drivers, among other things, “shall render to any person injured in such crash reasonable assistance, including the calling for medical assistance” permitted by subsection (a). (Emphasis added). The plain language of this provision indicates that a driver’s obligation to an injured person permits him to take action including but not limited to that which is authorized by subsection (a). Accordingly, it is clear that taking a seriously injured individual to the hospital to receive medical treatment is not prohibited by the statute in the event that such assistance is reasonable under the circumstances. In fact, the violation of that directive is itself a Class 1 misdemeanor.

In this Graham County case, the defendant was convicted of felony death by vehicle and driving while impaired after she drove off the road and killed her passenger. Though first responders did not initially think the defendant had ingested any impairing substance, the Highway Patrol suspected impairment. A blood sample revealed the presence of Xanax, Citalopram, and Lamotrigine, but was inconclusive as to Hydrocodone, which the blood analyst testified could have been masked by the Lamotrigine, metabolized, or present in too small a quantity to be measured. (1) On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying her motion to dismiss based on insufficient evidence of impairment to support her charge of DWI, and, in turn, her charge of felony death by motor vehicle. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, and allowing the State every reasonable inference arising from the evidence, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence of impairment, including the results from standardized field sobriety tests, the defendant’s statement that she had consumed alcohol and Hydrocodone, and the opinion of the Highway Patrol’s drug recognition expert. The defendant’s conflicting evidence—including that the accident occurred at night on a curvy mountain road and that her weight and diabetes affected the results of her sobriety tests—did not allow the trial court to grant a motion to dismiss, because conflicting evidence is for the jury to resolve.

(2) The defendant also argued on appeal that the trial court should not have allowed the State’s expert to testify as to possible reasons why Hydrocodone did not show up in the defendant’s blood test, because that testimony violated Rule 702 in that it was not based on scientific or technical knowledge, was impermissibly based on unreliable principles and methods, and was prejudicial due to the stigma associated with Hydrocodone on account of the opioid crisis. The Court of Appeals concluded that even if the issue was properly preserved for appeal, and even if the admission of the expert’s statement was an abuse of discretion in violation of Rule 702, it was not prejudicial given the defendant’s admission that she took 20 mg of Hydrocodone approximately one hour and fifteen minutes before the accident.

The defendant was stopped by a state trooper who saw her driving erratically. The defendant smelled of alcohol, had slurred and mumbled speech, and stumbled and staggered when she got out of her car. She registered a positive result on a portable breath test and was arrested for driving while impaired. She subsequently refused to submit to a breath test. The defendant pled guilty in district court to driving while impaired and appealed. In superior court, the defendant moved to suppress evidence and requested a bench trial. The superior court denied the motion to suppress and found the defendant guilty. At sentencing, the court found the grossly aggravating factor of a prior impaired driving conviction within seven years of the date of the offense and imposed a Level Two sentence. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress, the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction, and that the trial court erred in in sentencing her based on a grossly aggravating factor for which the State filed to provide the statutorily required notice.

(1) The court of appeals determined that the defendant did not properly preserve the denial of her motion to suppress for review on appeal as she did not renew her objection when the evidence was offered for consideration at her bench trial. And because the defendant did not argue plain error on appeal, the court did not review the denial of the motion for plain error. 

(2) The court of appeals determined that the trial court did not err by denying defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. The trooper testified as to his opinion that the defendant was impaired by alcohol. He based that opinion on seeing the defendant stumbling and staggering when she got out of her car, smelling a moderate odor of alcohol on her breath, hearing her mumbled and slurred speech, and observing her erratic driving. Evidence of the defendant’s refusal to submit to a breath test at the police station also was admissible evidence of impairment. The appellate court held that, viewed in the light most favorable to the State, this evidence was sufficient to show that the defendant was under the influence of an impairing substance.

(3) The State failed to file notice of its intent to rely at sentencing upon the aggravating factor of a prior impaired driving conviction. Such notice is required by G.S. 20-179(a1)(1) for misdemeanor impaired driving charges appealed to superior court. The court explained that the right to notice of the State’s intent to rely on a prior conviction is a statutory right, not a constitutional one, and thus may be waived. The defendant admitted to the prior conviction on cross-examination, and her counsel stipulated at sentencing that she “‘did have the prior DWI.’” Slip op. at 12. Moreover, defense counsel did not object to the court’s consideration of the prior conviction as an aggravating factor. The court of appeals determined that the defendant’s admission and her counsel’s stipulation along with her failure to object to lack of notice at the sentencing hearing amounted to a waiver of her statutory right to notice.

In this case arising from a fatal automobile collision involving convictions for second-degree murder, DWI, felony death by motor vehicle, and failure to maintain lane control, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the DWI and felony death by motor vehicle charges due to insufficient evidence of impairment.  There was, however, substantial evidence of malice with respect to second-degree murder and the trial court did not err in submitting that charge to the jury, nor did it err in submitting to the jury the failure to maintain lane control charge. 

Likening the case to its previous decision in State v. Eldred, 259 N.C. App. 345 (2018), the court found that there was insufficient evidence the defendant was impaired at the time of the collision where the officer who formed the opinion on impairment, an opinion based on observations occurring five hours after the collision, did so “entirely through passive observation” of the defendant, without requesting him to perform any field tests.  Moreover, the court noted, the officer did not ask the defendant if or when he and ingested any impairing substances.  The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the DWI charge, and, because DWI was a necessary element of the felony death by motor vehicle charge, also erred in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss that charge.

Substantial evidence supported the failure to maintain lane control charge under G.S. 20-146(d)(1), a statute providing the disjunctive mandates that a motorist must (1) drive his or her vehicle “as nearly as  practicable entirely within a single lane” and (2) refrain from changing lanes unless he or she “has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”  The defendant had argued that the fact that a tow truck partially obstructed his lane of travel meant that it was not “practicable” for him to drive entirely within that lane.  The court rejected that argument, finding that a reasonable juror could infer that the defendant could have avoided departing from his lane had he been traveling at a reasonable speed for conditions.  The court also explained that there was substantial evidence that the defendant failed to ascertain that his lane change movement could be made with safety as the tow truck also obstructed the defendant’s view of the perils which lay in his chosen lane change path.

The jury was instructed that the defendant would need to be found guilty of either DWI or failure to maintain lane control to be guilty of second degree murder, and having upheld his conviction on the lane control offense the court’s only remaining task was to determine whether there was substantial evidence that the defendant acted with malice.  Recounting the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, the court noted that the defendant was driving while knowing that his license was revoked for DWI and non-DWI offenses, was driving at an irresponsible speed for the icy conditions, made an unconventional maneuver to attempt to pass the tow truck partially obstructing his lane, became involved in a severe collision, left the scene without ascertaining whether anyone was harmed, and washed his car in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence and avoid apprehension.  The court also noted that the defendant’s extensive record of motor vehicle offenses and car accidents was published to the jury, allowing the jury to infer that he was aware of the risk to human life caused by his behavior on the road but nevertheless once again engaged in dangerous driving with indifference to its consequences.  This substantial evidence supported the element of malice by reckless disregard for human life.

Finally, the court determined that any error related to the admission of certain evidence was harmless because that evidence was relevant only to the issue of impairment, and further determined that the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s request for a jury instruction on the defense of accident, assuming the denial was error, was harmless because the jury’s verdicts suggested that it had rejected the notion that the defendant’s fatal unconventional traffic maneuver was unintentional.

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.”

In this felony death by vehicle case involving the presence of narcotics in an unknown quantity in the defendant’s blood, the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant was impaired. The State’s expert testified that Oxycodone and Tramadol were present in the defendant’s blood; tests revealed the presence of these drugs in amounts equal to or greater than 25 nanograms per milliliter — the “detection limits” used by the SBI for the test; the half-lives of Oxycodone and Tramadol are approximately 3-6 and 4-7 hours, respectively; she was unable to determine the precise quantities of the drugs present in the defendant’s blood; and she was unable to accurately determine from the test results whether the defendant would have been impaired at the time of the accident. The defendant’s motion to dismiss was denied and the defendant was found guilty of felony death by motor vehicle based on a theory of impairment under G.S. 20-138.1(a)(1) (“While under the influence of an impairing substance”). On appeal the court rejected the defendant’s argument the State’s evidence merely showed negligence regarding operation of his vehicle as opposed to giving rise to a reasonable inference that he was impaired. The court noted that it was undisputed that the defendant ingested both drugs on the day of the accident and that they were present in his blood after the crash. It continued: “Taking these facts together with the evidence at trial regarding Defendant’s lack of awareness of the circumstances around him and his conduct before and after the collision, reasonable jurors could — and did — find that Defendant was appreciably impaired.” Specifically, the court noted: the labels on the medicine bottles warned that they may cause drowsiness or dizziness and that care should be taken when operating a vehicle after ingestion, and these substances are Schedule II and Schedule IV controlled substances, respectively; the defendant testified that he failed to see the victim on the side of the road despite the fact that it was daytime, visibility was clear, the road was straight, and three eyewitnesses saw the victim before the defendant hit her; the defendant admitted that he was unaware that his vehicle had hit a human being despite the fact that the impact of the crash was strong enough to cause the victim’s body to fly 59 feet through the air; and the defendant testified that his brakes had completely stopped functioning when he attempted to slow down immediately before the accident, he decided not to remain at the scene, instead driving his truck out of the ditch and to his home despite the fact that he had no operable brakes. Finding that this was sufficient evidence for the issue of impairment to go to the jury, the court noted that under Atkins v. Moye, 277 N.C. 179 (1970), impairment can be shown by a combination of evidence that a defendant has both (1) ingested an impairing substance; and (2) operated his vehicle in a manner showing he was so oblivious to a visible risk of harm as to raise an inference that his senses were appreciably impaired.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss in this impaired driving case. Responding to a report of a motor vehicle accident, officers found a Jeep Cherokee on the side of the road. The vehicle’s right side panel was damaged and the officer saw approximately 100 feet of tire impressions on the grass leading from the highway to the stopped vehicle. The first ten feet of impressions led from the highway to a large rock embankment that appeared scuffed. Beyond the embankment, the impressions continued to where the vehicle was stopped. No one was in the vehicle or at the scene. An officer checked the vehicle’s records and found it was registered to the defendant. The officer then set out in search of the defendant, who he found walking alongside the road about 2 or 3 miles away. The officer saw a mark on the defendant’s forehead and noticed that he was twitching and unsteady on his feet. When asked why he was walking along the highway, the defendant responded: “I don’t know, I’m too smoked up on meth.” The officer handcuffed the defendant for safety purposes and asked if he was in pain. When the defendant said that he was, the officer called for medical help. During later questioning at the hospital, the defendant confirmed that he had been driving the vehicle and said that it had run out of gas. He added that he was hurt in a vehicle accident that occurred a couple of hours ago. Upon inquiry, the defendant said that he had not used alcohol but that he was “on meth.” The officer didn’t ask the defendant or anyone else at the hospital whether the defendant had been given any medication. The defendant appeared dazed, paused before answering questions, and did not know the date or time. The officer informed the defendant that he would charge him with impaired driving and read the defendant his Miranda rights. Upon further questioning the officer did not ask the defendant when he had last consumed meth, when he became impaired, whether he had consumed meth prior to or while driving, or what the defendant did between the time of the accident and when he was found on the side of the road. At trial the State presented no lab report regarding the presence of an impairing substance in the defendant’s body. The court agreed with the defendant that the State failed to present substantial evidence of an essential element of DWI: that the defendant was impaired while he was driving. Contrasting the case from one where the evidence was held to be sufficient, the court noted, in part, that the State presented no evidence regarding when the first officer encountered the defendant on the side of the road. The officer who spoke with him at the hospital did not do so until more than 90 minutes after the accident was reported, and at this time the defendant told the officer he had been in an accident a couple of hours ago. Moreover, the State presented no evidence of how much time elapsed between the vehicle stopping on the shoulder and the report of an accident being made. And, there was no testimony by any witness who observed the defendant driving the vehicle at the time of the accident or immediately before the accident. The court concluded that although there was evidence that the defendant owned the vehicle and the defendant admitted driving and wrecking the vehicle, he did not admit to being on meth or otherwise impaired when he was driving the vehicle. And the State presented no evidence, direct or circumstantial, to establish that essential element of the crime.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a DWI charge, which alleged that the defendant was under the influence of alprazolam. The evidence was sufficient where it showed: the defendant drove her vehicle in the public drive-through area of a restaurant where she collided with another vehicle; responding officers noted that her eyes were red and glassy and her speech was slurred; the defendant admitted to officers at the scene that she had consumed alprazolam, a Schedule IV controlled substance, that morning; an officer testified that the defendant presented six of six clues indicating impairment after administering the HGN test; and another officer testified that after performing his 12-step DRE evaluation on the defendant, he determined that she was impaired by a central nervous system depressant.

For habitual impaired driving, the three prior impaired driving convictions need not be from different court dates. On appeal, the defendant alleged that the indictment for habitual impaired driving was facially invalid because two of the underlying impaired driving convictions were from the same court date. The indictment alleged the following prior charges: impaired driving on November 26, 2012, with a conviction date of September 30, 2015 in Johnson County; impaired driving on June 22, 2012, with a conviction date of December 20, 2012 in Wake County; and impaired driving on June 18, 2012, with a conviction date of December 20, 2012 in Wake County. The statute contains no requirement regarding the timing of the three prior impaired driving convictions, except that they occur within 10 years of the current charge.

In this impaired driving case the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss at the close of the State’s evidence. The defendant had argued that there was no independent evidence, other than his admission, to establish that he was operating a motor vehicle at any relevant time period. Here, the defendant admitted to the detective that he had been driving the vehicle and described in detail the route he took to get to the scene. When the detective approached the vehicle, the engine was not running but it was parked under an overhang area by the front door of a hotel, where guests typically stop to check in. The detective observed the defendant sitting in the drivers seat and the vehicle was registered to the defendant. The circumstantial evidence, along with the defendant’s admissions to driving the vehicle and the route he took, was sufficient evidence for the jury to determine that the defendant drove the vehicle.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a DWI charge. Here, after the officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle, he noticed a moderate amount of alcohol coming from the defendant’s breath, the defendant had red and glassy eyes, the defendant admitting to consuming alcohol hours before, the officer noted five out of six indicators of impairment on the HGN test and the officer believed that the defendant was impaired.

(1) In this impaired driving case, there was insufficient evidence that a cut through on a vacant lot was a public vehicular area within the meaning of G.S. 20-4.01(32). The State argued that the cut through was a public vehicular area because it was an area “used by the public for vehicular traffic at any time” under G.S. 20-4.01(32)(a). The court concluded that the definition of a public vehicular area in that subsection “contemplates areas generally open to and used by the public for vehicular traffic as a matter of right or areas used for vehicular traffic that are associated with places generally open to and used by the public, such as driveways and parking lots to institutions and businesses open to the public.” In this case there was no evidence concerning the lot’s ownership or that it had been designated as a public vehicular area by the owner. (2) Even if there had been sufficient evidence to submit the issue to the jury, the trial court erred in its jury instructions. The trial court instructed the jury that a public vehicular area is “any area within the State of North Carolina used by the public for vehicular traffic at any time including by way of illustration and not limitation any drive, driveway, road, roadway, street, alley or parking lot.” The court noted that

the entire definition of public vehicular area in [G.S.] 20-4.01(32)(a) is significant to a determination of whether an area meets the definition of a public vehicular area; the examples are not separable from the statute. . . . [As such] the trial court erred in abbreviating the definition of public vehicular area in the instructions to the jury and by preventing defendant from arguing his position in accordance with [G.S.] 20-4.01(32)(a).”

State v. Hawk, 236 N.C. App. 177 (Sept. 2, 2014)

In this felony death by vehicle case, even without evidence of the defendant’s blood-alcohol, the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant was impaired. When an officer interviewed the defendant at the hospital, she admitted drinking “at least a 12-pack.” The defendant admitted at trial that she drank at least seven or eight beers, though she denied being impaired. The first responding officer testified that when he arrived on the scene, he noticed the strong odor of alcohol and when he spoke with defendant, she kept asking for a cigarette, slurring her words. He opined that she seemed intoxicated. Finally, the doctor who treated the defendant at the hospital diagnosed her with alcohol intoxication, largely based on her behavior.

In an impaired driving case, there was sufficient evidence apart from the defendant’s extrajudicial confession that he was driving the vehicle. Specifically, when an officer arrived at the scene, the defendant was the only person in the vehicle and he was sitting in the driver's seat.

(1) There was sufficient evidence that the defendant was operating the vehicle in question. At trial a witness testified about her observations of the car, which continued from her first sighting of it until the car stopped in the median and the police arrived. She did not observe the driver or anyone else exit the car and the car did not move. The witness talked to an officer who arrived at the scene and then left. An officer testified that when she arrived at the scene eight minutes after the call went out, another officer was already talking to the driver who was still seated in the car. (2) The evidence was sufficient to show that the Intoxilyzer test was administered on the defendant at the time in question. Jacob Sanok, a senior identification technician with the local bureau of identification testified that he read the defendant his rights for a person requested to submit to a chemical analysis to determine alcohol concentration; the defendant indicated that he understood those rights; Sanok administered the Intoxilyzer tests to the defendant; and Sanok gave the defendant a copy of the Intoxilyzer test. The State introduced the rights form signed by the defendant; Sanok’s “Affidavit and Revocation Report of  Chemical Analyst[,]” showing that Sanok performed the Intoxilyzer test on the defendant; and the printout from the Intoxilyzer test showing that the defendant, who was listed by name, had a reported alcohol concentration of  “.25g/210L[.]” Even though Sanok did not directly identify the defendant as the person to whom he administered the Intoxilyzer test, an officer identified the defendant in the courtroom as the person who was arrested and transported to the jail to submit to the Intoxilyzer test.

The evidence was sufficient to sustain the defendant’s conviction for impaired driving when there was evidence of two .08 readings. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that since the blood alcohol reading was the lowest for which he could be convicted under the statute, the margin of error of the Intoxilyzer should be taken into account to undermine the State’s case against him.

The evidence was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Evidence of faulty driving, along with evidence of consumption of alcohol and cocaine, is sufficient to show a violation of G.S. 20-138.1. Witnesses observed the defendant’s behavior as he was driving, not sometime after. Multiple witnesses testified as to his faulty driving and other conduct, including that he “had a very wild look on his face” and appeared to be in a state of rage; drove recklessly without regard for human life; drove in circles on a busy street and on a golf course; twice collided with other motorists; drove on the highway at speeds varying between 45 and 100 mph; drove with the car door open and with his left leg and both hands hanging out; struck a patrol vehicle; and exhibited “superhuman” strength when officers attempted to apprehend him. Blood tests established the defendant’s alcohol and cocaine use, and one witness testified that she smelled alcohol on the defendant.

State v. Davis, 208 N.C. App. 26 (Nov. 16, 2010)

In a case in which there was no admissible evidence as to the defendant’s blood alcohol level, the court found that the evidence was insufficient to show that the defendant drove while impaired, even though it showed that she had been drinking before driving. The accident at issue occurred when the defendant collided with someone or something extending over the double yellow line and into her lane of traffic. Under these circumstances, the fact of the collision itself did not establish faulty or irregular driving indicating impairment.

A defendant may be convicted for both second-degree murder (for which the evidence of malice was the fact that the defendant drove while impaired and had prior convictions for impaired driving) and impaired driving.

A defendant may not be sentenced for both felony death by vehicle and impaired driving arising out of the same incident. However, a defendant may be sentenced for both involuntary manslaughter and impaired driving.

State v. Davis, 364 N.C. 297 (Aug. 27, 2010)

The trial court erred by imposing punishment for felony death by vehicle and felony serious injury by vehicle when the defendant also was sentenced for second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury based on the same conduct. G.S. 20-141.4(a) prescribes the crimes of felony and misdemeanor death by vehicle, felony serious injury by vehicle, aggravated felony serious injury by vehicle, aggravated felony death by vehicle, and repeat felony death by vehicle. G.S. 20-141.4(b), which sets out the punishments for these offenses, begins with the language: “Unless the conduct is covered under some other provision of law providing greater punishment, the following classifications apply to the offenses set forth in this section[.]” Second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury provide greater punishment than felony death by vehicle and felony serious injury by vehicle. The statute thus prohibited the trial court from imposing punishment for felony death by vehicle and felony serious injury by vehicle in this case.

In this felony death by vehicle case involving the presence of narcotics in an unknown quantity in the defendant’s blood, the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant was impaired. The State’s expert testified that Oxycodone and Tramadol were present in the defendant’s blood; tests revealed the presence of these drugs in amounts equal to or greater than 25 nanograms per milliliter — the “detection limits” used by the SBI for the test; the half-lives of Oxycodone and Tramadol are approximately 3-6 and 4-7 hours, respectively; she was unable to determine the precise quantities of the drugs present in the defendant’s blood; and she was unable to accurately determine from the test results whether the defendant would have been impaired at the time of the accident. The defendant’s motion to dismiss was denied and the defendant was found guilty of felony death by motor vehicle based on a theory of impairment under G.S. 20-138.1(a)(1) (“While under the influence of an impairing substance”). On appeal the court rejected the defendant’s argument the State’s evidence merely showed negligence regarding operation of his vehicle as opposed to giving rise to a reasonable inference that he was impaired. The court noted that it was undisputed that the defendant ingested both drugs on the day of the accident and that they were present in his blood after the crash. It continued: “Taking these facts together with the evidence at trial regarding Defendant’s lack of awareness of the circumstances around him and his conduct before and after the collision, reasonable jurors could — and did — find that Defendant was appreciably impaired.” Specifically, the court noted: the labels on the medicine bottles warned that they may cause drowsiness or dizziness and that care should be taken when operating a vehicle after ingestion, and these substances are Schedule II and Schedule IV controlled substances, respectively; the defendant testified that he failed to see the victim on the side of the road despite the fact that it was daytime, visibility was clear, the road was straight, and three eyewitnesses saw the victim before the defendant hit her; the defendant admitted that he was unaware that his vehicle had hit a human being despite the fact that the impact of the crash was strong enough to cause the victim’s body to fly 59 feet through the air; and the defendant testified that his brakes had completely stopped functioning when he attempted to slow down immediately before the accident, he decided not to remain at the scene, instead driving his truck out of the ditch and to his home despite the fact that he had no operable brakes. Finding that this was sufficient evidence for the issue of impairment to go to the jury, the court noted that under Atkins v. Moye, 277 N.C. 179 (1970), impairment can be shown by a combination of evidence that a defendant has both (1) ingested an impairing substance; and (2) operated his vehicle in a manner showing he was so oblivious to a visible risk of harm as to raise an inference that his senses were appreciably impaired.

The trial court did not err in instructing the jury with respect to proximate cause as to the charge of felonious serious injury by vehicle. The defendant argued that the language of the statute “forecloses the possibility of the state proving proximate cause in conjunction with some other concurrent cause.” The court disagreed, citing prior case law rejecting this argument.

G.S. 20-141.4(c) does not bar simultaneous prosecutions for involuntary manslaughter and death by vehicle; it only bars punishment for both offenses when they arise out of the same death.

There was sufficient evidence of felonious serious injury by motor vehicle. The defendant had argued that his willful action in attempting to elude arrest was the proximate cause of the victim’s injuries, not his impaired driving. The court rejected this argument concluding that even if his willful attempt to elude arrest was a cause of the injuries, his driving under the influence could also be a proximate cause.

A defendant may not be sentenced for both felony death by vehicle and impaired driving arising out of the same incident. However, a defendant may be sentenced for both involuntary manslaughter and impaired driving.

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.”

There was sufficient evidence to support an open container charge. Specifically, the evidence was sufficient to establish constructive possession, including, among other things, that the trooper saw the can near the console area of the vehicle that the defendant was driving; the defendant initially provided the trooper a false name; and the defendant’s eyes were red and glassy and his speech was slurred. 

There was sufficient evidence of reckless driving where the defendant was intoxicated; all four tires of her vehicle went off the road; distinctive “yaw” marks on the road indicated that she lost control of the vehicle; the defendant’s vehicle overturned twice; and the vehicle traveled 131 feet from the point it went off the road before it flipped, and another 108 feet after it flipped.

The evidence was insufficient to adjudicate the thirteen-year-old juvenile delinquent for reckless driving under G.S. 20-140(b). The evidence showed that the juvenile was driving a vehicle registered to his mother at the time of the wreck and that the vehicle that he was driving collided with a utility pole. However there was no evidence showing that the collision resulted from careless or reckless driving. The court concluded that the “mere fact that an unlicensed driver ran off the road and collided with a utility pole does not suffice to establish a violation of [G.S.] 20-140(b)."

The defendant was charged with driving while license revoked, not an impaired revocation; assault on a female; possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony; attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon; and habitual felon status. The State proceeded to trial on the charges of speeding to elude arrest and attaining habitual felon status, dismissing the other charges. The defendant was found guilty of both, and the trial judge sentenced the defendant to 97 to 129 months’ imprisonment. 

The defendant argued that the trial judge erred in failing to dismiss the speeding to elude arrest charge. According to the defendant, at the time the law enforcement officer activated his blue lights and siren to initiate a traffic stop, the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and therefore was not performing a lawful duty of his office. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, holding that the circumstances before and after an officer signals his intent to stop a defendant determine whether there was reasonable suspicion for a stop. Here, after the officer put on his lights and siren, the defendant accelerated to speeds of 90 to 100 miles per hour, drove recklessly by almost hitting other cars, pulled onto the shoulder to pass other cars, swerved and fishtailed across multiple lanes, crossed over the double yellow line, and ran a stop sign before he parked in a driveway and took off running into a cow pasture, where the officers found him hiding in a ditch. These circumstances gave the officer reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before he seized the defendant.

In a speeding to elude case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that she did not intend to elude an officer because she preferred to be arrested by a female officer rather than the male officer who stopped her. The defendant’s preference in this regard was irrelevant to whether she intended to elude the officer. 

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, the court reversed State v. Lindsey, 219 N.C. App. 249 (Mar. 6, 2012). In the opinion below the court had held, over a dissent, that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss where an officer, who lost sight of the vehicle was unable to identify the driver. 

In a case in which a second officer died in a vehicular accident when responding to a first officer’s communication about the defendant’s flight from a lawful stop, the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant’s flight was the proximate cause of death to support a charge of fleeing to elude arrest and causing death. The evidence was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the second officer’s death would not have occurred had the defendant remained stopped after the first officer pulled him over and that the second officer’s death was reasonably foreseeable. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the second officer’s contributory negligence broke the causal chain.

In this felony speeding to elude case, the State presented sufficient evidence that the defendant caused property damage in excess of $1000, one of the elements of the charge. At trial, an officer testified that the value of damages to a guardrail, vehicle, and house and shed exceeded $1000. Additionally, the State presented pictures and videos showing the damaged property. The court noted that because the relevant statute does not specify how to determine the value of the property damage, value may mean either the cost to repair the property damage or the decrease in value of the damaged property as a whole, depending on the circumstances of the case. It instructed: “Where the property is completely destroyed and has no value after the damage, the value of the property damage would likely be its fair market value in its original condition, since it is a total loss.” It continued, noting that in this case, it need not decide that issue because the defendant did not challenge the jury instructions, and the evidence was more than sufficient to support either interpretation of the amount of property damage. Here, the officer’s testimony and the photos and video establish that besides hitting the guard rail, the defendant drove through a house and damaged a nearby shed. “The jury could use common sense and knowledge from their ‘experiences of everyday life’ to determine the damages from driving through a house alone would be in excess of $1000.

In a felony speeding to elude case there was sufficient evidence that the defendant drove recklessly. An officer testified that the defendant drove 82 mph in a 55 mph zone and that he was weaving around traffic; also a jury could infer from his testimony that the defendant crossed the solid double yellow line.

The trial court did not err by instructing the jury that in order to constitute an aggravating factor elevating speeding to elude arrest to a felony, driving while license revoked could occur in a public vehicular area. Although the offense of driving while license revoked under G.S. 20-28 requires that the defendant drive on a highway, driving while license revoked can aggravate speeding to elude even if it occurs on a public vehicular area. While the felony speeding to elude arrest statute lists several other aggravating factors with express reference to the motor vehicle statutes proscribing those crimes (e.g., passing a stopped school bus as proscribed by G.S. 20-217), the aggravating factor of driving while license revoked does not reference G.S. 20-28.

Even if the trial court erred in its jury instruction with regard to the required state of mind, no plain error occurred in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt.

(1) In a felony speeding to elude case, the trial court did not err by giving a disjunctive jury instruction that allowed the jury to convict the defendant if it found at least two of three aggravating factors submitted. The defendant had argued that the trial court should have required the jury to be unanimous as to which aggravating factors it found. (2) The trial judge did not commit plain error by failing to define the aggravating factor of reckless driving in felony speeding to elude jury instructions. The defendant had argued that the trial court was obligated to include the statutory definition of reckless driving in G.S. 20-140.

Double jeopardy barred convicting the defendant of speeding and reckless driving when he also was convicted of felony speeding to elude arrest, which was raised from a misdemeanor to a felony based on the aggravating factors of speeding and driving recklessly. The court determined that the aggravating factors used in the felony speeding to elude conviction were essential elements of the offense for purposes of double jeopardy. Considering the issue of whether legislative intent compelled a different result, the court determined that the General Assembly did not intend punishment for speeding and reckless driving when a defendant is convicted of felony speeding to elude arrest based on the aggravating factors of speeding and reckless driving. Thus, the court arrested judgment on the speeding and reckless driving convictions.

In this driving while license revoked case, because the defendant introduced evidence that he did not receive actual notice from the DMV that his license was revoked, the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury that it could find the defendant guilty only if he had knowledge of his revocation. The State’s evidence included copies of four dated letters from the DMV addressed to the defendant stating that his license had been suspended. However, the defendant testified that he never received any of those letters and was unaware that his license had been suspended. He suggested that his father might have received and opened the letters because he lived at the same address as the defendant. At trial, the defendant requested the instruction that to be guilty he must have had knowledge of the revocation. The trial court denied this request. To prove driving while license revoked, the State must prove that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the revocation. If the State presents evidence that the DMV mailed notice of the defendant’s license revocation to the address on file for the defendant at least four days prior to the incident, there is a prima facie presumption that the defendant received the notice. However the defendant can rebut the presumption. If the defendant presents some evidence that he or she did not receive the notice or some other evidence sufficient to raise the issue, the trial court must instruct the jury that guilty knowledge is necessary for conviction. Here, the defendant testified that he did not receive the notice and offered an explanation as to why it may not have reached him. He was thus entitled to an instruction that he must have knowledge of the revocation. The court went on to hold that the error was prejudicial.

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