Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 04/16/2024
E.g., 04/16/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969) , 284 N.C. App. 473 2022-07-19

In this Brunswick County case, defendant appealed his conviction for habitual impaired driving. The Court of Appeals found no error after examining the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to suppress and motion to dismiss, and the jury instruction provided regarding defendant’s flight from the scene.

Evidence admitted at trial showed that a witness heard a crash and ran outside to see defendant with a bloody nose sitting behind the wheel of his truck, which was crashed into a ditch. After talking with the witness for several minutes, defendant walked off down the highway and up a dirt road into the woods. Law enforcement arrived, received a description from the witness, and conducted a search, finding defendant behind a bush in the woods 15 minutes later. After handcuffing defendant, the law enforcement officer conducted a “show-up” identification by taking defendant back to the witness and allowing the witness to identify defendant through the rolled-down window of the police vehicle.

The court first examined defendant’s motion to suppress the eyewitness “show-up” identification on due process and Eyewitness Identification Reform Act grounds (“EIRA”) (N.C.G.S § 15A-284.52(c1)-(c2)). Following State v. Malone, 373 N.C. 134 (2019), the court performed a two-part test, finding that although the “show-up” was impermissibly suggestive, the procedures used by law enforcement did not create a likelihood of irreparable misidentification when examined through the five reliability factors articulated in Malone. Applying EIRA, the court found that all three of the requirements in subsection (c1) were followed, as law enforcement provided a live suspect found nearby a short time after the incident and took photographs at the time of the identification. The court also held that subsection (c2) imposes no duty on law enforcement, and instead imposes a duty to develop guidelines on the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission.

The court then reviewed defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence showing that he was driving the vehicle. Applying State v. Burris, 253 N.C. App. 525 (2017), and State v. Clowers, 217 N.C. App. 520 (2011), the court determined that circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support a conclusion that defendant was driving the vehicle. Because the circumstantial evidence was substantial and supported the inference that defendant was driving, the lack of direct evidence did not support a motion to dismiss.

Finally, the court examined the jury instruction given regarding defendant’s flight from the scene, Pattern Jury Instruction 104.35. Defendant argued that the evidence showed only that he was leaving the scene of the accident and walking towards his home, actions that did not represent evidence of consciousness of guilt. The court applied the extensive caselaw finding no error in a flight jury instruction when evidence shows the defendant left the scene and took steps to avoid apprehension. Because evidence in the record showed that defendant fled and hid behind a bush, the court found sufficient evidence to support the use of the jury instruction, despite defendant’s alternate explanation of his conduct.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Carteret County case, the defendant appealed from his conviction for habitual impaired driving and habitual felon status. The defendant was treated at the hospital following his arrest and the State obtained his medical records pursuant to a court order. Those records, which were introduced at trial, included a toxicology lab report of the defendant’s alcohol concentration. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the medical records because disclosure of the records violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the trial court erred, the Court held that any error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt. That evidence included a strong odor of alcohol on the defendant, defendant’s slurred speech, defendant’s inability to stand up straight, his poor performance on standardized field sobriety tests, his urinating on the police station floor, and opinion testimony from two law enforcement officers that the defendant was appreciably impaired.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Rowan County case, the defendant appealed after being convicted of impaired driving after a jury trial. The conviction stemmed from a 2017 incident in which the defendant was found unresponsive on a fallen moped in the middle of the road.  Field sobriety tests and a toxicology test indicated that the defendant was impaired. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss and the defendant was convicted. On appeal, the defendant contended that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss because there was insufficient evidence that he drove the moped. Though no witness testified to seeing the defendant driving the moped, the Court of Appeals concluded that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence that he did. He was found alone, wearing a helmet, lying on the double yellow line in the middle of the road and mounted on the seat of the fallen moped. The Court thus found no error.

(Dec. 31, 1969) , ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-659 2021-12-07 temp. stay granted, 380 N.C. 288, 866 S.E.2d 900 (Jan 12 2022)

In this Martin County case, the defendant was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, felony serious injury by vehicle and driving while impaired for his driving of a vehicle after consuming prescription medications, crossing into oncoming traffic, hitting two other vehicles, and seriously injuring another driver.

(1) The defendant, who was seriously injured in the crash and was taken to the hospital, had a “few coherent moments” in which he agreed to allow his blood to be withdrawn and analyzed for evidence of impairment. The defendant subsequently moved to suppress evidence of the blood analysis on the basis that there was not probable cause to believe he was driving while impaired, the blood was withdrawn without a warrant, and there were no exigent circumstances. The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals found no error. The Court first determined that the following evidence established probable cause: (a) a witness called 911 to report erratic driving by the defendant before the defendant crashed his vehicle into two other vehicles; (b) there were no skid marks at the scene to indicate that the defendant attempted to stop his vehicle; (c) the defendant admitted to taking oxycodone, valium, and morphine earlier in the day; and (d) after the crash, the defendant was lethargic, had slurred speech, droopy eyelids, and a blank stare. The Court then concluded that exigent circumstances existed as the officer did not have time to obtain a search warrant given the extent of the defendant’s injuries; indeed, the hospital postponed administering necessary pain medication to the defendant until after the State withdrew his blood. After the blood draw, the defendant was air-lifted to another hospital for a higher level of care.

(2) The defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to take judicial notice of the National Weather Station’s weather conditions (the “Weather Report”) on the date of the collision. The Court of Appeals disagreed, reasoning that the Weather Report was not a document of indisputable accuracy for purposes of Rule 201(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence because it did not state the level of rain that was occurring at the time of the crash. Thus, the Court of Appeals reasoned, the trial court was not required to take judicial notice of the report under Rule 201(d), but was free to use its discretion pursuant to Rule 201(c). And, the Court of Appeals concluded, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to take judicial notice of the Weather Report.

(3), (4) The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred in admitting testimony from an analyst regarding the analysis of defendant’s blood, the analyst’s report, and the accompanying chain of custody report. The Court of Appeals found no error. The Court determined that the analyst’s testimony and his report were admissible because, even though the analyst relied on data collected by and tests performed by others, the analyst himself analyzed and reviewed the data, forming his own independent expert opinion and writing his own report. The Court further held that the trial court did not err by admitting the chain of custody report because the State established an adequate chain of custody through testimony of the law enforcement officer who submitted the blood and the analyst who prepared the report.

(5) The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. Defendant’s erratic driving, the severity of the crash, his admission to taking medications, his impaired behavior, and the results of the analysis of defendant’s blood provided substantial evidence of impaired driving. Defendant’s driving in an erratic and reckless manner while impaired and crashing into another vehicle without appearing to have braked, seriously injuring the other driver provided substantial evidence of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. Finally, the serious injury to the other driver caused by defendant’s impaired driving provided substantial evidence of felony serious injury by vehicle.

Judge Dietz concurred in the judgment, writing separately to state that he would have resolved the suppression issue solely based on the evidence of impairment establishing probable cause and the exigency resulting from the need to draw blood before medical professionals administered additional medications.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969) , ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ 2020-03-03

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969) , ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ 2020-01-07

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.”

(Dec. 31, 1969) , ___ N.C. App. ___, 824 S.E.2d 136 2019-02-05

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

(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).”

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

(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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

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.

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