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., 10/04/2023
E.g., 10/04/2023
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 Edgecombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions for second-degree murder and aggravated serious injury by vehicle, arguing error in the denial of his motion to suppress a warrantless blood draw and motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals found no error and affirmed. 

In June of 2015, defendant crossed the centerline of a highway and hit another vehicle head on, causing the death of one passenger. Officers responding to the scene interviewed defendant, and noted his responses seemed impaired and the presence of beer cans in his vehicle. A blood draw was performed at the hospital, although the officer ordering the draw did not read defendant his Chapter 20 implied consent rights or obtain a search warrant before the draw. The results of defendant’s blood draw showed a benzodiazepine, a cocaine metabolite, two anti-depressants, an aerosol propellant, and a blood-alcohol level of 0.02.  

Reviewing defendant’s argument that no exigent circumstances supported the warrantless draw of his blood, the Court of Appeals first noted that defense counsel failed to object to the admission of the drug analysis performed on defendant’s blood, meaning his arguments regarding that exhibit were overruled. The court then turned to the exigent circumstances exception to justify the warrantless search, noting that the investigation of the scene took significant time and defendant was not taken to the hospital until an hour and forty-five minutes afterwards. Acknowledging Supreme Court precedent “that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream cannot, standing alone, create an exigency in a case of alleged impaired driving sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant,” the court looked for additional justification in the current case. Slip Op. at 11. Here the court found such justification in the shift change occurring that would prevent the officer from having assistance, and the delay in going to obtain a warrant from the magistrate’s office that would add an additional hour to the process. These circumstances supported the trial court’s finding of exigent circumstances. 

The court then turned to defendant’s argument that insufficient evidence was admitted to establish he was impaired at the time of the accident. The record contained evidence that defendant had beer cans in his truck along with an aerosol can of Ultra Duster, and several witnesses testified as to defendant’s demeanor and speech after the accident. The record also contained a blood analysis showing defendant had five separate impairing substances in his system at the time of the accident, “alcohol, benzyl ethylene (a cocaine metabolite), Diazepam (a benzodiazepine such as Valium), Citalopram (an anti-depressant) and Sertraline (another anti-depressant called “Zoloft”).” Id. at 16. The court found that based on this evidence there was sufficient support for denying defendant’s motion.

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.

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