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., 06/20/2024
E.g., 06/20/2024

In this Mecklenburg County case, the Court of Appeals found no error by the trial court when denying defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence.

In November of 2016, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer received a call from dispatch to look out for a white sedan that had been involved in a shooting. Shortly thereafter, the officer observed defendant speed through a stop sign, and the officer followed. Defendant continued to run stop signs, and after the officer attempted to pull him over, defendant led officers on a high-speed pursuit through residential areas until he was cut off by a stopped train at a railroad crossing. Defendant was indicted and eventually convicted for felonious speeding to elude arrest.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss the charge, because the state did not admit sufficient evidence showing the officer was lawfully performing his duties when attempting to arrest defendant. The crux of defendant’s argument relied on the language of the indictment, specifically that the officer was attempting to arrest defendant for discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle. Although defendant argued that evidence had to show this was the actual duty being performed by the officer, the court explained that the description of the officer’s duty in the indictment was surplusage. Although the state needed to prove (1) probable cause to arrest defendant, and (2) that the officer was in the lawful discharge of his duties, it did not need to specifically describe the duties as that was not an essential element of the crime, and here the court found ample evidence of (1) and (2) to sustain the conviction. Slip Op. at 9-10. The court also found that defendant failed to preserve his jury instruction request on the officer’s specific duty because the request was not submitted in writing.

The defendant in this case “yelled, cursed, and argued with school staff” in the front office about the school’s tardy slip policy after bringing his child to school late, and the school called the police after the defendant initially refused to go outside. When officers arrived, the defendant was outside getting back into his truck with his child, and bystanders were staring at the defendant. Concluding that the disturbance call likely involved the defendant, the first officer approached the truck and told the defendant he was being detained. After the officer talked to the principal, who asked to have the defendant banned from the property, a second officer approached the vehicle and asked for the defendant’s identification. The defendant refused to provide any identification other than his name. When the defendant raised his voice and demanded to know what laws he was violating and the basis for his detention, the officer told him he would be arrested for obstructing their investigation if he did not comply. When the defendant moved to put the vehicle in gear, the officer reached in and attempted to remove the keys from the ignition. The defendant pulled forward, briefly pinning the officer’s arm in the car, before reversing and then driving away. Officers initially pursued the car, but broke off the chase due to the presence of a child in the vehicle. The defendant crashed his vehicle a short time later and was arrested. The defendant was charged with felony fleeing to elude an officer engaged in the lawful performance of his duties under G.S. 20-141.5. The defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress all evidence on the grounds that his arrest was unlawful, which was denied, and later made a motion to dismiss at trial for insufficiency of the evidence, which was also denied. The defendant was convicted, received a suspended 6-17 month sentence, and appealed.

On appeal, the defendant argued that his motion to dismiss should have been granted because there was insufficient evidence that the officers were acting in the lawful performance of their duties. Specifically, the defendant argued on appeal that the officers had no reasonable suspicion to detain him and no probable cause to arrest him, and the attempted arrest also failed to comply with statutory requirements. The appellate court rejected all three arguments. First, although the officers had only briefly spoken with the principal and were still investigating the matter, under the totality of the circumstances (including the initial phone call, the defendant’s behavior upon seeing the officers, and the fact that bystanders and others inside the school were staring at the defendant) the officers had reasonable and articulable suspicion that the defendant may have been interrupting or disturbing the operation of the school in violation of G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6) (“Disorderly conduct”). Second, since the defendant was operating a motor vehicle but refused to provide his identification to the officers, there was probable cause to arrest him for a misdemeanor under G.S. 20-29 (“Surrender of license”). Finally, the appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument that the officers failed to comply with G.S. 15A-401 during the attempted arrest. The defendant argued that the officers did not provide the defendant with “notice of their authority and purpose for arresting him” as required by the statute, and unlawfully used force to enter his vehicle. The officer testified at trial that he told the defendant he would be arrested for obstructing an investigation, and was only prevented from further citing to G.S. 20-29 because the defendant was arguing with and talking over the officer. Similarly, the officer’s forcible entry only occurred because the defendant locked the doors and refused to exit the vehicle, and the officer reasonably believed that attempting to take the keys was necessary to prevent his escape. Viewed in the light most favorable to the state, this was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that the officers were acting in lawful performance of their duties, and the motion to dismiss was properly denied.

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 this Johnston County case, defendant appealed her conviction for misdemeanor fleeing to elude arrest, arguing insufficient evidence of her specific intent to evade arrest. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In October of 2020, officers attempted to pull over defendant for driving through a stop sign at an apartment complex. Defendant initially did not stop, and instead sped up in a residential area, turned on her hazard lights, and called 911 to inquire if the vehicle attempting to pull her over was actually a police vehicle. Even after being advised that the car attempting to pull her over was a police vehicle, defendant kept driving, ignoring several stop signs and exceeding the speed limit. Defendant eventually returned to the apartment complex and stopped, where she was arrested. She was eventually convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana and misdemeanor fleeing to elude arrest. 

Considering defendant’s argument of insufficient evidence of her intent to evade arrest, the Court of Appeals disagreed, pointing to the substantial evidence of defendant’s flight from officers. Defendant drove for several miles, passing many safe areas to pull over, at a rate of speed above the posted speed limit. She also threw marijuana out of the vehicle as she drove away from officers, and initially refused to comply when she stopped at the apartment complex. The court explained “[t]his is not a case of a nervous motorist taking a moment longer than necessary to stop for an officer in order to pull into a well-lit or populated parking lot.” Slip Op. at 7, quoting State v. Cameron, 223 N.C. App. 72 (2012). 

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 Cabarrus County case, defendant appealed her convictions for felony speeding to elude arrest, arguing error in denial of her motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence of speeding in excess of 15 mph over the speed limit. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In September of 2018, defendant was pulled over by officers for an expired plate. During the traffic stop, defendant failed to provide a license or registration, and gave the officers an incorrect name, but the officers determined her correct name through a search on their computer terminal. The officers asked defendant to confirm her name 20-30 times, but she refused; after this exchange, one of the officers struck the window attempting to remove defendant from the vehicle, and at that point defendant sped off from the traffic stop. The officers pursued defendant, and although she initially eluded them by driving at a high rate of speed, she eventually crashed and was discovered by the officers. Two aggravating factors elevated defendant’s offense to a felony, (1) speeding in excess of 15 mph over the speed limit, and (2) driving with a revoked license. 

The only issue on appeal was whether sufficient evidence was admitted to show speeding in excess of 15 mph over the speed limit, as defendant stipulated that her license was revoked at the time of the incident. The Court of Appeals examined three elements, whether the prosecution admitted sufficient evidence of: (1) the posted speed limit on the relevant highway, (2) defendant’s speed eluding arrest, and (3) the officers’ precise speed in pursuit of defendant. Examining (1), the court explained that testimony from one of the officers regarding the posted speed limit established substantial evidence that the limit was 45 mph. Turning to (2), the court noted that testimony from one of the officers regarding an estimated speed for the defendant was adequate to support the allegation that defendant was traveling in excess of 15 mph over the speed limit. The court found the officer had a “reasonable opportunity” to observe the speed of defendant’s vehicle, and any question about the credibility of the officer’s testimony was one for the jury, not a matter of admissibility. Slip Op. at 13-14. Finally, considering (3), the court found that while no direct testimony established the speed of the officers in pursuit, sufficient evidence of guilt was present, including a photograph of the serious wreck of defendant’s car, and the testimony offered by the officer regarding her excessive speed. As a result, the court found sufficient evidence to support each element of the offense and no error. 

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.

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