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

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.

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