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., 06/21/2024
E.g., 06/21/2024
State v. Wilson, 370 N.C. 269 (Nov. 3, 2017)

On appeal from an unpublished decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 794 S.E.2d 921 (2016), finding no error in this animal cruelty case, the court per curiam affirmed. The defendant appealed from her conviction for felony cruelty to animals, contending that the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. The Court of Appeals held that because no evidence was presented from which a jury could find that the defendant intentionally injured the dog by dragging him behind her vehicle but did so without malice, the trial court was not required to instruct on the lesser included offense.

In this Davie County case, defendant appealed his conviction for felony cruelty to animals, arguing error in (1) denying his motion to dismiss because a single kick to a dog could not constitute “cruelly beat” and (2) failing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. The Court of Appeals found no error.

In November of 2019, a woman was walking her dog on the street in front of defendant’s house, when a car approached. Because there were no sidewalks, the woman and her dog stepped into defendant’s yard to let the car pass; the car stopped because the occupants knew the woman, and they chatted about her husband’s health issues. As this conversation took place, defendant ran out of his home and kicked the dog in the stomach, then ran back into his house. The dog had serious internal injuries and required emergency veterinary treatment, including an overnight stay in the veterinary hospital.  

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals explained that the statute did not define “cruelly beat” for purposes of cruelty to animals, making this a matter of first impression. The court first looked to the meaning of “beat” and whether it required repeated strikes, determining that it “could be understood to mean both a hard hit or strike, or repeated strikes.” Slip Op. at 9. Taking this understanding and combining it with the intent of the General Assembly to protect animals from unnecessary pain, the court concluded “under the plain meaning of the words, ‘cruelly beat’ can apply to any act that causes the unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death to an animal, even if it is just one single act.” Id

Moving to (2), the court explained that defendant was not entitled to the instruction on a lesser-included offense as, after establishing the “cruelly beat” element of the charge, “there was no dispute as to the evidence supporting felony cruelty to animals.” Id. at 15. 

In this Durham County case, defendant appealed his conviction for felony animal cruelty, arguing that (1) the removal of the name of a horse from the indictment rendered it invalid, and (2) the prosecutor’s recitation of caselaw during closing argument represented gross impropriety. The Court of Appeals found no error and affirmed the conviction. 

In July of 2016, Durham County Animal Services responded to a report of several deceased horses on the property where defendant kept his horses. On the scene, Animal Services discovered the skeletal remains of three horses and one still-living horse, a chestnut mare, in severely emaciated condition. This horse was initially identified as “Diamond” in the indictment, but the prosecution successfully moved to strike the name from the indictment prior to trial. Defendant was found guilty of felony animal cruelty under N.C.G.S. § 14-360(b) in January 2021.

Reviewing defendant’s first argument on appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that under N.C.G.S. § 15A-923(e) an indictment may not be amended, but “surplus language which ‘in no way change[s] the nature or the degree of the offense charged’ may be stricken from an indictment.” Slip Op. at ¶20, quoting State v. Peele, 16 N.C. App. 227 (1972). The court explained that under N.C.G.S. § 14-360(b), the name of an animal is not considered an essential element of the crime, and applicable precedent established that it was acceptable to identify animals by general descriptions in indictments. Slip Op. at ¶24, citing State v. Credle, 91 N.C. 640 (1884). Because there was only one horse at issue in this case, and striking its name “Diamond” caused no confusion or difficulty for defendant when presenting his defense, the court found no error in striking the horse’s name from the indictment. 

The court next considered the prosecutor’s recitation of case law during closing argument. Noting that defense counsel did not object during trial, the court explained that defendant must show the remarks were “so grossly improper that the trial court committed reversible error by failing to intervene ex mero motu,” a heightened standard of review. Slip Op. at ¶27, quoting State v. Jones, 355 N.C. 117 (2002). The court emphasized that “the prosecutor’s statements must have been so improper that they ‘so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.’” Slip Op. at ¶29, quoting Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1983). Based upon this high standard for relief, and the substantial evidence admitted at trial supporting defendant’s conviction, the court could not establish that defendant was deprived of a fair trial. 

The evidence was sufficient to establish misdemeanor cruelty to animals under G.S. 14-360(a) on grounds of torment. The odor of cat feces and ammonia could be smelled outside of the property and prevented officers from entering without ventilating and using a breathing apparatus; while the house was ventilated, residents from two blocks away were drawn outside because of the smell; fecal matter and debris blocked the front door; all doors and windows were closed; old and new feces and urine covered everything, including the cats; the cats left marks on the walls, doors and windows, trying to get out of the house.

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