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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

In this DWI case, the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the defense of necessity. The defendant was arrested for DWI while driving a golf cart. The evidence showed that the defendant and his wife used the golf cart on paths connecting their home to a local bar, that he drove the golf cart to the bar on those paths on the evening in question, and that he planned to return the same way. However when a fight broke out at the bar, the defendant and his wife fled on the golf cart, driving on the roadway. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court began its analysis by noting that the affirmative defense of necessity is available to DWI defendants and involves these elements: reasonable action, taken to protect life, limb, or health of a person, and no other acceptable choices available. The trial court erred by applying an additional element, requiring that the defendant’s action was motivated by fear. The court went on to determine that an objective standard of reasonableness applies to necessity, as compared to duress which appears to involve a subjective standard. The evidence was sufficient to satisfy the first two elements of the defense: reasonable action taken to protect life, limb, or the health of a person. Here, the bar attracted a rough clientele, including “the biker crowd.” It was not unusual for fights to break out there, but the bar had no obvious security. On the night in question, the bar atmosphere became “intense” and “mean” such that the two decided to leave. The defendant then argued with several men in the parking lot, which escalated to shouting and cursing. The main person with whom the defendant was arguing was described as the “baddest mother_cker in the bar.” The defendant punched the man, knocking him to the ground. The man was angry and drew a handgun, threatening the defendant. Neither the defendant nor his wife were armed. The scene turned “chaotic,” with a woman telling the defendant’s wife that the man was “crazy” and that they needed to “get out of [t]here.” The defendant’s wife was concerned that the man might shoot the defendant, her or someone else. When the defendant saw the gun, he screamed at his wife to leave. The defendant’s wife said she had no doubt that if they had not fled in the golf cart they would have been hurt or killed by the man with the gun. On these facts the court held:

[S]ubstantial evidence was presented that could have supported a jury determination that a man drawing a previously concealed handgun, immediately after having been knocked to the ground by Defendant, presented an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to Defendant, [his wife], or a bystander, and that attempting to escape from that danger by driving the golf cart for a brief period on the highway was a reasonable action taken to protect life, limb, or health.

The court also found that there was sufficient evidence as to the third element of the defense: no other acceptable choices available. With respect to whether the perceived danger had abated by the time the defendant encountered the officer, the court noted that the defendant had pulled off the highway approximately 2/10 of a mile from the bar and the defendant’s wife said that she saw the officer within minutes of the altercation. The court concluded: “On the facts of this case, including . . . that there was a man with a firearm who had threatened to shoot Defendant, and who would likely have access to a vehicle, we hold two-tenths of a mile was not, as a matter of law, an unreasonable distance to drive before pulling off the highway.” The court further clarified that the defenses of necessity and duress are separate and distinct. And it held that the evidence also supported a jury instruction on duress.

 

The trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on duress as a defense to a charge of first-degree murder on the basis of premeditation and deliberation. Duress is not a defense to such a charge.

In this attempted felony breaking or entering and habitual felon case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request to instruct the jury on duress. To be entitled to an instruction on duress, a defendant must present evidence that he feared he would suffer immediate death or serious bodily injury if he did not act. Moreover, duress cannot be invoked as an excuse by someone who had a reasonable opportunity to avoid doing the act without undue exposure to death or serious bodily harm. Here, the evidence showed that the defendant’s accomplice drove the defendant’s vehicle to the home in question while the defendant was a passenger. The accomplice, carrying a knife, and the defendant, carrying a lug wrench walked to the premises. After realizing that the resident was taking their pictures, both fled. When asked if he attempted to get away from his accomplices at any point, the defendant testified only that his accomplices “pretty much had control of my car;” he also testified that at some point he “did get scared” of his accomplices because they talked about stealing his truck. He admitted however that they never pulled a weapon on him. Additionally, although the defendant argued that his accomplices held him against his will for several days, he had at least two opportunities to seek help and escape, including one instance when he was alone with an officer. Based on this evidence, the defendant was not entitled to a jury instruction on duress.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that he could not be convicted of aiding and abetting a sexual offense and child abuse by sexual act on grounds that the person who committed the acts—his son—was under duress from the defendant. Even if the son was under duress, his acts were still criminal.

The trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s request for a jury instruction on duress. The defendant voluntarily joined with his accomplices to commit an armed robbery, he did not object or attempt to exit the vehicle as an accomplice forced the victims into the car, and the defendant took jewelry from one victim while an accomplice pointed a gun at her. There was no evidence that any coercive measures were directed toward the defendant prior to the crimes being committed. Any threats made to the defendant occurred after the crimes were committed. 

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