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

The defendant was charged with solicitation of a child by computer under G.S. 14-202.3 after he responded to a Craigslist personal advertisement posted by a police detective posing as a 15-year-old. At trial the defendant requested a jury instruction on the defense of entrapment, which the trial court denied. The defendant was convicted and appealed. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed, with the majority concluding that the defendant’s request for an entrapment instruction was properly denied when the evidence showed that he was willing to engage in criminal activity and defendant failed to show that he was not predisposed to commit the act. State v. Keller, ___ N.C. App. ___, 828 S.E.2d 578 (2019). The dissenting judge would have concluded that the defendant was entitled to the instruction.

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for a new trial. A defendant is entitled to jury instructions on entrapment if he presents “some credible evidence” tending to show that he was a victim of entrapment. Here, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the defendant, the Court concluded that he made the requisite showing. The defendant testified that he initially believed the undercover detective to be 18 years old because Craigslist requires age verification to post a personal ad. And once the detective said via email that he was 15, the defendant repeatedly said they would have to wait to have sex until the detective was of age, at which point the detective steered the conversation back toward sex. Taking those facts as true, the Court concluded that a reasonable juror could have found that the defendant did not have a willingness or predisposition to commit the charged crime, and that he was thus entitled to an instruction on entrapment. The Court also concluded that the trial court erred by finding that the defendant’s request for a jury instruction on entrapment was inconsistent with his testimony that he traveled to meet the detective to help him, not to commit a sexual act with him. In general, a defendant cannot simultaneously deny committing an act and also say that he was entrapped into committing it. Here, however, the defendant did not deny the act, but rather only disputed his criminal intentions for the meeting. The entrapment defense therefore remained available. Finally, the Court held that the error was prejudicial and remanded for a new trial.

Justice Newby dissented, joined by Justice Morgan, stating his view that the entrapment defense is not available to a defendant who does not admit to all the elements of the charged offense, and that the defendant’s continued pursuit of the undercover detective even after learning that he was underage showed a predisposition to commit criminal acts that barred an entrapment defense.

In this drug trafficking case, the trial court did not err by refusing the defendant’s request to instruct the jury on the affirmative defense of entrapment.  The trial court did err, however, by entering a civil judgment against the defendant for attorney’s fees without first giving the defendant an opportunity to be heard on that issue. 

Viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant, the evidence showed that the defendant was persuaded by Jason Ford, a confidential informant working with the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, to commit the crimes for which he was convicted.  As to the jury instruction on entrapment, the court explained that under precedent from the North Carolina Supreme Court,

The defense of entrapment is available when there are acts of persuasion, trickery or fraud carried out by law enforcement officers or their agents to induce a defendant to commit a crime and when the origin of the criminal intent lies with the law enforcement agencies. We note that this is a two step test and a showing of trickery, fraud or deception by law enforcement officers alone will not support a claim of entrapment. The defendant must show that the trickery, fraud or deception was practiced upon one who entertained no prior criminal intent.

(quoting and adding emphasis to State v. Hageman, 307 N.C. 1, 28 (1982)).  The court found that the defendant’s evidence showed the first element of entrapment but did not show the second, noting that the defendant’s testimony established that (1) the criminal opportunity at issue originated with a third party who was not working for or affiliated with the State; (2) the defendant told Ford about the opportunity; and (3) Ford thereafter encouraged the defendant to take advantage of the criminal opportunity and offered to help facilitate.  Reviewing the record, the court found that it demonstrated that Ford “merely afford[ed] the defendant an opportunity to commit the crime[s]” which he was predisposed to commit and, therefore, the defendant was not entitled to an instruction on entrapment.

The State conceded that the indigent defendant was not given an opportunity to be heard before the trial court entered the civil judgment against him for attorney’s fees and that this was error.  The court set aside the civil judgment and remanded for a new hearing on attorney’s fees.

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s request for an instruction on entrapment. The court agreed with the defendant that the plan to sell the pills originated in the mind of the defendant’s friend Eudy, who was acting as an agent for law enforcement, and the defendant was only convinced to do so through trickery and persuasion. It explained:

[A]ccording to defendant’s evidence, Eudy was acting as an agent for the Sherriff’s office when she approached defendant, initiated a conversation about selling pills to her buyer, provided defendant the pills, and coached her on what to say during the sale. While it is undisputed that defendant was a drug user, defendant claimed that she had never sold pills to anyone before. In fact, the only reason she agreed to sell them was because she was “desperate for some pills,” and she believed Eudy’s story that she did not want her husband to find out what she was doing. Defendant’s testimony established that Eudy told defendant exactly what to say such that, during the encounter, defendant was simply playing a role which was defined and created by an agent of law enforcement. In sum, this evidence, if believed, shows that Eudy not only came up with the entire plan to sell the drugs but also persuaded defendant, who denied being a drug dealer, to sell the pills to [the undercover officer] by promising her pills in exchange and by pleading with her for her help to keep the sale secret from her husband. Furthermore, viewing defendant’s evidence as true, she had no predisposition to commit the crime of selling pills.

(1) In a delivery of cocaine case where the defendant presented sufficient evidence of the essential elements of entrapment, the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on that defense. The defendant’s evidence showed that an undercover officer tricked the defendant into believing that the officer was romantically interested in the defendant in order to persuade the defendant to obtain cocaine for him, that the defendant had no predisposition to commit a drug offense such as delivering cocaine, and that the criminal design originated solely with the officer. The court rejected the State’s argument that the evidence showed that the officer merely afforded the defendant the opportunity to commit the offense.

In a drug trafficking case where the record failed to indicate that law enforcement officers utilized acts of persuasion, trickery or fraud to induce the defendant to commit a crime, or that the criminal design originated in the minds of law enforcement rather than with the defendant, the trial court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on the defense of entrapment.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for an entrapment instruction where no credible evidence suggested that he would not have committed the crime except for law enforcement’s persuasion, trickery or fraud or that the crime was the creative production of law enforcement authorities.

In a drug trafficking case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for a jury instruction on entrapment. After an individual named Shaw repeatedly called the defendant asking for cocaine, the defendant told Shaw he would “call a guy.” The defendant called a third person named Armstrong to try to obtain the cocaine. When Armstrong did not answer his phone, the defendant drove to his house. The next day, the defendant picked up Armstrong and drove him to a location previously arranged to meet Shaw. The court found that these actions illustrate the defendant’s “ready compliance, acquiescence in, [and] willingness to cooperate in the criminal plan” and thus his predisposition. Additionally, the court noted, the defendant admitted that he had been involved as a middle man on a prior deal; this admission further demonstrates predisposition.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s request for an instruction on the defense of entrapment by estoppel. The defendant was charged with violating G.S. 14-454.1(a)(2) (unlawful to “willfully . . . access or cause to be accessed any government computer for the purpose of . . . [o]btaining property or services by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises”). The State alleged that the defendant, who worked for a private license plate agency, submitted false information into the State Title and Registration System (STARS) so that a car dealer whose dealer number was invalid could transfer title. The defendant asserted that she was told by a colleague named Granados, who was a licensed title clerk, how to enter the transaction. The court concluded that Granados was not a governmental official; Granados was an employee of the license plate agency, not the State of North Carolina, and the agency was a private contractor. It stated that a government license does not transform private licensees into governmental officials.

State v. Pope, 213 N.C. App. 413 (July 19, 2011)

The trial court erred by dismissing larceny by employee charges based on the theory of entrapment by estoppel. The defendant, a public works supervisor, was accused of selling “white goods” and retaining the proceeds. The court concluded that while officials testified that they were aware that some “white goods” were sold and that the money was deposited to a common pool, no evidence was offered to show that government officials expressly condoned the defendant pocketing money from that fund. Thus, the explicit permission requirement for entrapment by estoppel was not met. 

In a drug case, the evidence failed to establish that the defendant was entitled to the entrapment defense as a matter of law. Thus, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss on grounds of entrapment and submitting the issue to the jury.

The trial judge did not err by refusing to instruct on entrapment. The defendant was convicted of soliciting a child by computer with intent to commit an unlawful sex act. The “child” was a law enforcement officer pretending to be a 14 year old in an adults-only Yahoo chat room. The court concluded that there was no credible evidence that the criminal design originated in the minds of the government officials, rather than defendant, such that the crime was the product of the creative activity of the government. Instead, it stated, the evidence indicates that undercover deputies merely provided the opportunity for the defendant and, when presented with that opportunity, the defendant pursued it with little hesitance. 

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