Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 06/29/2024
E.g., 06/29/2024
State v. Meader, 377 N.C. 157 (Apr. 16, 2021)

In 2018, the defendant was charged with felony breaking or entering a motor vehicle and other crimes for an incident involving the theft of several items from a car. Before trial, the defendant gave notice of her intent to raise a defense of voluntary intoxication. The trial court denied her request for an instruction on voluntary intoxication, concluding that the evidence showed that she spoke clearly, was responsive to questions, walked under her own power, and followed instructions from officers. The Court of Appeals held over a dissent that the trial court did not err in declining to give the instruction. State v. Meader, 269 N.C. App. 446 (2020). On appeal, the Supreme Court applied the standard that, to obtain a voluntary intoxication instruction, a defendant must produce substantial evidence supporting a conclusion that she was so intoxicated that she could not form the specific intent to commit the crime. Reviewing the evidence, the high court concluded that the defendant’s behavior, while periodically unusual, did not show her to be “utterly incapable” of forming specific intent. To the contrary, the evidence showed her to be aware of surroundings and in control of her faculties, both before and after the police arrived. The court thus held that the trial court did not err and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Hudson, joined by Justice Morgan and Justice Earls, dissented. She wrote that the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant, could lead a rational factfinder to conclude that she was unaware that she had taken another’s property.

In this Cumberland County case, defendant appealed his first-degree murder conviction, arguing error in failing to instruct the jury on (1) the affirmative defense of voluntary intoxication, and (2) the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no error. 

Defendant’s wife was found dead in their home in February of 2021. Leading up to the discovery, defendant’s wife had expressed fears that he would shoot her, and told family and friends that defendant kept a handgun on the nightstand. The wife’s pastor and deacon from her church noticed bruises on her neck, and she admitted to them that they came from defendant. Early in the morning on the day defendant’s wife was found dead, defendant called his daughter to confess that he had killed her. At trial, an expert testified that the wife was shot ten times with a single-action revolver, which required the shooter to cock the hammer and pull the trigger each time it was fired. The revolver also held only six rounds, requiring a reload for the ten rounds fired into the wife’s body. Defendant testified at trial and claimed that his wife’s niece had shot her. At the charge conference, defense counsel requested a jury instruction on second-degree murder, but the trial court denied this request. Defendant did not request an instruction on voluntary intoxication.

Considering (1) defendant’s defense of voluntary intoxication, the Court of Appeals noted the standard of review was plain error, as “the trial court explicitly asked if Defendant wanted to include voluntary or involuntary intoxication instructions, to which his counsel declined.” Slip Op. at 4. The court could not find plain error, as defendant was a heavy drinker and testified that he had consumed a normal amount of alcohol for his tolerance, and “[i]n his own testimony, Defendant said he ‘got drunk’ after the killing because his wife was dead, indicating he was not already drunk during the killing.” Id. at 6. Additionally, he recalled the events of the day and night, and was clear-headed enough to attempt to hide the revolver before law enforcement arrived. 

Turning to (2), the court explained that a defendant is entitled to an instruction on second-degree murder “where the State’s evidence, if believed, is capable of conflicting reasonable inferences either that (1) the defendant premeditated/deliberated a specific intent to kill or, alternatively, (2) the defendant merely premeditated/deliberated an assault.” Id. at 9. Here, the court found only one possible conclusion, that “Defendant specifically intended to kill his wife.” Id. The court arrived at this conclusion based on the number of shots fired with a cumbersome weapon, the lack of defensive wounds, the history of defendant’s threats, and defendant’s history of physical abuse towards his wife. 

In this Guilford County case, defendant appealed his convictions for breaking and entering, larceny, possession of a firearm by a felon, and resisting a public officer, arguing error in (1) denying his request for a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication, and (2) not specifically identifying the firearm during the jury instruction for possession of a firearm by a felon. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no error. 

In May of 2021, defendant and an accomplice broke into a pharmacy; after police responded, the men fled the pharmacy, and defendant dropped a gun in the parking lot while running from the officers. After searching the vehicle left at the scene, police found two more firearms and other stolen goods. After defendant was indicted, he filed a notice of defense asserting that he was too intoxicated to form the necessary specific intent for the offenses. During the charge conference, the trial court denied defendant’s request for a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication. Defendant was subsequently convicted, and appealed.

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals noted “[t]o obtain a voluntary intoxication instruction, a defendant ‘must produce substantial evidence which would support a conclusion by the judge that he was so intoxicated that he could not form’ the specific intent to commit the underlying offenses.” Slip Op. at 5, quoting State v. Mash, 323 N.C. 339, 346 (1988). However, the court pointed out that “mere intoxication” was not sufficient, and that evidence had to show the defendant had lost his ability to think and plan due to the overconsumption of intoxicants. Id. Here, although defendant testified to consuming a large amount of cocaine over several days, the court highlighted instances of defendant recalling the events of the pursuit and arrest, as well as his interview at the police station. The court concluded defendant failed to produce evidence sufficient to justify the voluntary intoxication instruction. 

Turning to (2), the court noted that plain error was the applicable standard as defendant did not object to the jury instruction on possession of a firearm at trial. While the trial court did not specify which firearm defendant possessed in the instruction, the series of events where defendant fled the pharmacy and dropped a gun in the parking lot allowed for only one specific gun to be relevant. The other two firearms found at the scene were inside the vehicle and could not have been possessed by defendant. As a result, defendant could not demonstrate plain error. 

Judge Murphy concurred in the result only as to (1), and concurred as to (2). 

In this Richmond County case, the defendant was found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill for shooting an acquaintance during an argument, and, during the same incident, shooting another acquaintance who was standing nearby in the leg. The defendant had been drinking for more than six hours before he shot the victims. After he began drinking and several hours before the shooting, he displayed a gun in front of a child. After the shooting, he drove to another acquaintance’s house and honked his car horn for thirty minutes.  At trial, he requested that the judge instruct the jury on voluntary intoxication. The judge refused this request.

(1) On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary intoxication. The defendant contended there was substantial evidence that, because of his intoxication, he could not form a deliberate and premeditated intent to kill the victim. The Court of Appeals concluded that although there was evidence that the defendant was very intoxicated and acted recklessly some hours before the shooting, there was not substantial evidence that he was intoxicated to the point he could not control himself and could not form the intent to kill the victim. The Court noted that the defendant shot and killed the victim following an argument and then drove away from the scene, arriving at an acquaintance’s house without getting into an accident. Hours after the shooting, he told officers that he shot the deceased victim in self-defense. Thus, the Court concluded that the trial court did not err in not instructing the jury on voluntary intoxication.

(2) The defendant also argued on appeal that the trial court erred in admitting the handgun used in the shootings during testimony from the pawnbroker who transferred the gun to the defendant. This took place early in the trial and before the State presented evidence that the handgun was used to shoot the victims. The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not err in admitting the handgun before its relevance had been established as the State later presented evidence connecting the handgun to the shootings. The defendant also argued that the trial court erred by admitting the handgun because the State did not establish a chain of custody. Even assuming the defendant preserved this issue for appeal and that the trial court erred in this regard, the Court found that the error did not prejudice the defendant in light of other overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt.

In this Mitchell County case, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder (based on the theories of (a) malice, premeditation and deliberation; (b) felony murder; and (c) torture), possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and first-degree kidnapping for his role in the death of the victim after several days of subjecting the victim to physical abuse and death threats, interspersed with the defendant’s (and the victim’s) use of methamphetamine.

Apparently believing that the victim, an addict to whom the defendant supplied methamphetamine, had informed law enforcement officers about the defendant’s drug trafficking, the defendant began to threaten and assault the victim, firing pistol rounds near his feet, striking him, putting him in a chokehold, threatening to kill him, and asking others, in the victim’s presence, if the victim should live or die. After smoking methamphetamine with the victim and others, the defendant told the victim that people from Georgia had arrived “to take care of” him, took him outside of a house where a laser beam was focused on him, and asked him if he was ready to die. When the victim attempted to run away, the defendant tackled him and dragged him back toward the house. The defendant then used his cell phone to record the victim pleading for his life. Over the next two days, the group used more methamphetamine and the defendant continued to threaten to kill the victim, to physically abuse him, to prevent him from leaving – at one point binding the victim’s hands with duct tape -- and to film him confessing to various acts. On the third day, the defendant shot the victim in the left shin and obtained a telephone cord to “make [the victim] hang himself.” The victim’s face was turning blue when the cord broke and he fell to the ground. The defendant eventually threw the victim into the yard, telling others on the scene that they could either “get involved or [they] could be next.” The defendant ordered others to hit the victim with a large rock. The defendant then ordered his girlfriend to shoot the victim or he was “gonna hurt [them] all.” The woman shot the victim once in the side of the head, killing him. The defendant then told others to help him dispose of the victim’s body.

(1) The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred by denying his request for a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication, asserting that his consumption of methamphetamine defeated his ability to form the specific intent necessary to support first-degree murder based on malice, premeditation and deliberation and the felony-murder rule and first-degree kidnapping. Noting that to be entitled to such an instruction, the defendant must produce substantial evidence that he was so intoxicated he could not inform a deliberate and premeditated intent to kill, the Court of Appeals held that the defendant did not satisfy this requirement. Testimony regarding defendant’s consumption of methamphetamine and his girlfriend’s testimony that he was “wigging” -- meaning that he believed things that were not present were in fact present -- were not enough.

The court reasoned that the defendant’s actions showed that he intended to kill the victim. He brandished a gun, saying he “smelled death.” He wondered out loud about what he would do with the witnesses if he killed the victim, ordered others to hit the seriously-injured victim with a large rock, told his girlfriend to shoot the victim, orchestrated the disposal of the victim’s body, kept a bullet he used to shoot the victim in the leg as a trophy, fled to Georgia after the killing, told his family what he did, and showed videos he recorded of the victim.

The Court also found ample evidence of defendant’s specific intent to kill to support his conviction for felony murder based on first-degree kidnapping. His actions showed his specific intent to unlawfully restrain or confine the victim over successive days, stating he was doing this in retribution for the victim’s alleged snitching. The defendant bound the victim’s hands behind his back, stopped the victim when he tried to run away, told the victim he would be freed if the victim killed his own mother, threatened to kill the victim by making him inject methamphetamine combined with poison, and arranged an attempted hanging of the victim.

(2) The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss the charge of first-degree murder based on torture. The defendant argued that because the victim died from the gunshot delivered by defendant’s girlfriend, torture was not a proximate cause of his death. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the torture of the victim included defendant’s conduct over the days when the victim was detained, humiliated, beaten, and tortured. The torture included all of the abuse the defendant delivered during that time, including the defendant ordering his girlfriend, under threats to her and her families’ lives, to shoot and kill the victim.

The defendant’s wife, Mrs. Arnett, came home from work on November 21 and found the defendant drinking. They got in the defendant’s car and drove to grocery store, during which the defendant struck her, threatened her, and took her cellphone. Mrs. Arnett went inside the store and asked the manager to call law enforcement. The defendant was charged, and a court date was set for January 23.

On January 21, Mrs. Arnett again came home from work and found the defendant drinking. The defendant had ingested three beers prior to his wife arriving home and had consumed another after the couple returned from a trip to the grocery store. During dinner, the defendant drank another beer and started another. The defendant went to a neighbor’s house for marijuana and received eight Xanax bars instead, two of which he ingested. After returning home to finish his dinner, the defendant assaulted his wife, slamming her face into the wall, busting her eyes, and cutting her arms and chin. The defendant also kicked her legs, cut her head, stabbed her in the side, and repeatedly punched her in the face. Mrs. Arnett went to the hospital the next morning and remained hospitalized until January 24.

The defendant was indicted on charges of AWDWISI, and the defendant’s trial counsel filed a notice of voluntary intoxication defense, stating he would show that the defendant could not form the specific intent necessary for the crime charged. The trial court ruled AWDWISI was a general intent crime and that the defense of voluntary intoxication was not available to the defendant. At trial, the defendant’s attorney stated he would admit an element of the physical act of the assault, but not the defendant’s guilt because he lacked intent. The defendant told the court, on two separate occasions, that he understood his attorney would admit an element of the offense and that he had discussed the strategy with his attorney and agreed with the argument. The defendant was convicted of AWDWISI with two aggravating factors.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in ruling that the voluntary intoxication defense was not available. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, reasoning that voluntary intoxication is a defense only to a crime that requires a showing of specific intent, and AWDWISI is not a specific intent crime.

The defendant next argued that the trial court’s Harbison inquiry was inadequate to confirm that he understood he was agreeing for counsel to admit the charged offense and present an invalid defense. The Court rejected this argument, noting that the defendant was present for two separate Harbison inquiries, the defendant was addressed personally by the trial court both times, the defendant confirmed he understood and consented to his counsel’s actions prior to any admission by his counsel, and the defendant heard the trial court’s ruling that voluntary intoxication would not be allowed as a defense to his general intent crime. The Court held that the Harbison inquiries as well as the conversations leading up to them were adequate to show that the defendant was thoroughly advised and knowingly consented to his attorney’s admission to the jury.

The defendant contended that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The Court rejected this argument, reasoning that the defendant testified, was cross examined, and clearly consented to trial counsel’s acknowledgement of the defendant’s actions against his wife to the jury during closing argument. The Court concluded that the record showed a deliberate, knowing, and consented-to trial strategy in the face of overwhelming and uncontradicted evidence of the defendant’s guilt.

In this arson case, the evidence was not sufficient to entitle the defendant to a voluntary intoxication instruction. While the evidence showed that the defendant was intoxicated at the time in question, there was no evidence about how much alcohol she had consumed or about the length of time over which she had consumed it. The evidence showed only that the defendant had consumed some amount of some type of alcohol over some unknown period. The court also noted that the defendant’s conduct in committing the crime and behavior with law enforcement afterwards indicated some level of awareness of her situation.

Although the State presented evidence that the defendant smoked crack, there was no evidence regarding the crack cocaine’s effect on the defendant’s mental state and thus the trial court did not commit plain error in failing to instruct the jury on the defense of voluntary intoxication.

The trial court did not err by refusing to instruct on voluntary intoxication. Some evidence showed that the defendant had drunk two beers and "could feel it," had taken Xanax, and may have smoked crack cocaine. However, the defendant herself said she was not drunk and had not smoked crack. The defendant did not produce sufficient evidence to show that her mind was so completely intoxicated that she was utterly incapable of forming the necessary intent.

Because the defendant failed to present evidence of intoxication to the degree required to show that he was incapable of forming the requisite intent to commit attempted statutory rape and indecent liberties, the trial court did not commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury on voluntary intoxication. The State’s evidence showed that the defendant made careful plans to be alone with the child, and in at least one instance, tricked her into coming out of her room after she had locked herself away from him. The defendant offered evidence that he has abused alcohol and drugs for so long that his memory has deteriorated so that he cannot remember the relevant events. However, the court concluded, the defendant’s failure to remember later when accused is not proof of his mental condition at the time of the crime.

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