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., 10/21/2021
E.g., 10/21/2021

In 1992, the defendant pled guilty to second-degree murder for the killing of a gas station attendant during a robbery. In 2016, after learning that an informant implicated another person in the crime, the defendant filed a motion to test the DNA and fingerprints on evidence found at the scene. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed. As a threshold matter the court said that the defendant was not barred from seeking testing under G.S. 15A-269 because he pled guilty. It rejected the State’s argument that the statute’s reference to the defendant’s “defense” and the requirement for a “verdict” meant that the law only applied to defendants found guilty after a trial. On the merits, though, the court concluded that the defendant failed to meet his burden of showing that the results of the requested testing would be material to his defense. With the “high bar” required to establish materiality after a guilty plea, even the presence of another’s DNA on the evidence would not necessarily exclude the defendant’s involvement in the crime in light of the substantial evidence of his guilt. A judge concurring in the result would have concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Sayre, 255 N.C. App. 215 (2017), aff’d per curiam, 371 N.C. 468 (2018), bars a defendant who pled guilty from post-conviction DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269.

The trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enter an order denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to G.S. 15A-269 while the defendant’s appeal from the original judgment of conviction was pending. The defendant was convicted of an attempted sexual offense and sentenced on 10 November 2014. The defendant gave notice of appeal that day. On 6 April 2016, while his appeal was pending in the court of appeals, the defendant filed a pro se motion for post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to G.S. 15A-269. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion. The defendant timely filed notice of appeal from this denial. Then, on 16 August 2016, the court of appeals issued an opinion in defendant’s original appeal, vacating his sentence and remanding the case to the trial court for re-sentencing. The mandate issued on 6 September 2016. The court noted that once a notice of appeal has been filed, the trial court retains jurisdiction only over matters that are ancillary to the appeal. The trial court’s order on the defendant’s post-conviction motion was not such a matter. The court concluded:

In the instant case, the trial court was divested of jurisdiction when defendant filed notice of appeal from the judgment entered on his conviction . . . on 10 November 2014. Because defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing opened an inquiry into a case that this Court was already reviewing, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule on it until after the case was returned to the trial court by way of mandate, which issued on 6 September 2016. We therefore must vacate the trial court’s order denying defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing and discovery pursuant to G.S. 15A-269. The defendant was tried for burglary, kidnapping, assault by strangulation, rape, sex offense, and attaining habitual felon status. Evidence at trial included, among other things, testimony from the State’s expert in forensic DNA analysis concerning DNA evidence recovered from the victim. The DNA analyst concluded that defendant’s DNA “cannot be excluded as a contributor to the DNA mixture” that was recovered, and that “the chance of selecting an individual at random that would be expected to be included for the observed DNA mixture profile” was approximately, “for the North Carolina black population, 1 in 14.5 million[.]” The defendant was convicted and his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. He then filed a pro se motion with the trial court under G.S. 15A-269 and included a sworn affidavit maintaining his innocence. The trial court treated the motion as a Motion for Appropriate Relief (MAR) and denied the motion. It determined that the defendant had not complied with the service and filing requirements for MARs, did not allege newly discovered evidence or other genuine issues that would require a hearing, and that the claims were procedurally barred under the MAR statute. The Court of Appeals granted the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari and reversed. The court noted that the procedures for post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to G.S. 15A-269 are distinct from those that apply to MARs. Thus, when a defendant brings a motion for post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to G.S. 15A-269, the trial court must rule on the motion in accordance with the statutes that apply to that type of motion. The trial court may not supplant those procedures with procedures applicable to MARs. The court vacated and remanded for the trial court’s review consistent with the relevant statutes.

In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that a convicted state prisoner seeking DNA testing of crime-scene evidence may assert a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, the Court noted that District Attorney’s Office for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52 (2009), severely limits the federal action a state prisoner may bring for DNA testing. It stated: “Osborne rejected the extension of substantive due process to this area, and left slim room for the prisoner to show that the governing state law denies him procedural due process.” Slip Op. at 2 (citation omitted).

District of Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52 (June 18, 2009)

A defendant whose criminal conviction has become final does not have a substantive due process right to gain access to evidence so that it can be subjected to DNA testing to attempt to prove innocence. Additionally, the Court rejected the holding below that Alaska’s procedures for post-conviction relief violated the defendant’s procedural due process rights.

Considering an issue of first impression, the court held that the pro se indigent defendant made an insufficient showing that post-conviction DNA testing “may be material to [his] claim of wrongful conviction” and consequently the trial court did not err by denying his motion for DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269 before appointing him counsel.  The court explained that the showing a defendant must make to be entitled to appointment of counsel under G.S. 15A-269(c) is a lesser burden than that required to obtain DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269(a) because subsection (a) requires a showing that the testing “is material” to the defendant’s defense while subsection (c) requires a showing that testing “may be material” to the defense. The term “material,” the meaning of which the court discussed extensively in its opinion, maintains the same definition under both statutory provisions, but the showing differs due to the varying use of the modifiers “is” and “may be.”  Here, in light of the overwhelming evidence at trial of the defendant’s guilt, the dearth of evidence at trial implicating a second perpetrator, and the unlikelihood that DNA testing would establish the involvement of a third party, the defendant failed to satisfy his burden of showing that DNA testing may be material to his claim of wrongful conviction.

State v. Sayre, 371 N.C. 468 (Sept. 21, 2018)

On appeal from the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 699 (2017), the court affirmed per curiam. In the opinion below, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s pro se motion to locate and preserve evidence and motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The defendant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of indecent liberties, 2 counts of second-degree sexual offense and 2 counts of felony child abuse. He did not appeal. Nearly 2 years later he filed a pro se motion to locate and preserve evidence and motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The motion listed 12 pieces of physical evidence that the defendant alleged needed to be tested and preserved because they would prove that he was not the perpetrator. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion concluding that he had not made a showing that DNA testing may be material to his claim of wrongful conviction. As a result, the trial court declined to either appoint counsel or conduct an evidentiary hearing on the motion. The defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant’s burden of showing materiality under the post-conviction DNA statute requires more than a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the testing is material to the defense. Rather, the defendant must provide specific reasons why the requested test would be significantly more accurate or probative of the identity of the perpetrator or accomplice or that there is a reasonable probability of contradicting previous test results. Here, the defendant’s bare assertion that the DNA testing would prove he is not the perpetrator is not sufficiently specific to establish that the requested DNA testing would be material to his defense. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by summarily denying his request for post-conviction DNA testing and court-appointed counsel to prosecute the motion.

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing without appointing counsel. The statute requires appointment of counsel only on a showing that the DNA testing may be material to the defendant’s claim of wrongful conviction. The burden of establishing materiality is on the defendant. To meet this burden, the defendant must do more than make a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the requested testing is material to the defense. Where—as here--the case involves a guilty plea, the defendant has a heightened burden to show materiality. Here, the defendant’s justifications for DNA testing are merely conclusory statements. In a footnote, the court noted that the trial court did not address materiality and that “a specific finding or conclusion of materiality” by the trial court “would be helpful to our appellate review.”

(2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by summarily denying his motion for a complete inventory of evidence under G.S. 15A-268. That statute provides that upon written request by the defendant the custodial agency shall prepare an inventory of biological evidence relevant to the case that is in the custodial agency’s custody. However, a request for location and preservation of evidence, as occurred here, is not a request for an inventory of evidence. Thus, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing prior to obtaining an inventory of biological evidence which the defendant never requested. Even if the defendant had requested an inventory of biological evidence from the trial court, it would have been improper for the trial court to grant such a request where there was no evidence that the defendant had requested the inventory from the custodial agency.

(3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by summarily denying his motion for an inventory of evidence under G.S. 15A-269. That statute provides that upon receipt of a motion for post-conviction DNA testing the custodial agency shall inventory the evidence and provide an inventory list to, among others, the defendant. Under the statute, a defendant need not make a request for an inventory of physical evidence. Instead, the custodial agency’s obligation to do the inventory is triggered upon receipt of a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Here, the record lacks proof that either the defendant or the trial court served the custodial agency with the motion for inventory. Assuming arguendo that the trial court had the burden to do so, any error that occurred is harmless because the defendant failed to meet his burden of showing materiality.

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by refusing to appoint counsel to litigate the defendant’s pro se motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Under G.S. 15A-269(c), to be entitled to counsel, the defendant must establish that the DNA testing may be material to his wrongful conviction claim. The defendant’s burden to show materiality requires more than a conclusory statement. Here, the defendant’s conclusory contention that testing was material was insufficient to carry his burden. Additionally, the defendant failed to include the lab report that he claims shows that certain biological evidence was never analyzed. The court noted that the record does not indicate whether this evidence still exists and that after entering a guilty plea, evidence need only be preserved until the earlier of 3 years from the date of conviction or until the defendant is released.

(1) The trial court did not err by denying defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269. Defendant’s motion contained only the following conclusory statement regarding materiality: “The ability to conduct the requested DNA testing is material to defendant[’]s defense[.]” That conclusory statement was insufficient to satisfy his burden under the statute. (2) The court rejected defendant’s argument that the trial court erred in failing to consider defendant’s request for the appointment of counsel pursuant to G.S. 15A-269(c), concluding that an indigent defendant must make a sufficient showing of materiality before he or she is entitled to appointment of counsel.

The trial court did not err by failing to appoint counsel to represent the defendant on a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The trial court is required to appoint counsel for a motion under G.S. 15A-269 only if the defendant makes a showing of indigence and that the DNA testing is material to defendant’s claim of wrongful conviction. Here, the defendant did not make a sufficient showing of materiality, which requires more than a conclusory statement that the evidence is material. 

On appeal from the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 699 (2017), the court affirmed per curiam. In the opinion below, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s pro se motion to locate and preserve evidence and motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The defendant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of indecent liberties, 2 counts of second-degree sexual offense and 2 counts of felony child abuse. He did not appeal. Nearly 2 years later he filed a pro se motion to locate and preserve evidence and motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The motion listed 12 pieces of physical evidence that the defendant alleged needed to be tested and preserved because they would prove that he was not the perpetrator. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion concluding that he had not made a showing that DNA testing may be material to his claim of wrongful conviction. As a result, the trial court declined to either appoint counsel or conduct an evidentiary hearing on the motion. The defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant’s burden of showing materiality under the post-conviction DNA statute requires more than a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the testing is material to the defense. Rather, the defendant must provide specific reasons why the requested test would be significantly more accurate or probative of the identity of the perpetrator or accomplice or that there is a reasonable probability of contradicting previous test results. Here, the defendant’s bare assertion that the DNA testing would prove he is not the perpetrator is not sufficiently specific to establish that the requested DNA testing would be material to his defense. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by summarily denying his request for post-conviction DNA testing and court-appointed counsel to prosecute the motion.

The court held that trial court was not required to hold an evidentiary hearing on the defendant’s motion, noting:

[A] trial court is not required to conduct an evidentiary hearing where it can determine from the trial record and the information in the motion that the defendant has failed to meet his burden of showing any evidence resulting from the DNA testing being sought would be material. A trial court is not required to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the motion where the moving defendant fails to describe the nature of the evidence he would present at such a hearing which would indicate that a reasonable probability exists that the DNA testing sought would produce evidence that would be material to his defense.

The rules of evidence apply to proceedings related to post-conviction motions for DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269. 

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing without appointing counsel. The statute requires appointment of counsel only on a showing that the DNA testing may be material to the defendant’s claim of wrongful conviction. The burden of establishing materiality is on the defendant. To meet this burden, the defendant must do more than make a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the requested testing is material to the defense. Where—as here--the case involves a guilty plea, the defendant has a heightened burden to show materiality. Here, the defendant’s justifications for DNA testing are merely conclusory statements. In a footnote, the court noted that the trial court did not address materiality and that “a specific finding or conclusion of materiality” by the trial court “would be helpful to our appellate review.”

(2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by summarily denying his motion for a complete inventory of evidence under G.S. 15A-268. That statute provides that upon written request by the defendant the custodial agency shall prepare an inventory of biological evidence relevant to the case that is in the custodial agency’s custody. However, a request for location and preservation of evidence, as occurred here, is not a request for an inventory of evidence. Thus, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing prior to obtaining an inventory of biological evidence which the defendant never requested. Even if the defendant had requested an inventory of biological evidence from the trial court, it would have been improper for the trial court to grant such a request where there was no evidence that the defendant had requested the inventory from the custodial agency.

(3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by summarily denying his motion for an inventory of evidence under G.S. 15A-269. That statute provides that upon receipt of a motion for post-conviction DNA testing the custodial agency shall inventory the evidence and provide an inventory list to, among others, the defendant. Under the statute, a defendant need not make a request for an inventory of physical evidence. Instead, the custodial agency’s obligation to do the inventory is triggered upon receipt of a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Here, the record lacks proof that either the defendant or the trial court served the custodial agency with the motion for inventory. Assuming arguendo that the trial court had the burden to do so, any error that occurred is harmless because the defendant failed to meet his burden of showing materiality.

(1) The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The defendant, who pleaded guilty to multiple sexual assaults, filed a pro se motion seeking DNA testing of evidence he alleged was collected by law enforcement, including vials of blood and saliva, a bag of clothes, and a rape kit. The court found that the post-conviction DNA testing statute was not intended to “completely forestall” the filing of such a motion when the defendant enters a guilty plea. It continued, noting that when such a motion is filed “[t]he trial court is obligated to consider the facts surrounding a defendant’s decision to plead guilty in addition to other evidence, in the context of the entire record of the case, in order to determine whether the evidence is ‘material’” within the meaning of the post-conviction DNA testing statute. A defendant’s burden to show materiality requires more than a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the requested testing is material to the defense. Here, the defendant’s assertion in his motion that his DNA would not be found in the rape kit essentially amounts to a statement that testing would show he was not the perpetrator. The court noted that it has previously held that such a statement is insufficient to establish materiality. The court thus found that the defendant failed to show the DNA testing would have been material to his defense. Specifically, the record indicates that the defendant was convicted of multiple counts of statutory rape for encounters with a single victim which took place over many months; the defendant confessed to the crimes; and the victim reported that the defendant had sexually abused her. The defendant’s motion requested that DNA testing be performed on certain items recovered from the victim over a month after the defendant’s last alleged contact with the victim. The lack of DNA on those items, recovered well after the alleged crimes, would not conclusively prove that the defendant was not involved in the conduct at issue. Additionally, the Sheriff’s office indicated that the only relevant evidence it had—or ever had—was a computer that an officer searched for child pornography with the defendant’s consent.

(2) The court found that the defendant’s challenge to the trial court’s denial of his request for an inventory of biological evidence pursuant to G.S. 15A-268 was not properly before it. The defendant asserted that he requested an inventory from a hospital and DSS, whom he alleged had clothing, hair and blood samples, and other items. However, there was no evidence of these requests in the record. Without any evidence that the defendant made a proper request pursuant to the statute and without any indication that the trial court considered this issue, the court found that there was no ruling for it to review.

(1) The court dismissed the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to order an inventory of biological evidence under G.S. 15A-269(f). Under the statute, a request for post-conviction DNA testing triggers an obligation for the custodial agency to inventory relevant biological evidence. Thus, a defendant who requests DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269 need not make any additional written request for an inventory of biological evidence. However, the required inventory under section 15A-269 is merely an ancillary procedure to an underlying request for DNA testing. Where, as here, the defendant has abandoned his right to appellate review of the denial of his request for DNA testing, there is no need for the inventory required by G.S. 15A-269(f). (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to order preparation of an inventory of biological evidence under G.S. 15A-268 where the defendant failed to make a written request as required by G.S. 15A-268(a7). The defendant’s motion asked only that certain “physical evidence obtained during the investigation of his criminal case be located and preserved.” 

On appeal from the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 699 (2017), the court affirmed per curiam. In the opinion below, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s pro se motion to locate and preserve evidence and motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The defendant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of indecent liberties, 2 counts of second-degree sexual offense and 2 counts of felony child abuse. He did not appeal. Nearly 2 years later he filed a pro se motion to locate and preserve evidence and motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The motion listed 12 pieces of physical evidence that the defendant alleged needed to be tested and preserved because they would prove that he was not the perpetrator. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion concluding that he had not made a showing that DNA testing may be material to his claim of wrongful conviction. As a result, the trial court declined to either appoint counsel or conduct an evidentiary hearing on the motion. The defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant’s burden of showing materiality under the post-conviction DNA statute requires more than a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the testing is material to the defense. Rather, the defendant must provide specific reasons why the requested test would be significantly more accurate or probative of the identity of the perpetrator or accomplice or that there is a reasonable probability of contradicting previous test results. Here, the defendant’s bare assertion that the DNA testing would prove he is not the perpetrator is not sufficiently specific to establish that the requested DNA testing would be material to his defense. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by summarily denying his request for post-conviction DNA testing and court-appointed counsel to prosecute the motion.

State v. Lane, 370 N.C. 508 (Mar. 2, 2018)

In this capital case, the court held that the defendant failed to prove materiality in connection with his request for post-conviction DNA testing of hair samples. The hair samples were found in a trash bag in which the victim’s body had been placed. Before the trial court the defendant argued that the requested testing was material for two reasons. First, the evidence at trial showed two separate crimes, a rape and murder; acknowledging that DNA evidence implicated him in the rape, the defendant asserted that the hairs could relate to another perpetrator, and potentially the only perpetrator of the murder. Second, the defendant argued that the State’s closing argument relied in part on the forensic analysis of hairs recovered from the defendant’s residence that were found to be microscopically consistent with the victim’s hair; the defendant asserted that if those hairs were material to the State, the hairs found in the bag were material to the defense. The trial court denied the testing motion, finding that the defendant failed to establish materiality. The trial court considered, among other things, the evidence presented at trial and prior post-conviction DNA testing that was done on vaginal and rectal swabs from the victim’s body that ultimately implicated the defendant. The court began by adopting the following standard of review of the denial of the motion for post-conviction DNA testing: findings of fact are binding if supported by competent evidence and may not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion; conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. The court further determined that the post-conviction DNA statute adopted the Brady materiality standard. It went on to conclude that taken together, the overwhelming evidence of guilt at trial, the dearth of trial evidence pointing to a second perpetrator, and “the inability of forensic testing to determine whether the hair samples at issue are relevant to establish a third party was involved”, created an “insurmountable hurdle” to the defendant’s materiality argument with respect to either the conviction or sentence. Finally, the court denied the defendant’s request that the court exercise its constitutional supervisory or inherent authority to order testing. 

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing without appointing counsel. The statute requires appointment of counsel only on a showing that the DNA testing may be material to the defendant’s claim of wrongful conviction. The burden of establishing materiality is on the defendant. To meet this burden, the defendant must do more than make a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the requested testing is material to the defense. Where—as here--the case involves a guilty plea, the defendant has a heightened burden to show materiality. Here, the defendant’s justifications for DNA testing are merely conclusory statements. In a footnote, the court noted that the trial court did not address materiality and that “a specific finding or conclusion of materiality” by the trial court “would be helpful to our appellate review.”

(2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by summarily denying his motion for a complete inventory of evidence under G.S. 15A-268. That statute provides that upon written request by the defendant the custodial agency shall prepare an inventory of biological evidence relevant to the case that is in the custodial agency’s custody. However, a request for location and preservation of evidence, as occurred here, is not a request for an inventory of evidence. Thus, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing prior to obtaining an inventory of biological evidence which the defendant never requested. Even if the defendant had requested an inventory of biological evidence from the trial court, it would have been improper for the trial court to grant such a request where there was no evidence that the defendant had requested the inventory from the custodial agency.

(3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by summarily denying his motion for an inventory of evidence under G.S. 15A-269. That statute provides that upon receipt of a motion for post-conviction DNA testing the custodial agency shall inventory the evidence and provide an inventory list to, among others, the defendant. Under the statute, a defendant need not make a request for an inventory of physical evidence. Instead, the custodial agency’s obligation to do the inventory is triggered upon receipt of a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Here, the record lacks proof that either the defendant or the trial court served the custodial agency with the motion for inventory. Assuming arguendo that the trial court had the burden to do so, any error that occurred is harmless because the defendant failed to meet his burden of showing materiality.

(1) The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The defendant, who pleaded guilty to multiple sexual assaults, filed a pro se motion seeking DNA testing of evidence he alleged was collected by law enforcement, including vials of blood and saliva, a bag of clothes, and a rape kit. The court found that the post-conviction DNA testing statute was not intended to “completely forestall” the filing of such a motion when the defendant enters a guilty plea. It continued, noting that when such a motion is filed “[t]he trial court is obligated to consider the facts surrounding a defendant’s decision to plead guilty in addition to other evidence, in the context of the entire record of the case, in order to determine whether the evidence is ‘material’” within the meaning of the post-conviction DNA testing statute. A defendant’s burden to show materiality requires more than a conclusory statement that the ability to conduct the requested testing is material to the defense. Here, the defendant’s assertion in his motion that his DNA would not be found in the rape kit essentially amounts to a statement that testing would show he was not the perpetrator. The court noted that it has previously held that such a statement is insufficient to establish materiality. The court thus found that the defendant failed to show the DNA testing would have been material to his defense. Specifically, the record indicates that the defendant was convicted of multiple counts of statutory rape for encounters with a single victim which took place over many months; the defendant confessed to the crimes; and the victim reported that the defendant had sexually abused her. The defendant’s motion requested that DNA testing be performed on certain items recovered from the victim over a month after the defendant’s last alleged contact with the victim. The lack of DNA on those items, recovered well after the alleged crimes, would not conclusively prove that the defendant was not involved in the conduct at issue. Additionally, the Sheriff’s office indicated that the only relevant evidence it had—or ever had—was a computer that an officer searched for child pornography with the defendant’s consent.

(2) The court found that the defendant’s challenge to the trial court’s denial of his request for an inventory of biological evidence pursuant to G.S. 15A-268 was not properly before it. The defendant asserted that he requested an inventory from a hospital and DSS, whom he alleged had clothing, hair and blood samples, and other items. However, there was no evidence of these requests in the record. Without any evidence that the defendant made a proper request pursuant to the statute and without any indication that the trial court considered this issue, the court found that there was no ruling for it to review.

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by refusing to appoint counsel to litigate the defendant’s pro se motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Under G.S. 15A-269(c), to be entitled to counsel, the defendant must establish that the DNA testing may be material to his wrongful conviction claim. The defendant’s burden to show materiality requires more than a conclusory statement. Here, the defendant’s conclusory contention that testing was material was insufficient to carry his burden. Additionally, the defendant failed to include the lab report that he claims shows that certain biological evidence was never analyzed. The court noted that the record does not indicate whether this evidence still exists and that after entering a guilty plea, evidence need only be preserved until the earlier of 3 years from the date of conviction or until the defendant is released.

(1) The trial court did not err by denying defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269. Defendant’s motion contained only the following conclusory statement regarding materiality: “The ability to conduct the requested DNA testing is material to defendant[’]s defense[.]” That conclusory statement was insufficient to satisfy his burden under the statute. (2) The court rejected defendant’s argument that the trial court erred in failing to consider defendant’s request for the appointment of counsel pursuant to G.S. 15A-269(c), concluding that an indigent defendant must make a sufficient showing of materiality before he or she is entitled to appointment of counsel.

(1) The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The defendant was convicted of murdering his wife; her body was discovered in a utility shop behind their home. He sought DNA testing of five cigarettes and a beer can that were found in the utility shop, arguing that Karen Fowler, with whom the defendant had an affair, or her sons committed the murder. He asserted that testing may show the presence of DNA from Fowler or her sons at the scene. The defendant failed to prove the materiality of sought-for evidence, given the overwhelming evidence of guilt and the fact that DNA testing would not reveal who brought the items into the utility shop or when they were left there. The court noted: “While the results from DNA testing might be considered ‘relevant,’ had they been offered at trial, they are not ‘material’ in this postconviction setting.” 

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing where the defendant did not meet his burden of showing materiality under G.S. 15A-269(a)(1). The defendant made only a conclusory statement that "[t]he ability to conduct the requested DNA testing is material to the Defendant's defense"; he provided no other explanation of why DNA testing would be material to his defense.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion for post-conviction independent DNA testing. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder (based on premeditation and deliberation and felony-murder predicated upon discharge of a weapon into occupied property), discharge of a weapon into occupied property, and misdemeanor violation of a domestic violence protective order. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by concluding that DNA testing was not material to the defense. Specifically, he asserted that the State’s theory of the case indicated that the victim was inside the home and the defendant was outside when he discharged his handgun. The defendant further argued that blood on his pants was never tested. He asserted that if DNA evidence indicates the blood belonged to the victim, the defendant could argue that he was in close proximity to the victim, that he did not shoot from outside the residence, and that he would have the basis for a heat-of-passion defense to first-degree murder. The court rejected this argument, concluding that the evidence submitted by defendant in support of his motion supported the jury’s verdict and did not support a jury instruction on the heat-of-passion defense. It noted: “Defendant’s contention that he was in close proximity to the victim at some point, even if supported by DNA evidence, does not  minimize the significance of or otherwise refute the substantial evidence that defendant fired a gun into occupied property and that the victim suffered fatal gunshot wounds as a result.”

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s pro se motion for post-conviction DNA testing where the defendant failed to adequately establish that newer and more accurate tests would identify the perpetrator or contradict prior test results. It reasoned:

Defendant’s mere allegations that “newer and more accurate testing” methods exist, “which would provide results that are significantly more accurate and probative of the identity of the perpetrator [o]r accomplice, or have a reasonable probability of . . . contradicting prior test results” are incomplete and conclusory. Even though he named a new method of DNA testing, he provided no information about how this method is different from and more accurate than the type of DNA testing used in this case. Without more specific detail from Defendant or some other evidence, the trial court could not adequately determine whether additional testing would be significantly more accurate and probative or have a reasonable probability of contradicting past test results. 

The post-conviction DNA testing statute does not require the trial court to make findings of fact when denying a motion. “A trial court’s order is sufficient so long as it states that the court reviewed the defendant’s motion, cites the statutory requirements for granting the motion, and concludes that the defendant failed to show that all the required conditions were met.”

The trial court did not err by failing to make specific findings of fact when denying the defendant’s request for post-conviction DNA testing under G.S. 15A-269. The statute contains no requirement that the trial court make specific findings of fact.

(1) The court held that it had both jurisdiction and authority to decide whether Anders-type review should be prohibited, allowed, or required in appeals from G.S. 15A-270.1. Exercising this discretionary authority, the court held that Anders procedures apply to appeals pursuant to G.S. 15A–270.1. However, it was careful to limit its holding “to the issue before us – appeal pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A– 270.1.”

(2) Conducting an Anders review in this appeal from the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to locate and preserve evidence and for post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to G.S. 15A-268 and 269, the court found the appeal wholly frivolous. In this homicide case the defendant argued that he did not act with premeditation and deliberation in killing the victim and did not come to her apartment with intent to commit a felony therein. The court found that these averments bear no relation to the integrity of the DNA evidence presented at trial or to the potential value of additional testing. The court also found that the defendant’s argument was “wholly at odds” with the theory presented in his motion to the trial court, that is, that the testing would prove he was not the perpetrator.

The court adopted the following standard of review of a denial for post-conviction DNA testing: Findings of fact are binding if supported by competent evidence and may not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion; conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. 

A defendant does not have a right to appeal a trial judge’s order denying relief following a hearing to evaluate test results.

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