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., 10/18/2021
E.g., 10/18/2021

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On appeal from the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App.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. 

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