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

(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.” 

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