Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

About

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.

Instructions

Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

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

On appeal from the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App.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

Show Table of Contents