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

Carlos Chavez and Luis Lopez, initially charged with state crimes and held in pretrial detention in the Mecklenburg County Jail, both became eligible for release from their state charges on October 13, 2017. But they were not released. The Sheriff, a participant in a § 287(g) agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, continued to hold them on immigration-related warrants and detainers. That same day, both men filed petitions for a writ of habeas corpus. A superior court judge entered orders finding that the men were being unlawfully detained and ordered their discharge from custody. The Sheriff declined to release either petitioner and delivered them to federal immigration custody. In November 2017, the Sheriff filed petitions for writ of certiorari with the Court of Appeals to review the trial judge’s orders, and a writ of prohibition seeking to preclude similar orders in the future. The next month, the Court of Appeals allowed the petitions and entered an order prohibiting a trial court from issuing a writ of habeas corpus for a person detained pursuant to a 287(g) agreement. The following year the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court orders for lack of jurisdiction, concluding that they infringed upon the federal government’s exclusive authority over immigration matters. Chavez v. Carmichael, 262 N.C. App. 196 (2018).

The Supreme Court allowed discretionary review and affirmed in part. The Court concluded as a threshold matter that although the matter was rendered moot when the Sheriff turned the men over to immigration authorities, the case fell within the scope of the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine. Proceeding to the merits, the Court concluded that a state court judge cannot interfere with the custody and detention of individuals held pursuant to federal authority, which includes state officials acting in accordance with a § 287(g) agreement. A trial court has jurisdiction to determine as an initial matter whether it has the authority to issue the writ, but once that initial examination of the application shows that the petitioner is being held pursuant to an immigration-related warrant or detainer, the trial court should summarily deny the application. Here, the applications, on their face, informed the judge that the petitioners were being held on immigration related process by a custodian who was a party to a § 287(g) agreement, and should therefore have been denied. The Court said the Court of Appeals erred to the extent that it held that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to make even an initial determination as to the basis for the petitioners’ detention, and also by addressing the extent to which habeas relief is available to petitioners detained on immigration-related documents by sheriffs who are not parties to § 287(g) agreements. In a footnote, the Court vacated the portion of the Court of Appeals’ decision ordering that a copy of its decision be sent to the Judicial Standards Commission.

The defendant, who was serving prison sentences for obtaining property by false pretenses, filed a petition for habeas corpus on June 15, 2020 alleging that his continued imprisonment during the COVID-19 pandemic violated the state and federal constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment. The trial court summarily denied the petition the same day on the basis that the defendant was held pursuant to a valid final judgment in a criminal case entered by a court with proper jurisdiction, citing G.S. 17-4(2).

The Court of Appeals granted certiorari review. Six days after oral argument, the defendant was released to serve the remainder of his sentence outside of prison. Notwithstanding the defendant’s release, the Court addressed the merits of the petition pursuant to the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine.

Applying de novo review, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court’s summary denial of the petition was proper even though its reasons for doing so were legally incorrect. After reviewing the origins, evolution and limits of the writ of habeas corpus under state law, the Court concluded that the general rule in G.S. 17-4(2) is subject to the exception in G.S. 17-33(2),which provides that discharge of a lawful term of imprisonment may be based upon “some act, omission or event” that takes place after the judgment is entered.

The Court determined, however, that the defendant failed to make a threshold showing of evidence individualized to the circumstances of his case that such an act, omission or event had occurred. While the defendant averred that he had a “long history of respiratory illness” and submitted information about the risks of COVID-19 for prisoners, he did not submit materials that showed how his medical conditions put him at an elevated risk for serious illness or other medical complications from COVID-19. Affidavits submitted by defendant and his wife in which they opined about the risks COVID-19 posed to the defendant based on his medical history and diagnoses were insufficient to bridge the gap between the defendant’s individual circumstances and the general information regarding the dangers of COVID-19 to people with respiratory conditions and confined in prison since neither defendant nor his wife had the requisite expert qualifications. In addition, the defendant’s medical records, which showed that the Division of Public Safety first learned of the defendant’s history of respiratory illness after news of the pandemic was widespread, did not provide a colorable basis for concluding that the defendant’s claims had merit.

Chavez v. Carmichael, ___ N.C. App. ___, 822 S.E.2d 131 (Nov. 6, 2018) aff’d in part, rev’d in part, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Jun 5 2020)

In this appeal by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff from orders of the Superior Court ordering the Sheriff to release two individuals from his custody, the court vacated and remanded to the trial court to dismiss the habeas corpus petitions for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendant Lopez was arrested for common law robbery and other charges and was incarcerated in the County Jail after arrest on a $400 secured bond. He then was served with an administrative immigration arrest warrant issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally DHS served the Sheriff with an immigration detainer, requesting that the Sheriff maintain custody of Lopez for 48 hours to allow DHS to take custody of him. Defendant Chavez was arrested for impaired driving and other offenses and detained at the County Jail on a $100 cash bond. He also was served with a DHS administrative immigration warrant, and the Sheriff’s office was served with a DHS immigration detainer for him. On October 13, both defendants satisfied the conditions of release set on their state charges, but the Sheriff continued to detain them pursuant to the immigration detainers and arrest warrants. That day they filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus in Superior Court. The Superior Court granted both petitions and, after a hearing, determined that the defendant’s detention was unlawful and ordered their immediate release. However, before the court issued its orders, the Sheriff’s office had turned physical custody of both of the defendants over to ICE officers. The Sheriff sought appellate review.

     The court began by rejecting the defendants’ argument that the cases were moot because they were in ICE custody. The court found that the matter involves an issue of federal and state jurisdiction invoking the “public interest” exception to mootness, specifically, the question of whether North Carolina state courts have jurisdiction to review habeas petitions of alien detainees held under the authority of the federal government.

     The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that it should not consider the 287(g) Agreement between the Sheriff and ICE because the Agreement was not submitted to the Superior Court. It noted, in part, that the Agreement is properly in the record on appeal and an appellate court may consider materials that were not before the lower court to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists.

     On the central issue, the court held that the Superior Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the defendants’ habeas petitions. It began by rejecting the defendants’ argument that the Superior Court could exercise jurisdiction because North Carolina law does not allow civil immigration detention, even when a 287(g) Agreement is in place. Specifically, they argued that G.S. 162-62 prevents local law enforcement officers from performing the functions of immigration officers or assisting DHS in civil immigration detentions. The court declined to adopt a reading of the statute that would forbid Sheriffs from detaining prisoners who were subject to immigration detainers and administrative warrants beyond the time they would otherwise be released from custody or jail under state law. Moreover, the court noted that G.S. 128-1.1 specifically authorizes state and local law enforcement officers to enter into 287(g) agreements and perform the functions of immigration officers, including detaining aliens.

     Finding the reasoning of cases from other jurisdictions persuasive, the court held that “[a] state court’s purported exercise of jurisdiction to review the validity of federal detainer requests and immigration warrants infringes upon the federal government’s exclusive federal authority over immigration matters.” As a result, the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction or any other basis to receive and review the habeas petitions or issue orders other than to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

     Further, it held that even if the 287(g) Agreement between the Sheriff and ICE did not exist or was invalid, federal law—specifically, 8 U.S.C. § 1357(g)(10)(A)-(B)--allows and empowers state and local authorities and officers to communicate with ICE regarding the immigration status of any person or otherwise to cooperate with ICE in the identification, apprehension, detention, or removal of aliens unlawfully in the United States. It continued: “A state court’s purported exercise of jurisdiction to review petitions challenging the validity of federal detainers and administrative warrants issued by ICE, and to potentially order alien detainees released, constitutes prohibited interference with the federal government’s supremacy and exclusive control over matters of immigration.”

     The court added: “[a]n additional compelling reason that prohibits the superior court from exercising jurisdiction to issue habeas writs to alien petitioners, is a state court’s inability to grant habeas relief to individuals detained by federal officers acting under federal authority.” The court cited Supreme Court decisions as standing for the proposition that no state judge or court after being judicially informed that a person is imprisoned under the authority of the United States has any right to interfere with the person or require the person to be brought before the court. On this point it stated: “In sum, if a prisoner’s habeas petition indicates the prisoner is held: (1) under the authority, or color of authority, of the federal government; and, (2) by an officer of the federal government under the asserted ‘authority of the United States’, the state court must refuse to issue a writ of habeas corpus.” Here, it was undisputed that the Sheriff’s continued detention of the defendants after they were otherwise released from state custody was pursuant to federal authority delegated to the Sheriff’s office under the 287(g) Agreement, and after issuance of immigration arrest warrants and detainers. Additionally, 8 U.S.C. § 1357(g)(3) indicates state and local law enforcement officers act under color of federal authority when performing immigration functions authorized under 287(g) agreements. Thus, the Sheriff was acting under the actual authority of the United States by detaining the defendants under the immigration enforcement authority delegated to him under the agreement, and under color of federal authority provided by the administrative warrants and detainer requests. The court next turned to whether the Sheriff was acting as a federal officer under the 287(g) Agreement by detaining the defendants pursuant to the detainers and warrants, noting that the issue was one of first impression. Considering federal authority on related questions, the court concluded: “To the extent personnel of the Sheriff’s office were deputized or empowered by DHS or ICE to perform immigration functions, including detention and turnover of physical custody, pursuant to the 287(g) Agreement, we find . . . federal cases persuasive to conclude the Sheriff was empowered and acting as a federal officer by detaining Petitioners under the detainer requests and administrative warrants.” Because the defendants were being detained under express, and color of, federal authority by the Sheriff who was acting as a de facto federal officer, the Superior Court was without jurisdiction, or any other basis, to receive, review, or consider the habeas petitions, other than to dismiss them for lack of jurisdiction, to hear or issue writs, or intervene or interfere with the defendants’ detention in any capacity. The court went on to hold that the proper jurisdiction and venue for the defendants’ petitions is federal court.

The trial court erred by granting the defendant habeas relief and dismissing two first-degree capital murder charges. The trial court concluded that the victims were previable fetuses that did not meet the born alive rule for murder. It thus dismissed the murder charges. The court concluded that this was error, reasoning that whether the fetuses could be deemed living persons within the meaning of the homicide statute was a factual issue for the jury. 

(1) When a trial judge conducts an initial review of an application for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, the issues are whether the application is in proper form and whether the applicant has established a valid basis for believing that he or she is being unlawfully detained and entitled to be discharged. In making this determination, the trial court is simply required to examine the face of the applicant’s application, including any supporting documentation, and decide whether the necessary preliminary showing has been made. Given the nature of the inquiry, there is no reason to require findings of fact and conclusions of law at this initial review stage. The decision whether an application should be summarily denied or whether additional proceedings should be conducted is a question of law and is reviewed de novo. (2) Where the trial court summarily denied the defendant’s application, it had no obligation to make findings of fact or conclusions of law and thus its failure to do so does not provide a valid basis for overturning its order on appeal. (3) The trial court did not err by summarily denying the defendant’s application where the defendant failed to establish that he had a colorable claim to be entitled to be discharged from custody based on an alleged deprivation of a constitutionally protected liberty interest established by a MAPP contract.

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