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., 06/14/2024
E.g., 06/14/2024

In this Cumberland County case, defendant appealed the superior court order sentencing him to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOPP) for two counts of first-degree murder committed while he was a juvenile. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s order. 

In 1998, defendant was convicted of murdering two law enforcement officers and was sentenced to death. Defendant was 17 years old at the time of the murders. Defendant’s convictions were upheld on direct appeal in State v. Golphin, 352 N.C. 364 (2000). After defendant was convicted, the U.S. Supreme Court issued Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), holding death sentences for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment; Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), holding that a mandatory sentence of LWOPP was unconstitutional for a juvenile; and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016), holding that Miller’sprohibition on mandatory LWOPP must be applied retroactively to those already sentenced to mandatory LWOPP. Defendant was initially resentenced to mandatory LWOPP in December of 2005, after filing a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) under Roper. In the current case, defendant filed a MAR in July of 2018, alleging his sentence was unconstitutional under Miller and Montgomery. A sentencing hearing was held in 2022, where the MAR court reviewed the nine mitigating factors from G.S. 15A-1340.19B and sentenced defendant to consecutive sentences of LWOPP. 

The Court of Appeals first explained the scope of its review was abuse of discretion, and that the relevant considerations were the mitigating factors from G.S. 15A-1340.19B(c), along with the additional factor from State v. Kelliher, 381 N.C. 558 (2022), that the sentencing court must make an express finding of “a juvenile’s permanent incorrigibility” before imposing LWOPP. Slip Op. at 12. The court then grouped defendant’s arguments in two categories, (1) that defendant’s sentence of LWOPP should be reversed based on Kelliherbecause he was capable of reform, and (2) the MAR court incorrectly weighed the mitigating factors of G.S. 15A-1340.19B. Taking up (1), the court quickly dispensed with defendant’s arguments, as defendant did not challenge the findings of fact as unsupported by the evidence and they were binding on his appeal.

Because defendant did not challenge the findings of fact, the court moved to (2), and specifically the weight the MAR court gave to each of the nine mitigating factors and the express finding of incorrigibility under Kelliher. A significant portion of the opinion (pages 15 to 30) were spent examining the factors and the weight given by the MAR court to each. The court ultimately concluded that “the Sentencing Order properly addressed each factor as required by [G.S.] 15A-1340.19A and Kelliher.” Id. at 31. After noting the possible differing views on the mitigating impact of the factors, the court found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the order. 

(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State had no avenue to obtain review of a trial court order granting his G.S. 15A-1415 MAR (MAR made more than 10 days after entry of judgment) on grounds that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. The court found that it had authority to grant the State’s petition for writ of certiorari. The court rejected the contention that State v. Starkey, 177 N.C. App. 264, 268 (2006), required a different conclusion, noting that case conflicts with state Supreme Court decisions. (2) The defendant’s claim that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment was properly asserted under G.S. 15A-1415(b)(4) (convicted/sentenced under statute in violation of US or NC Constitutions) and (b)(8) (sentence unauthorized at the time imposed, contained a type of disposition or a term of imprisonment not authorized for the particular class of offense and prior record or conviction level, was illegally imposed, or is otherwise invalid as a matter of law).

State v. Stubbs, 232 N.C. App. 274 (Feb. 4, 2014) aff'd on other grounds, 368 N.C. 40 (Apr 10 2015)

The trial court erred by concluding that the defendant’s 1973 sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole on a conviction of second-degree burglary, committed when he was 17 years old, violated the Eighth Amendment. The defendant brought a MAR challenging his sentence as unconstitutional. The court began by noting that the defendant’s MAR claim was a valid under G.S. 15A-1415(b)(4) (unconstitutional conviction or sentence) and (8) (sentence illegal or invalid). On the substantive issue, the court found that unlike a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the defendant’s sentence “allows for the realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of his life.” In fact, the defendant had been placed on parole in 2008, but it was revoked after he committed a DWI.

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