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

The superior court judge erred by “retroactively” applying Structured Sentencing Law (SSL) provisions to a Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) case. The defendant was sentenced under the FSA. After SSL came into effect, he filed a motion for appropriate relief asserting that SSL applied retroactively to his case and that he was entitled to a lesser sentence under SSL. The superior court judge granted relief. The supreme court, exercising rarely used general supervisory authority to promote the expeditious administration of justice, allowed the State’s petition for writ of certiorari and held that the superior court judge erred by modifying the sentence. The court relied on the effective date of the SSL, as set out by the General Assembly when enacting that law. Finding no other ground for relief, the court remanded for reinstatement of the original FSA sentence.

On the State’s petition for writ of certiorari, the court reversed the trial court and held that no significant change in the law pertaining to the admissibility of expert opinions in child sexual abuse cases had occurred and thus that the defendant was not entitled to relief under G.S. 15A-1415(b)(7) (in a motion for appropriate relief, a defendant may assert a claim that there has been a significant change in law applied in the proceedings leading to the defendant's conviction or sentence, and retroactive application of the changed legal standard is required). Contrary to the trial court’s findings and conclusions, State v. Stancil, 355 N.C. 266 (2002),was not a significant change in the law, but merely an application of the court’s existing case law on expert opinion evidence requiring that in order for an expert to testify that abuse occurred, there must be physical findings consistent with abuse. 

The court reversed the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s motion for reconsideration and motion for appropriate relief (MAR), holding that the requirement that counsel advise the defendant of the immigration consequences of a plea agreement established by Padilla does not apply retroactively. The defendant pled no contest to a drug charge in 1997. In 2015 the defendant asserted a MAR claim under Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), that he was not informed of the impact his conviction would have on his immigration status, particularly the risk of deportation. The trial court initially denied the MAR but subsequently granted a motion to reconsider and entered an order granting the MAR. Reversing, the court noted that it had previously decided, in State v. Alshaif, 219 N.C. App. 162 (2012), that Padilla does not apply retroactively.

Declining to address whether State v. Garris, 191 N.C. App. 276 (2008), applied retroactively, the court held that the defendant’s MAR was subject to denial because the Garris does not constitute a significant change in the substantive or procedural law as required by G.S. 15A-1415(b)(7), the MAR ground asserted by the defendant. When Garris was decided, no reported NC appellate decisions had addressed whether the possession of multiple firearms by a convicted felon constituted a single violation or multiple violations of G.S. 14-415.1(a). For that reason, Garris resolved an issue of first impression. The court continued: “Instead of working a change in existing North Carolina law, Garris simply announced what North Carolina law had been since the enactment of the relevant version of [G.S.] 14-415.1(a).” As a result, it concluded, “a decision which merely resolves a previously undecided issue without either actually or implicitly overruling or modifying a prior decision cannot serve as the basis for an award of appropriate relief made pursuant to [G.S.] 15A-1415(b)(7).” It thus concluded that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant relief for the reason requested and properly denied the MAR.

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