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
State v. Rollins, 367 N.C. 114 (Oct. 4, 2013)

The court per curiam affirmed the decision below, State v. Rollins, 224 N.C. App. 197 (Dec. 4, 2012), in which the court of appeals had held, over a dissent, that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s MAR without an evidentiary hearing. The MAR asserted that the defendant “did not receive a fair trial as a result of a juror watching irrelevant and prejudicial television publicity during the course of the trial, failing to bring this fact to the attention of the parties or the Court, and arguing vehemently for conviction during jury deliberations.” Although the MAR was supported by an affidavit from one of the jurors, the court found that the affidavit “merely contained general allegations and speculation.” The defendant’s MAR failed to specify which news broadcast the juror in question had seen; the degree of attention the juror had paid to the broadcast; the extent to which the juror received or remembered the broadcast; whether the juror had shared the contents of the news broadcast with other jurors; and the prejudicial effect, if any, of the alleged juror misconduct.

The trial court erred by failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing before granting the MAR. An evidentiary hearing “is not automatically required before a trial court grants a defendant’s MAR, but such a hearing is the general procedure rather than the exception.” Prior case law “dictates that an evidentiary hearing is mandatory unless summary denial of an MAR is proper, or the motion presents a pure question of law.” Here, the State denied factual allegations asserted by the defendant. The trial court granted the MAR based on what it characterized as “undisputed facts,” faulting the State for failing to present evidence to rebut the defendant’s allegations. However, where the trial court sits as “the post-conviction trier of fact,” it is “obligated to ascertain the truth by testing the supporting and opposing information at an evidentiary hearing where the adversarial process could take place. But instead of doing so, the court wove its findings together based, in part, on conjecture and, as a whole, on the cold, written record.” It continued, noting that given the nature of the defendant’s claims (as discussed in the court’s opinion), the trial court was required to resolve conflicting questions of fact at an evidentiary hearing.

(1) Because the defendant’s motion for appropriate relief (MAR) alleging ineffective assistance of counsel in this sexual assault case raised disputed issues of fact, the trial court erred by failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing before denying relief. The defendant claimed that counsel was ineffective by failing to, among other things, obtain a qualified medical expert to rebut testimony by a sexual abuse nurse examiner and failing to properly cross-examine the State’s witnesses. The defendant’s motion was supported by an affidavit from counsel admitting the alleged errors and stating that none were strategic decisions. The court concluded that these failures “could have had a substantial impact on the jury’s verdict” and thus the defendant was entitled to an evidentiary hearing. The case was one of “he said, she said,” with no physical evidence of rape. The absence of any signs of violence provided defense counsel an opportunity to contradict the victim’s allegations with a medical expert, an opportunity he failed to take. Additionally, trial counsel failed to expose, through cross-examination, the fact that investigators failed to collect key evidence. For example, they did not test, collect, or even ask the victim about a used condom and condom wrapper found in the bedroom. Given counsel’s admission that his conduct was not the product of a strategic decision, an evidentiary hearing was required. (2) With respect to the defendant’s claim that the trial court erred by denying his motion before providing him with post-conviction discovery pursuant to G.S. 15A-1415(f), the court remanded for the trial court to address whether the State had complied with its post-conviction discovery obligations.

The trial court did not err by rejecting the defendant’s G.S. 15A-1414 MAR without an evidentiary hearing. 

At the MAR hearing, the trial court properly excluded the State’s expert witness, who did not testify at the original trial. The court viewed the State’s position as “trying to collaterally establish that the jury would have reached the same verdict based on evidence not introduced at trial.” It concluded that the trial court properly excluded this evidence:

Defendant’s newly discovered evidence concerned Agent Deaver, arguably, the State’s most important expert witness. Thus, the State could have offered its own evidence regarding Agent Deaver’s qualifications, lack of bias, or the validity of his experiments and conclusions. Furthermore, the State was properly allowed to argue that the evidence at trial was so overwhelming that the newly discovered evidence would have no probable impact on the jury’s verdict. However, the State may not try to minimize the impact of this newly discovered evidence by introducing evidence not available to the jury at the time of trial. Thus, the trial court did not err in prohibiting the introduction of this evidence at the MAR hearing.

 

(1) The trial court gave the State proper notice when it made a sua sponte oral MAR in open court one day after judgment had been entered. (2) The trial court did not violate the MAR provision stating that any party is entitled to a hearing on a MAR where the State did not request a hearing but merely requested a continuance so that the prosecutor from the previous day could be present in court.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion for appropriate relief (MAR) made under G.S. 15A-1414 without first holding an evidentiary hearing. Given that the defendant’s MAR claims pertained only to mitigating sentencing factors and the defendant had been sentenced in the presumptive range, the trial judge could properly conclude that the MAR was without merit and that the defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s post-sentencing motion to withdraw a plea without an evidentiary hearing. The defendant’s motion was a motion for appropriate relief. Evidentiary hearings are required on such motions only to resolve issues of fact. In this case, no issue of fact was presented. The defendant’s statement that he did not understand the trial court’s decision to run the sentences consecutively did not raise any factual issue given that he had already stated that he accepted and understood the plea agreement and its term that “the court will determine whether the sentences will be served concurrently or consecutively.” Furthermore, nothing in the record indicates that the defendant’s plea was not the product of free and intelligent choice. Rather, it appears that his only reason for moving to withdraw was his dissatisfaction with his sentence.

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