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., 06/17/2024
E.g., 06/17/2024

In this Wake County case, the Supreme Court affirmed an unpublished Court of Appeals opinion denying defendant’s motion for appropriate relief (MAR) based upon ineffective assistance of his trial and appellate counsel. The Court’s opinion reversed the holding in State v. Allen, 378 N.C. 286 (2021), that the factual allegations in a MAR must be reviewed in the light most favorable to the defendant. 

Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to life without parole. Defendant appealed his conviction, but the Court of Appeals found no error. In April of 2020, defendant filed the MAR giving rise to the current case, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel from both trial counsel and appellate counsel. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the MAR but did not state that the standard of review was in the light most favorable to defendant as called for by Allen

After noting that Allen had created confusion for the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court first clarified that the Allen standard would no longer apply: 

Reviewing a defendant’s asserted grounds for relief in the light most favorable to defendant is a departure from this Court’s longstanding standard of review. The mere fact that some ground for relief is asserted does not entitle defendant to a hearing or to present evidence. An MAR court need not conduct an evidentiary hearing if a defendant’s MAR offers insufficient evidence to support his claim or only asserts general allegations and speculation.

Slip Op. at 3 (cleaned up). The Court then turned to the applicable review in the current case, explaining that under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), defendant must show (1) deficient performance by his counsel and (2) prejudice from counsel’s errors.

Defendant argued that his trial counsel refused to allow him to testify, despite his desire to do so. The Court noted that the record did not support defendant’s argument, and “[a]t no point during trial did defendant indicate he wished to testify.” Slip Op. at 6. Moving to the appellate counsel issue, the Court explained that the trial court limited the testimony of defendant’s psychologist, prohibiting her from using legal terminology. The Court pointed out that the expert was permitted to testify about defendant’s mental health issues, and the limitations on her testimony were permissible. Because defendant could not demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel in either circumstance, the Court affirmed the denial of defendant’s MAR.  

Justice Berger concurred by separate opinion and discussed the reversal of AllenId. at 9. 

Justice Earls, joined by Justice Riggs, concurred in part and dissented in part and would have found that defendant’s MAR lacked factual support for an evidentiary hearing, but would not have reversed AllenId. at 12. 

State v. Allen, 378 N.C. 286 (Aug. 13, 2021)

The defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 2003. The defendant challenged his conviction and sentence on direct appeal, but the Supreme Court unanimously found no error. The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari. Subsequently, the defendant filed a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) in Superior Court in July 2007. Six years later, and before the MAR court ruled on his MAR, the defendant filed a supplemental motion for appropriate relief (SMAR) amending some of his previous claims and adding two additional claims. The MAR court dismissed each of the defendant’s claims, and the defendant appealed to the state Supreme Court.

(1) Of the twelve total claims raised in the defendant’s MAR and SMAR, five of them directly related to his allegation that his trial attorneys rendered unconstitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) during the guilt-innocence phase of his trial by failing to investigate, develop, and utilize various sources of exculpatory evidence. The Supreme Court held that the MAR court erred in summarily dismissing the defendant’s guilt-innocence phase IAC claims without an evidentiary hearing because “some of his asserted grounds for relief required the [MAR] court to resolve questions of fact.” Slip op. at ¶ 3. The Court concluded that because the defendant presented evidence which, if proven true would entitle him to relief, he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing in accordance with statutory mandate.

(2) The Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in summarily ruling that the defendant’s claim alleging he was impermissibly shackled in view of the jury was procedurally barred because the record did not contain facts necessary to a fair resolution of the claim. The Court vacated the relevant portion of the MAR court’s order and remanded for an evidentiary hearing to obtain the facts necessary to determine whether his claim is procedurally barred and, if not, whether it has merit.

The Court affirmed the MAR court’s disposition of all other claims raised in the defendant’s MAR and SMAR.

In this Brunswick County case, the defendant appealed from an order denying his motion for appropriate relief (“MAR”) filed after his conviction for robbery with a firearm and related offenses. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred by (1) denying his MAR because law enforcement’s loss of an eyewitness statement was a Brady violation; (2) denying his MAR because the State presented false testimony, (3) failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on his claims, and (4) barring the defendant from filing future MARs.

(1) The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling deny the defendant’s due process claim under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), that the State suppressed favorable evidence. Noting that to establish a Brady violation, the defendant must show that the suppressed evidence was material, the Court of Appeals concluded that the lost statement from an eyewitness did not meet this standard. Central to the Court’s conclusion was trial counsel’s ability to cross-examine the witness about inconsistencies in his statements and to impeach him with other testimony.

(2) The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling denying the defendant’s due process claim under Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S .264 (1959), that the State knowingly presented false evidence. The Court concluded that the record did not support the defendant’s contention that the State knew testimony from one of the eyewitness victims was false as opposed to simply inconsistent with other testimony.

(3) The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court erred by failing to grant an evidentiary hearing on the defendant’s IAC claims as the defendant stated facts that, if true, would entitle him to relief. Focusing its analysis on defendant’s claim that trial counsel failed to investigate a known alibi witness – defendant’s son, who claimed to have been with him the morning of the crime – the Court noted that the record did not reveal whether defendant’s trial counsel made a strategic decision not to investigate this alibi witness. The Court reasoned that this factual issue could only be appropriately resolved at an evidentiary hearing.

(4) The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s ruling that the defendant’s failure to assert other grounds in his MAR “shall be treated in the future as a BAR to any other motions for appropriate relief [in this case].” The Court relied upon its holding in State v. Blake, 275 N.C. App. 699 (2020), that G.S. 15A-1419 does not authorize a trial court to bar MAR claims in advance and that gatekeeper orders normally are entered only when a defendant has previously asserted numerous frivolous claims. The Court noted that the current case was not one in which the defendant had filed many frivolous MARs asserting the same claims.

Judge Murphy concurred, with the exception of a sole paragraph discussing precedent from other jurisdictions related to whether an attorney’s representation is deficient for failing to contact and interview prospective alibi witnesses. Judge Griffin concurred by separate opinion, expressing his disagreement with North Carolina Supreme Court precedent requiring an evidentiary hearing on the defendant’s IAC claim, which he said was not supported by statute and allowed a petitioning party to take away the gatekeeping function of the trial judge.

The court held that the trial court erred by summarily denying the defendant’s MAR alleging ineffective assistance. Because the State did not contest that trial counsel’s failure to attach the requisite affidavit to a suppression motion constituted deficient representation, the focus of the court’s inquiry was on whether the defendant’s MAR forecast adequate evidence of prejudice. On this issue, it concluded that the MAR adequately forecast evidence on each issue relevant to the prejudice analysis: that the defendant had standing to challenge the search and that the affidavit supporting the warrant contained false statements.

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