Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

About

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.

Instructions

Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

Where search warrants were unsealed in accordance with procedures set forth in a Senior Resident Superior Court Judge’s administrative order and where the State failed to make a timely motion to extend the period for which the documents were sealed, the trial judge did not err by unsealing the documents. At least 13 search warrants were issued in an investigation. As each was issued, the State moved to have the warrant and return sealed. Various judges granted these motions, ordering the warrants and returns sealed “until further order of the Court.” However, an administrative order in place at the time provided that an order directing that a warrant or other document be sealed “shall expire in 30 days unless a different expiration date is specified in the order.” Subsequently, media organizations made a made a public records request for search warrants more than thirty days old and the State filed motions to extend the orders sealing the documents. A trial judge ordered that search warrants sealed for more than thirty days at the time of the request be unsealed. The State appealed. The court began by rejecting the State’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to give effect to the language in the original orders that the records remain sealed “until further order of the Court.” The court noted the validity of the administrative order and the fact that the trial judge acted in compliance with it. The court also rejected the State’s argument that the trial judge erred by having the previously sealed documents delivered without any motion, hearing, or notice to the State and without findings of fact. The court noted that the administrative order afforded an opportunity and corresponding procedure for the trial court to balance the right of access to records against the governmental interests sought to be protected by the prior orders. Specifically, the State could make a motion to extend the orders. Here, however, the State failed to make a timely motion to extend the orders. Therefore, the court concluded, the administrative order did not require the trial court to balance the right to access against the governmental interests in protecting against premature release. The court further found that the State had sufficient notice given that all relevant officials were aware of the administrative order. 

Affirming the trial court’s order denying the plaintiffs’ motion to unseal three returned search warrants and related papers. Holding that although returned search warrants are public records, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by sealing the documents where the release of information would undermine the ongoing investigation, and that sealing for a limited time period was necessary to ensure the interests of maintaining the State’s right to prosecute a defendant, protecting a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and preserving the integrity of an investigation. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the orders violated North Carolina common law on the public’s right of access to court records and proceedings, concluding that the public records law had supplanted any common law right and that even if the common law right existed no abuse of discretion occurred. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ First Amendment argument, concluding that because the documents were not historically open to the press and public, the plaintiffs did not have a qualified First Amendment right to access. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the sealing orders violated the open courts provision of Article I, § 18 of the State Constitution. Although the court recognized a qualified right of access to the documents under the open courts provision, it found that right was outweighed by compelling governmental interests. Finally, the court concluded that the trial court’s findings were sufficiently specific, that any alternatives were not feasible, and that by limiting the sealing orders to 30 days the trial court used the least restrictive means of keeping the information confidential. 

Show Table of Contents