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., 06/13/2024
E.g., 06/13/2024

In this case involving convictions for kidnapping, communicating threats, assaults, breaking or entering, rape, and sexual assault, the court held that because a recording equipment malfunction prevented the court reporter from producing a full transcript of the trial, including crucial portions of the victim’s testimony such as cross-examination, the defendant is entitled to a new trial. The defendant’s trial began on 16 August 2016. On 19 August 2016 the jury returned its verdicts. On appeal the defendant argued that he was denied a meaningful appeal because a portion of the trial transcript from 18 August 2016 is missing. The court found that the defendant had made sufficient efforts (described in the opinion) to reconstruct the missing portion of the transcript and that the alternative was inadequate. On the latter point, appellate counsel was able only to verify that cross-examination of the victim took place at this time, but not the substance of that testimony. The court further found that the lack of an adequate alternative to a verbatim transcript denied the defendant of meaningful appellate review such that a new trial is required.

In this felon in possession of a firearm case, the defendant failed to submit an adequate record on appeal to support his challenge to the unanimity of the jury verdict. A juror entered the courtroom during the jury charge conference on a flight instruction. The defendant argued that because the juror possibly became privy to information outside of the presence of the other jurors, his right to a unanimous jury verdict was violated. The court declined to consider this issue because the defendant failed to provide a sufficient record to allow meaningful appellate review. The transcript is devoid of any information beyond the juror’s entrance into the courtroom during the charge conference. It is silent as to whether the juror proceeded past the courtroom door. The trial court’s statement, as indicated in the record, suggests that the juror immediately exited the courtroom, as did the fact that the charge conference continued. The defendant did not submit a supplemental narrative to provide context for the alleged error. Review of this matter would require speculation as to the length of time the juror was in the courtroom and information he or she might have overheard. There is a long-standing presumption in favor of regularity, with the burden on the appellant to show error. Here, the defendant did not produce any evidence overcoming that presumption.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that she was entitled to a new trial due to the lack of a trial transcript. After being given numerous extensions, the court reporter failed to produce a trial transcript. The defendant claimed this failure violated her right to effective appellate review, effective assistance of counsel, due process of law, and equal protection. The court disagreed, concluding that the unavailability of a verbatim transcript does not automatically constitute error. Rather, the defendant must show that the missing record resulted in prejudice. The court noted that the absence of a complete transcript does not prejudice a defendant when alternates are available that fulfill the function of a transcript and provide the defendant with a meaningful appeal. Here, the parties were able to reconstruct the testimonial evidence than other trial proceedings. The narrative stipulated to by the parties contains sufficient evidence to understand all the issues presented on appeal.

In this Onslow County case, defendant appealed his convictions for statutory rape, incest, and indecent liberties with a child. Defendant argued (1) a missing page of the transcript justified a new trial; (2) error in denying his motion to dismiss the incest charge; (3) error in denying his motion to suppress; and (4) a clerical error in the judgment required remand. The Court of Appeals did not find justification for a new trial or error with denial of the motion to suppress, but did vacate defendant’s incest conviction and remanded the case for correction of the clerical error on the judgment and resentencing. 

In 2018, the 15-year-old victim of defendant’s sexual advances moved in with defendant and his wife in Jacksonville. The victim is the daughter of defendant’s wife’s sister, making her defendant’s niece by affinity, not consanguinity. During several encounters, defendant made sexual advances and eventually engaged in sexual contact with the victim, and she reported this conduct to her father, who called the police. Prior to his trial, defendant moved to suppress statements made to after his arrest by the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, but the trial court denied the motion. 

Reviewing (1), the Court of Appeals explained that a missing page from a trial transcript does not automatically justify a new trial. Instead, the applicable consideration is whether the lack of a verbatim transcript deprives the defendant of a meaningful right to appeal, and the court looked to the three-part test articulated in State v. Yates, 262 N.C. App. 139 (2018). Because defendant and his counsel “made sufficient reconstruction efforts that produced an adequate alternative to a verbatim transcript, he was not deprived of meaningful appellate review.” Slip Op. at 9.

Turning to (2), the incest charge, the court agreed with defendant that “the term ‘niece’ in [G.S.] 14-178 does not include a niece-in-law for the purposes of incest.” Id. The opinion explored the history of the incest statute and common law in North Carolina in extensive detail, coming to the conclusion that a niece-in-law does not represent a niece for purposes of criminal incest. As an illustration of the “absurd results” under North Carolina law if a niece by affinity were included, “an individual could marry their niece-in-law . . . [but] that individual would be guilty of incest if the marriage were consummated.” Id. at 20. As a result, the court vacated defendant’s incest conviction.

Considering (3), inculpatory statements made by defendant after his arrest, the court considered defendant’s arguments that the findings of fact were incomplete, and that the evidence did not support that he made the statements voluntarily. The court disagreed on both points, explaining that findings of fact “need not summarize all the evidence presented at voir dire,” as long as “the findings are supported by substantial and uncontradicted evidence, as they are here.” Id. at 26. As for the voluntariness of the statements, the court detailed several different points where defendant received Miranda warnings, signed an advisement of rights form, and even made a joke about being familiar with the rights through his work as an active duty marine with a law enforcement role. 

For defendant’s final issue (4), the clerical error, the court agreed with defendant that the trial court had orally dismissed the sexual activity by a substitute parent charge prior to sentencing. Although the jury did convict defendant of this charge, the transcript clearly indicated the trial court dismissed the charge before consolidating the other charges for sentencing. Looking to the rule articulated in State v. Smith, 188 N.C. App. 842 (2008), the court found that remand for correction was the appropriate remedy for the clerical error in the judgment to ensure the record reflected the truth of the proceeding. 

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