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

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 814 S.E.2d 843 (2018), the Supreme Court considered the statutory requirements for revoking probation after it has expired. In this case the defendant’s probation officer filed a violation report on May 12, 2016 alleging, among other things, that the defendant committed a new criminal offense. His probation expired on August 28, 2016, and then came on for a violation hearing in early September. The trial court revoked the defendant’s probation based on the defendant’s admission that he absconded and committed a new criminal offense. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by revoking his probation after expiration without making a specific finding that it was doing so for good cause shown and stated as required by G.S. 15A-1344(f)(3). The Court of Appeals held, over a dissent, that under State v. Regan, 253 N.C. App. 351 (2017), no specific findings were required. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the plain language of the statute does require a finding of good cause—just as former G.S. 15A-1344(f)(2) required a finding that the State had made a “reasonable effort” to notify a probationer and conduct a violation hearing earlier to give a court jurisdiction to act on a case after probation expired. See State v. Bryant, 361 N.C. 100 (2006). The court remanded the case to the trial court to make a determination of whether good cause existed to revoke the defendant’s probation after it had already expired and, if so, to make an appropriate finding of fact.

The defendant was placed on 18 months of supervised probation following his guilty pleas to possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, fleeing to elude, and RDO. Shortly before his probationary term expired, the defendant’s probation officer filed a violation report alleging that he had committed four new criminal offenses. Approximately a year later, after the defendant prevailed on a motion to suppress evidence in those cases, the new charges were dismissed. Nevertheless, the defendant’s probation was revoked based on the allegations in the violation report, and the defendant appealed. In State v. Geter, 843 S.E.2d 489 (N.C. App. 2020) (unpublished), the appellate court remanded this matter because the revocation judgments failed to identify which of the four new offenses were the basis for the revocation, and also failed to make a finding that good cause existed to revoke the defendant’s probation after the probationary period had expired (by 399 days), as required by G.S. 15A-1344(f). After a rehearing, the trial court found that good cause existed for the revocation because the new charges were not resolved before the probationary period had ended, and the disposition of those charges would have had a direct impact on the violation hearing. The defendant again appealed his revocation, arguing that the trial court’s finding of good cause failed as a matter of law.

The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the revocation. Applying an abuse of discretion of standard, and distinguishing State v. Sasek, 844 S.E.2d 328 (N.C. App. 2020) in which no findings were made nor was there any evidence in the record that good cause existed, the trial court in this case did make findings and they were supported by facts in the record. The appellate court acknowledged that a revocation occurring 399 days after the probationary period had ended was “significant” and “unadvisable in the administration of justice,” but in this case the violation report was not filed until shortly before the end of the probationary period, there was only one session of hearings held each week in the county, and the trial court found that waiting for a disposition on the underlying new charges constituted good cause for the delay. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in so finding, and the revocation order was affirmed.

The defendant was placed on 18 months of supervised probation following his guilty pleas to possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, fleeing to elude, and RDO. Shortly before his probationary term expired, the defendant’s probation officer filed a violation report alleging that he had committed four new criminal offenses. Approximately a year later, after the defendant prevailed on a motion to suppress evidence in those cases, the new charges were dismissed. Nevertheless, the defendant’s probation was revoked based on the allegations in the violation report, and the defendant appealed. In State v. Geter, 843 S.E.2d 489 (N.C. App. 2020) (unpublished), the appellate court remanded this matter because the revocation judgments failed to identify which of the four new offenses were the basis for the revocation, and also failed to make a finding that good cause existed to revoke the defendant’s probation after the probationary period had expired (by 399 days), as required by G.S. 15A-1344(f). After a rehearing, the trial court found that good cause existed for the revocation because the new charges were not resolved before the probationary period had ended, and the disposition of those charges would have had a direct impact on the violation hearing. The defendant again appealed his revocation, arguing that the trial court’s finding of good cause failed as a matter of law.

The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the revocation. Applying an abuse of discretion of standard, and distinguishing State v. Sasek, 844 S.E.2d 328 (N.C. App. 2020) in which no findings were made nor was there any evidence in the record that good cause existed, the trial court in this case did make findings and they were supported by facts in the record. The appellate court acknowledged that a revocation occurring 399 days after the probationary period had ended was “significant” and “unadvisable in the administration of justice,” but in this case the violation report was not filed until shortly before the end of the probationary period, there was only one session of hearings held each week in the county, and the trial court found that waiting for a disposition on the underlying new charges constituted good cause for the delay. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in so finding, and the revocation order was affirmed.

(1) The defendant was convicted of possession with intent to sell or deliver a Schedule II controlled substance and sale of methamphetamine. At trial, the State presented the testimony of an expert in drug chemistry from the North Carolina State Crime Lab. She testified that she performed a gas chromatography mass spectrometer (GCMS) test on the substance. She explained how the GCMS test works and how the examiner analyzes the results. Before she explained how she applied those methods on the sample in this case and the result she obtained, the State interrupted her testimony and asked about recognition of GCMS testing in the scientific community. The witness testified that GCMS was well-respected in the scientific community and confirmed that she had recorded the results of her testing in the lab report. The lab report was then admitted into evidence without objection, and the witness testified without objection that the substance was methamphetamine, Schedule II. The Court of Appeals held that although the witness was prepared to explain how she conducted GCMS testing in this case, she never did so. Further, the lab report stated only that the material that was examined was found to contain methamphetamine. The Court of Appeals found that this evidence failed to satisfy North Carolina Rule of Evidence 702(a)(3), which requires that the witness demonstrate that she applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case. The Court ruled, however, that the defendant failed to establish plain error because the witness testified that she conducted the GCMS test, obtained positive results, and produced a lab report recording the results. (2) The trial judge revoked the defendant’s probation, imposed for other charges before the offenses in this case, based on violation of the condition that the defendant commit no criminal offense. The defendant argued and the State conceded that the trial judge erred by activating his suspended sentence without making a finding that good cause existed to revoke his probation after the period of probation expired. The defendant argued further that the probation revocation should be vacated, without remand, because the record was devoid of any evidence to show good cause to revoke after the expiration of the defendant’s probation. The Court of Appeals agreed. A violation report was filed May 17, 2017, and a probation hearing was scheduled for June 13, 2017, but a hearing did not take place until March 2019, fourteen months after the defendant’s probation expired. The Court found nothing in the record to show why the probation hearing was not held in June 2017 or at least before expiration of his probation in January 2018. The Court noted that a criminal conviction is not required for the trial judge to revoke probation for a defendant’s commission of a criminal act in violation of probation. A concurring judge would have remanded for further proceedings on whether the State made reasonable efforts to conduct a probation hearing before expiration of the defendant’s probation.

The trial court did not err by revoking the defendant’s probation based on its finding that he willfully absconded from supervision. In so ruling, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion by making its oral findings of fact without explicitly stating the legal standard of proof. Noting that it has held that a trial court’s failure to state the standard of proof underlying its findings may constitute reversible error when certain protected interests are involved, it has never so held in the context of a probation hearing. The court noted that “Although the trial court failed to employ the best practice and explicitly state the legal standard of proof,” the totality of the trial court’s statements indicate that it was reasonably satisfied in light of all the evidence presented that a willful violation had occurred. Reviewing the facts of the case, the court also rejected the defendant’s argument that there was insufficient evidence that he willfully absconded from supervision.

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