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., 12/11/2023
E.g., 12/11/2023

In this Mecklenburg County case, defendant appealed his convictions for breaking and entering, larceny, and attaining habitual breaking and entering offender status, arguing error in (1) the trial court’s comments about the existence of defendant’s previous convictions during the habitual offender phase, (2) admission of expert testimony without the necessary foundation, and (3) the felony class of habitual breaking and entering on the written judgment. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error.

In 2018, defendant was indicted for breaking and entering and larceny after DNA and fingerprint evidence linked defendant to a break-in at a Charlotte residence. The trial proceeded first on the charges related to the break in, then after the jury convicted defendant of the initial charges, proceeded to habitual breaking and entering offender status. During this second phase, the trial court told the jury “[the state] will present evidence relating to previous convictions of breaking and/or entering at this time.” Slip Op. at 5. The jury convicted defendant of habitual offender status, and defendant subsequently appealed.

Reviewing issue (1), the Court of Appeals disagreed with defendant’s characterization of the trial court’s remarks, explaining that “the trial court did not offer to the jury the court’s opinion as to whether [d]efendant did in fact have previous convictions . . . [r]ather, the trial court notified the jury and the parties of its plan for the outset of the second phase of trial.” Id. at 12.

Turning to issue (2), the court noted that defendant did not object at trial to the testimony, meaning the review was under a plain error standard. The court examined the testimony of two experts under Rule of Evidence 702, finding that the fingerprint expert testimony “[did] not clearly indicate that [state’s expert] used the comparison process he described in his earlier testimony when he compared [d]efendant’s ink print card to the latent fingerprints recovered at the crime scene.” Id. at 28. However, the court found no prejudicial error in admitting the testimony, as properly admitted DNA evidence also tied defendant to the crime.

Finally, the court reviewed (3), defendant’s argument that the trial court incorrectly recorded his habitual breaking and entering offense as a Class E felony. The court disagreed, explaining that the form filled out by the trial court identifies the breaking and entering charge as a Class H felony (with punishment Class E), and the habitual breaking and entering offender charge as a Class E felony. Based on relevant precedent, defendant’s habitual offender status represented a status offense enhancing the punishment for the underlying substantive offense. The court concluded that the “trial court’s identification of habitual breaking and entering as a Class E status offense, as compared to a Class E substantive offense, was not error.” Id. at 37.

In this attempted murder and robbery case, the court applied the new Daubert test for expert testimony and held that trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State’s expert witness to testify that latent fingerprints found on the victim’s truck and on evidence seized during a home search matched the defendant’s known fingerprint impressions. The court held that the witness’s testimony failed to satisfy Rule 702(a)(3). To meet the requirements of the rule, an expert witness must be able to explain not only the abstract methodology underlying the opinion, but also that the witness reliably applied that methodology to the facts of the case. Here, the witness testified that during an examination, she compares the pattern type and minutia points of the latent print and known impressions until she is satisfied that there are “sufficient characteristics in sequence of the similarities” to conclude that the prints match. However, she provided no such detail in testifying about how she arrived at her actual conclusions in this case. The court concluded: without further explanation for her conclusions, the expert implicitly asked the jury to accept her expert opinion that the prints matched. Since she failed to demonstrate that she applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case as required by Rule 702(a)(3) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting this testimony. The court went on to find that the error was not prejudicial. 

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