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., 11/28/2022
E.g., 11/28/2022
State v. Diaz, 256 N.C.App. 528, 808 S.E.2d 450 (Nov. 21, 2017) aff'd on other grounds, 372 N.C. 493, 831 S.E.2d 532 (Aug 16 2019)

In a case where the defendant was found guilty of abduction of a child, statutory rape and second-degree sexual exploitation, the trial court rejected the defendant’s argument that his constitutional right to a fair trial was violated when the State admitted into evidence his affidavit of indigency, which indicated that he was under a secured bond of $500,000 which had not been posted. Specifically, the defendant argued he was prejudiced by the jurors knowing that he was in custody and that the information on the affidavit violated the presumption of innocence. The court held that even if the jurors had inferred that the defendant was in custody and unable to pay the bond, his right to a fair trial was not violated. It noted that although there was some evidence that the defendant was in custody, he was not shackled or handcuffed in the courtroom. 

In this Edgecombe County case, two defendants, Defendant W and Defendant P, were jointly tried, and appealed their convictions for robbery with a dangerous weapon and felon in possession of a firearm. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error for either defendant and affirmed the convictions, but did identify a harmless error by the trial court when it delegated duties under N.C.G.S. § 15A-1213 to the prosecutor.

The defendants were convicted for a robbery that occurred outside a food mart in Rocky Mount. Evidence admitted at trial showed that Defendant W was wearing a GPS ankle bracelet that placed him at the scene of the robbery, his appearance that day matched eyewitness descriptions of the suspect and matched him with the suspect on surveillance footage. Defendant P was later apprehended based on the description of eyewitnesses and surveillance footage, and admitted to police he was present at the food mart the night the robbery took place. The Court of Appeals reviewed each defendant’s appeals separately in the opinion.

Considering Defendant P’s first grounds for appeal, the court examined whether the use of video showing Defendant P in shackles was prejudicial and a violation of his due process right to the presumption of innocence. After exploring the lack of binding precedent on using video of a shackled defendant, the court determined that, regardless of the applicable standard of review, Defendant P could not show prejudice based on the video. The court explained that the trial court gave an instruction to the jury immediately prior to playing the video not to draw any inference from the shackles, and overwhelming evidence of Defendant P’s guilt was present in the record even if the jury disregarded the trial court’s instructions. The court also held that N.C.G.S. § 15A-1031 was not applicable as this was not a physical restrain in the courtroom.

Defendant P also raised the issue of his habitual felon status being cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions. However, the court found that Defendant P did not raise the issue at trial and thus did not preserve the objection for appellate review.

Examining Defendant W’s grounds for appeal, the court first looked at the argument that his counsel had an actual conflict of interest that effected counsel’s performance during the trial. The record showed that Defendant W’s attorney admitted he had represented one of the key eyewitnesses approximately seven years prior. The Court of Appeals applied the multi-step test from State v. Choudhry, 365 N.C. 215 (2011), to determine the nature of the conflict and whether it represented actual prejudice to the defendant. Slip Op. at ¶51. The court found that, although the trial court did not conduct an adequate inquiry into the conflict, Defendant W could not show any adverse effect on his counsel’s performance based on the conflict. After determining no adverse effect on Defendant W’s counsel, the court concluded that Defendant W could not show any actual prejudicial error as a result of the conflict.

On Defendant W’s second argument, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court violated N.C.G.S. § 15A-1213 by delegating to the prosecutor the duty of reading the charges, victims, and dates of offense to prospective jurors. Defendant W argued that the trial court intimated or expressed an opinion on the case in the presence of the jury, justifying a new trial. While the Court of Appeals agreed that N.C.G.S. § 15A-1213 was violated, the court did not agree that the violation rose to the level of prejudice justifying a new trial, instead finding harmless error. The court pointed out that the trial court read instructions to the jury regarding judicial impartiality, and stated “the jurors would not have gone into the jury room thinking the judge had implied any opinion by having the prosecutor give part of the case overview; the jury instructions explicitly told them not to make such inferences.” Slip Op. at ¶79. The court also noted that Defendant W was acquitted of more serious charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, suggesting the jury considered all the charges separately.

In this robbery case, the defendant’s due process rights were not violated. The defendant asserted that a due process violation occurred when an accomplice was compelled to appear at trial as a witness for the State. Specifically, the defendant asserted that the prosecutor improperly coerced the accomplice into testifying by threatening to charge her with obstruction of justice if she refused to testify and by telling the accomplice that she would make inquiries about the accomplice possibly having visitation with her son if she testified for the State. Because the issue was not raised at trial, it was waived. However even if it was properly presented, it would fail. The court noted that the defendant did not argue that he intended to call the accomplice as a defense witness but was prevented from doing so by the State. Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the accomplice’s agreement to testify did not result in the accomplice testifying more favorably for the State than she otherwise would have. To the contrary, the record makes clear that her testimony was largely unhelpful to the State.

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