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., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021

In a footnote, the court “urge[d]” the trial courts to define all relevant terms in its jury instructions and avoid the situation that occurred here, where the trial court declined to define the relevant term and allowed counsel to argue definitions of the term to the jury. 

In this Sampson County case, the defendant was convicted of felony fleeing to elude, habitual felon, and habitual impaired driving. The focus of the defendant’s arguments on appeal were on the definition of “motor vehicle” as used in G.S. 20-141.5(a) and G.S. 20-4.01(23) at the time of the offenses in 2015. This definition excluded “mopeds” from the definition of “motor vehicles.” Within that statutory framework, a “moped” was defined as “[a] vehicle that has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, and a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface.” G.S. 105-164.3(22) (2015).

(1) The defendant argued that the State did not prove that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle, an element of felony speeding to elude arrest, based on the State’s repeated references to defendant’s vehicle as a “moped” at trial. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the statutory definition of a “moped” differs from the ordinary, vernacular use of “moped,” and determining that the State presented sufficient evidence that the defendant’s vehicle was a “motor vehicle” within the meaning of the statute. According to the court:

Ultimately, the State’s evidence met the elements of the statutory definition of a ‘motor vehicle,’ despite its repeated use of the term ‘moped,’ and defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of felony speeding to elude arrest was properly denied. Boykin Slip op. at 11.

(2) The defendant also argued that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on the definition of “motor vehicle.” Reviewing for plain error, the Court of Appeals agreed. Because the evidence, especially the State’s repeated use of the word “moped” rather than “motor vehicle,” could have led the jury to reach a different determination if they had known the statutory definition of “motor vehicle,” the defendant was entitled to a new trial on the felony fleeing to elude offense. Because the defendant was found to be a habitual felon based on the fleeing to elude, that conviction was also vacated.

In this Mecklenburg County case, a jury found the defendant guilty of embezzlement of a controlled substance by an employee of a registrant or practitioner under G.S. 90-108(a)(14). While employed as a pharmacy technician at CVS, the defendant accepted $100 in exchange for processing a fraudulent prescription for Oxycodone. (1) The defendant argued on appeal that the evidence did not show embezzlement because she never lawfully possessed the prescriptions, which were obtained by fraud. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that under the statute under which the defendant was convicted, G.S. 90-108(a)(14), the defendant had the requisite “access to controlled substances by virtue of [her] employment” in that she was allowed to take prescriptions filled by the pharmacist from the pharmacy’s waiting bins to the customers. (2) The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred in denying her motion to dismiss based on the State’s failure to establish that CVS was a “registrant” within the meaning of G.S. 90-87(25). Though the trial testimony did not clearly and specifically identify CVS as a registrant of the Commission for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services, it did indicate that CVS was “a registrant that is authorized by law to dispense medications,” and therefore permitted a reasonable inference that the defendant committed the crime. (3) Finally, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not commit plain error by not instructing the jury on the statutory definition of “registrant.” The defendant did not request the instruction at trial, the trial court’s instruction mirrored the language of G.S. 90-108(a)(14), and the defendant failed to demonstrate any prejudice stemming from the alleged error. A dissenting judge would have concluded that the defendant did not embezzle the controlled substance as charged because she obtained it through fraudulent means, and therefore did not possess it lawfully as required by our courts’ traditional understanding of embezzlement.

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