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., 04/14/2024
E.g., 04/14/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969) , 257 N.C.App. 195, 809 S.E.2d 1 2017-12-19

(1) In this sexual assault case the court reversed and remanded for a new trial, finding that even if the defendant had clearly and unequivocally asked to proceed pro se, the record did not establish that the defendant’s waiver of counsel complied with G.S. 15A-1242. The defendant was indicted on multiple sexual assault charges. He later was found to be indigent and Timothy Emry was appointed as counsel. Emry later moved to withdraw claiming that he and the defendant were at an impasse regarding representation. He asserted that the defendant was unwilling to discuss the case with him and the defendant was upset with Emry to asking him to sign a form acknowledging that he understood a plea offer and the consequences of taking or rejecting the plea. At a January hearing on the motion, the State asserted that if Emry was allowed to withdraw, the defendant would be on his fourth lawyer. Emry however clarified that this was inaccurate. The trial court told the defendant that he could have Emry continue as counsel, have the trial court find that the defendant had forfeited his right to counsel, or hire his own lawyer. The defendant opted to proceed pro se and the trial court appointed Emry as standby counsel. A waiver of counsel form was signed and completed. However, on the form the defendant only indicated that he waived his right to assigned counsel, not his right to all assistance of counsel. The case came to trial before a different judge. Although the trial court engaged in a colloquy with the defendant about counsel, the transcript of this event was indecipherable in parts. The defendant was convicted and appealed. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by requiring him to proceed to trial pro se when he did not clearly and unequivocally elect to do so. Although the defendant did say that he wished to represent himself, he only did so after being faced with no other option than to continue with Emry’s representation. The court noted: “This case is a good example of the confusion that can occur when the record lacks a clear indication that a defendant wishes to proceed without representation.” Here, even assuming that the defendant did clearly and unequivocally assert his wish to proceed pro se, he still would be entitled to a new trial because the waiver was not knowing and voluntary as required by G.S. 15A-1242. At the January hearing, after explaining the defendant’s options to him the court asked that the defendant “be sworn to [his] waiver.” At this point the clerk simply asked the defendant if he solemnly swore that he had a right to a lawyer and that he waived that right. This colloquy did not meet the requirements of the statute. The court stated: “The fact that defendant signed a written waiver acknowledging that he was waiving his right to assigned counsel does not relieve the trial court of its duty to go through the requisite inquiry with defendant to determine whether he understood the consequences of his waiver.” Additionally, the written waiver form indicates that the defendant elected only to waive the right to assigned counsel, not the right to all assistance of counsel. With respect to the colloquy that occurred at trial, defects in the transcript made it unclear what the defendant understood about the role of standby counsel. In any event, “simply informing defendant about standby counsel’s role is not an adequate substitute for complying with [the statute].” Additionally, there is no indication that the trial court inquired into whether the defendant understood the nature of the charges and permissible punishments as required by the statute. The court rejected the State’s suggestion that the fact that Emry had informed the defendant about the charges could substitute for the trial court’s obligation to ensure that the defendant understood the nature of the charges and the potential punishments before accepting a waiver of counsel.

(2) The defendant did not engage in conduct warranting forfeiture of the right to counsel. Although the state and the trial court hinted that the defendant was intentionally delaying the trial and that he would be on his fourth attorney after counsel was dismissed, the record indicates that this was an inaccurate characterization of the facts. As explained by Emry, although other attorneys had been listed as the defendant’s counsel at various points early in the proceedings, the defendant received substantial assistance only from Emry. Additionally, nothing in the transcript indicates any type of “flagrant” tactics that would constitute extreme misconduct warranting forfeiture. Specifically, there is no indication that the defendant sought other delays of his trial or that he engaged in any inappropriate behavior either in court or with counsel.

(Dec. 31, 1969) , 2022-NCCOA-630, 285 N.C. App. 507 2022-09-20

In this Pitt County case, defendant appealed his conviction for willingly resisting, delaying, or obstructing a public officer; the Court of Appeals found no error by the trial court.

In September of 2019, two officers from the Winterville Police Department responded to a disturbance at a gas station. Defendant was allegedly arguing with another customer about police practices and race relations in the United States. When police arrived, defendant initially refused to provide identification, then produced a card with his name and a quotation from City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451 (1987). After an extended exchange regarding the card and defendant’s refusal to produce identification, officers arrested defendant for resisting, delaying, or obstructing a public officer. Later in 2019, defendant appeared at two traffic stops conducted by one of the arresting officers, once telling the officer he was watching him, and the second time driving by while making a hand gesture resembling a gun pointed at the officer. Defendant was subsequently charged for communicating threats, and both charges went to trial, where defendant was convicted of resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer but acquitted of communicating threats.

Defendant first argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer charge. The Court of Appeals reviewed the denial and the evidence in the record to determine if each element of the charge was present. In this case only three elements were at issue, specifically if: (1) the officer was lawfully discharging a duty, (2) the defendant resisted, delayed, or obstructed the officer in discharge of that duty, and (3) the defendant acted willfully and unlawfully. Examining (1), the court walked through the reasonable suspicion the officer formed while approaching defendant, and explained that responding to the disturbance and attempting to identify defendant was well within the officer’s duties. Turning to (2), the court made the distinction between mere criticism of the police and the actions of defendant, who was at that time a reasonable suspect in the disturbance that the officers were investigating, and applied precent that “failure by an individual to provide personal identifying information during a lawful stop constitutes resistance, delay, or obstruction within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223.” Slip Op. at ¶31. Finally, considering (3), the court explained that since the stop was lawful and the officers were reasonably investigating defendant as the subject of the disturbance, his actions refusing to provide identification and cooperate were willful and intended to hinder the duty of the officer. Id. at ¶40.

The court then turned to defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by allowing defendant to waive counsel and represent himself in superior court after signing a waiver of counsel in district court. The Court of Appeals explained that G.S. 15A-1242 contains the required colloquy for wavier of counsel and the appropriate procedure for the court to follow. Here defendant executed a waiver during district court proceedings, and the record contains no objection or request to withdraw the waiver. The court explained that “[o]nce the initial waiver of counsel was executed, it was not necessary for successive written waivers to be executed, nor for additional inquiries to be made by the district or superior court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1242.” Id. at ¶49. The waiver created a “rebuttable presumption” and no further inquiries were necessary. Since defendant did not identify any issue or deficiency in the initial waiver, there was no error.

Reviewing defendant’s final argument that the trial court erred by failing to provide a jury instruction on justification or excuse for the offense, the court noted that defendant did not object to the jury instructions even when given opportunity to do so. Defendant also had agreed to the jury instructions as presented to him. This led to the court’s conclusion that “[b]y failing to object at trial and expressly agreeing to the jury instructions as given, [d]efendant waived any right to appeal this issue.” Id. at ¶57.

Judge Inman concurred in the result.

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