Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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., 06/28/2024
E.g., 06/28/2024

The defendant was tried in Guilford County on charges of discharging a weapon into occupied property, firearm by felon, first-degree burglary, trafficking cocaine, possession with intent, and two counts of habitual felon. At the charge conference, the defendant requested an instruction on misdemeanor breaking or entering, which the trial judge agreed to give. The defendant objected to jury instructions on actual and constructive possession for the drug offenses, but the trial court overruled the objection and instructed the jury on both theories of possession. The jury convicted on all counts and the defendant appealed.

(1) In its instruction to the jury on misdemeanor breaking or entering, the trial court deviated from the language of the pattern instruction. While the pattern instruction states the offense need not require felonious intent “so long as the breaking or entering was wrongful, that is, without any claim of right,” the trial court instructed the jury that the defendant could be found guilty of the crime if they believe he lacked felonious intent but acted “without consent of the owner or tenant.” Slip op. at 11-12. This “minor deviation” from the pattern instruction did not amount to error, as the instruction was supported by the evidence and “correct in law.” Id. at 13. Even assuming error, the defendant could not show prejudice—he did not make any claim of right to enter the property and the jury convicted on first-degree burglary in any event.

(2) As to the jury instructions on actual and constructive possession, it was error to instruct the jury on actual possession where no evidence supported that theory. However, the defendant again could not demonstrate prejudice. The evidence of defendant’s constructive possession of the drugs was “exceedingly strong,” and this defeated any claim of prejudice.

(3) At the initial sentencing hearing, the trial court failed to impose a sentence for one of the two habitual felon convictions. The next day, the trial court realized its error and imposed the second habitual sentence. The defendant gave notice of appeal following the first hearing and contended the trial court lacked jurisdiction to sentence the defendant at the second hearing. The trial court normally loses jurisdiction to act once notice of appeal has been given. However, G.S. 15A-1448(a)(3) authorizes the trial court to act to correct a sentencing error within 14 days of the original sentence, even if the defendant has given notice of appeal and even without a motion for appropriate relief. See State v. Lebeau, ___ N.C. App. ___, 843 S.E.2d 317 (April 21, 2020). The trial court was required to sentence the defendant as a habitual felon once the verdict was returned and doing so was not a substantive amendment of the sentence but merely a “statutorily ‘necessary by-product’ of the sentence.” McMillan Slip op. at 20. The trial court therefore retained jurisdiction to correct the sentence, and the convictions were unanimously affirmed.

(1) When the defendant was convicted of drug trafficking, the sentence initially announced by the trial judge was “a mandatory 70 months” of active imprisonment. The following Monday (five days later), without the defendant being present, the court entered an amended judgment stating both the minimum and maximum sentence: 70 to 93 months. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to amend the sentence when it did because the defendant had already appealed by that point. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that, under G.S. 15A-1448(a)(3), the jurisdiction of the trial court is divested when notice of appeal has been given and the time for giving notice of appeal has expired. For an appeal to the appellate division, that time period is 14 days. N.C. R. App. P. 4(a)(2). Because only 5 days had passed at the time of change, the time for appeal had not expired, and the trial court therefore retained jurisdiction.

(2) The defendant argued in the alternative that amending the judgment in her absence deprived her of her right to be present at sentencing. The appellate court again disagreed, concluding that the amended judgment did not amount to a “substantive change” to the original sentence. Because the 93-month maximum that accompanies a 70-month minimum is statutorily required under G.S. 90-95(h)(4), it was not the product of judicial discretion. The record showed that the trial court understood from the outset that the sentence was statutorily mandatory, and the amendment was therefore clerical in nature and not a substantive change.

The trial court had jurisdiction to sentence the defendant after a mandate issued from the Court of Appeals. The defendant appealed his sentence following multiple convictions for sex offense charges. He argued that after the Court of Appeals filed an opinion vacating his original sentence and remanding for resentencing, the trial court improperly resentenced him before the Court of Appeals had issued the mandate. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the mandate had not issued at the time of resentencing. It held that the mandate from the appellate division issues on the day that the appellate court transmits the mandate to the lower court, not the day that the lower court actually receives the mandate.


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