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., 06/21/2024
E.g., 06/21/2024
State v. Cox, 375 N.C. 165 (Aug. 14, 2020)

The defendant, along with two others, went to the home of an individual to whom they paid cash to provide them with controlled substances. The individual neither obtained the illegal drugs nor returned any of the drug purchase money to the defendant. At the home of the individual, the individual was assaulted, accompanied by a demand for the return of the money. While leaving, the defendant fired a shot into the residence. The defendant was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, and discharging a weapon into an occupied property. At trial, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges against him for insufficiency of the evidence, and the trial court denied the motion. The defendant was found guilty on all charges.

The Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and felonious breaking or entering. The Court of Appeals relied on State v. Spratt, 265 N.C. 524 (1965), and State v. Lawrence, 262 N.C. 162 (1964), in concluding that the defendant could not be guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon because the defendant did not have the requisite felonious intent when attempting to take property from the individual, under a bona fide claim of right to the money which had been given on defendant’s behalf. The Court of Appeals also held that the lack of felonious intent negated the defendant’s ability to be convicted of the offense of felonious breaking or entering, and remanded the matter in order for the trial court to enter judgment against defendant for misdemeanor breaking or entering, which does not require felonious intent.

The Supreme Court held that the case precedent on which the Court of Appeals relied did not apply to the facts at hand. The Court concluded that “neither Spratt, nor Lawrence, nor any other case in this state has heretofore authorized a party to legally engage in ‘self-help’ by virtue of the exercise of a bona fide claim of right or title to property which is the subject of an illegal transaction,” and therefore held that there was no error in the defendant’s convictions of the offense of conspiracy to commit armed robbery with a dangerous weapon and the offense of felonious breaking or entering.

State v. McDaniel, 372 N.C. 594 (Aug. 16, 2019)

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 6 (2018), the Supreme Court determined that the evidence presented at trial supported the defendant’s conviction under the doctrine of recent possession. Pursuant to a tip, a detective discovered stolen property from the victim’s house at another house on nearby Ridge Street. Several days later, another detective saw the defendant across from the Ridge Street house, sitting in a white pickup truck. The truck matched the description of one that had reportedly been used to deliver the previously discovered property to the Ridge Street house, and now contained more items from the victim’s house. After the trial judge denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence and instructed the jury on the doctrine of recent possession, the jury found the defendant guilty of felony breaking or entering and felony larceny for the first incident, and guilty of felony larceny for the second incident.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to send the charges to the jury as to both her culpable possession of the items allegedly stolen in the first incident and the recency of her possession of those items. Considering the trial court ruling on a motion to dismiss de novo and with all evidentiary conflicts resolved in favor of the State, the court determined that the defendant’s acknowledgment that she had been in control of the victim’s items found at the Ridge Street house two weeks after the first incident brought her within the doctrine of recent possession. Though she claimed to have been acting at the direction of another man—a co-defendant also charged in connection with the initial offense—“exclusive possession” within the meaning of the doctrine of recent possession can, the court said, include joint possession of co-conspirators or persons acting in concert. As a result, the court concluded that there was substantial evidence of exclusive possession, and that the Court of Appeals majority erred by holding to the contrary and vacating the defendant’s convictions. The court thus reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of the defendant’s remaining arguments. 

Justice Earls dissented, writing that the evidence to support the defendant’s conviction was insufficient in that the defendant was never found in possession of the items allegedly stolen in the first incident. To the contrary, she only admitted to having the items at the behest of her employer (the co-defendant), and her possession was therefore not that of herself but of her employer.

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.

The evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant of felony breaking or entering. After detaining the defendant for larceny, a Belk loss prevention associate entered the defendant’s name in a store database. The associate found an entry for the defendant’s name at Belk Store #329 in Charlotte, along with a photograph that resembled the defendant and an address and date of birth that matched those listed on his driver’s license. The database indicated that, as of 14 November 2015, the defendant had been banned from Belk stores for a period of 50 years pursuant to a Notice of Prohibited Entry following an encounter at the Charlotte store. The notice contained the defendant’s signature. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient because it showed he entered a public area of the store during regular business hours. Deciding an issue of first impression, the court disagreed. In order for an entry to be unlawful, it must be without the owner’s consent. Here, Belk did not consent to the defendant’s entry. It had issued a Notice expressly prohibiting him “from re-entering the premise[s] of any property or facility under the control and ownership of Belk wherever located” for a period of 50 years. The loss prevention associate testified that the Notice had not been rescinded, that no one expressly allowed the defendant to return to store property, and that no one gave the defendant permission to enter the store on the date in question.

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