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., 07/22/2024
E.g., 07/22/2024
State v. Howell, 370 N.C. 647 (Apr. 6, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 792 S.E.2d 898 (2016), the court held that G.S. 90-95(e)(3), which provides that a Class 1 misdemeanor “shall be punished as a Class I felon[y]” when the misdemeanant has committed a previous offense punishable under the controlled substances act, establishes a separate felony offense rather than merely serving as a sentence enhancement of the underlying misdemeanor. The trial court treated the conviction as a Class I felony because of the prior conviction, and then elevated punishment to a Class E felony because of the defendant’s habitual felon status. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed, reasoning that while the Class 1 misdemeanor was punishable as a felony under the circumstances presented, the substantive offense remained a misdemeanor to which habitual felon status could not apply. The State sought discretionary review. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that 90-95(e)(3) creates a substantive felony offense which may be subject to habitual felon status.

In this Duplin County case, defendant appealed his convictions for sale and delivery of cocaine, arguing error (1) in denying his motion to suppress certain eyewitness testimony for due process violations, (2) denying the same motion to suppress for Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (“EIRA”) violations, (3) in permitting the jury to examine evidence admitted for illustrative purposes only, and (4) in entering judgment for both selling and delivering cocaine. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of defendant’s motion and found no plain error with the jury examining illustrative evidence, but remanded for resentencing due to the error of sentencing defendant for both the sale and delivery of cocaine. 

In December of 2017, the Duplin County Sheriff’s Office had confidential informants performing drug buys from defendant in a trailer park. The informants purchased crack cocaine on two different days from defendant, coming within three to five feet of him on clear days. At a trial preparation meeting in October of 2020, the prosecutor and a detective met with the lead informant; at the meeting, the informant saw a DMV picture of defendant with his name written on it, and responded “yes” when asked if that was the person from whom the informant purchased cocaine. No other pictures were shown to the informant at this meeting. Defense counsel subsequently filed a motion to suppress the testimony of the informant based on this meeting, as well as motions in limine, all of which the trial court denied.  

The Court of Appeals first considered (1) the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress, where defendant argued that the identification procedure violated his due process rights. The due process inquiry consists of two parts: whether the identification procedure was “impermissibly suggestive,” and if the answer is yes, “whether the procedures create a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification” after a five-factor analysis. Slip Op. at 9-10, quoting State v. Rouse, 284 N.C. App. 473, 480-81 (2022). Applying the Rouseframework and similar circumstances in State v. Malone, 373 N.C. 134 (2019) and State v. Jones, 98 N.C. App. 342 (1990), the court determined that “[the informant] seeing the photo of Defendant in the file during the trial preparation meeting was impermissibly suggestive,” satisfying the first part. Id. at 18. However, when the court turned to the five-factor analysis, it determined that only the third factor (accuracy of the prior description of the accused) and the fifth factor (the time between the crime and the confrontation of the accused) supported finding of a due process violation. The court concluded that “[b]ecause there was not a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification, the identification did not violate due process.” Id. at 24. 

The court also considered (2) defendant’s argument that the EIRA applied and supported his motion to suppress. After reviewing the scope of the EIRA, the court applied State v. Macon, 236 N.C. App. 182 (2014), for the conclusion that a single-photo identification could not be a lineup for EIRA purposes. Slip Op. at 28. The court then considered whether the procedure was a show-up:

In contrast to our longstanding description of show-ups, the procedure here was not conducted in close proximity to the crime and, critically, it was not conducted to try to determine if a suspect was the perpetrator. The identification here took place during a meeting to prepare for [trial]. As a result, the State, both the police and the prosecution, had already concluded Defendant was the perpetrator. The identification acted to bolster their evidence in support of that conclusion since they would need to convince a jury of the same. Since the identification here did not seek the same purpose as a show-up, it was not a show-up under the EIRA.

Id. at 30. The court emphasized the limited nature of its holding regarding the scope of the EIRA, and that this opinion “[did] not address a situation where the police present a single photograph to a witness shortly after the crime and ask if that was the person who committed the crime or any other scenario.” Id. at 32. 

Moving to (3), the court rejected defendant’s argument of plain error in allowing the jury to review his DMV photograph as substantive evidence when it was admitted for illustrative purposes, pointing to the “overwhelming evidence” of defendant’s guilt in the record, including other photographs and recordings of defendant. Id. at 34. 

Finally, the court considered (4) the sentencing issues by the trial court. Here, the trial court improperly sentenced defendant for both selling and delivering cocaine. The court explained that while “a defendant can be tried for both the sale and delivery of a controlled substance, he cannot be sentenced for ‘both the sale and the delivery of a controlled substance arising from a single transfer.’” Id. at 35, quoting State v. Moore, 327 N.C. 378, 382-83 (1990). This error required remand to the trial court for resentencing in keeping with only one conviction for sale or delivery. 

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