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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

(1) The defendant was indicted for trafficking in MDMA, among other charges. When the case came on for trial, the trial judge called in prospective jurors and questioned them about undue hardships and conflicts with the parties and informed them of the charges against the defendant. The prosecutor then requested a bench conference at which he pointed out that the substance in the lab report showed that the relevant substance was methamphetamine, not MDMA. The prosecutor gave the defendant the choice between having the State dismiss the MDMA charge and reindict for trafficking in methamphetamine, or waiving indictment and proceeding by bill of information. The defendant chose the latter and was convicted at trial. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the State did not file the superseding information “before . . . commencement of trial” within the meaning of G.S. 15A-646. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that G.S. 15A-646 does not place any timing deadline on the State, but rather merely imposes a ministerial duty on the judge to dismiss the initial charge if a superseding indictment or information is filed before trial. The appellate court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the defendant was not formally arraigned on the new charge, as the lack of formal arraignment is not revisable error when the defendant does not object and assert inadequate knowledge of the charge. (2) The defendant also argued that the trial court committed plain error by failing, despite the lack of a request or objection, to instruct the jury on the requirement that the defendant have guilty knowledge of the methamphetamine. The Court of Appeals rejected the argument, distinguishing an earlier case, State v. Coleman, 227 N.C. App. 354 (2013). In Coleman, the court found plain error when the trial court failed to instruct on guilty knowledge for a defendant convicted of trafficking heroin who knew he possessed drugs, but who thought he had marijuana and cocaine, not heroin. Here, the defendant denied any knowledge about the existence of the methamphetamine and argued that it belonged to someone else. Even assuming the trial court erred by not giving the instruction, the Court of Appeals concluded it would not rise to the level of plain error given the evidence against the defendant.

The defendant was convicted of trafficking in opium among other crimes. He argued on appeal that the trial court committed plain error when, despite the lack of a request by the defendant, it failed to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of selling hydrocodone. The Court of Appeals found no error. The court applied the rule that the trial judge should instruct the jury on any lesser included offense supported by any version of the evidence when there is conflicting evidence on an essential element of the charged. Here, there was no conflicting evidence. An analyst testified that the total weight of the drug tablets sold by the defendant was over 8 grams, while another witness testified that the defendant sold twenty “10-milligram hydrocodone” pills. The testimony was not conflicting, however, because only the total weight of the pill mixture mattered in establishing the elements of the charged offense. In the absence of conflicting evidence, the trial judge did not err by not instructing on a lesser-included offense.

The trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on an exemption to a drug trafficking charge. The defendant argued that he was exempt from prosecution as an “ultimate user” pursuant to G.S. 90-101(c). The statute defines an ultimate user as a person who lawfully possesses a controlled substance for his own use, or for the use of a member of his household. The defendant was found in possession of 54 dosage units of oxycodone weighing 6.89 grams. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury sua sponte on the ultimate user exception. The court found however that the record lacked substantial evidence by which a jury instruction on this exemption would have been required. The evidence showed that the defendant did not lawfully possess his father’s oxycodone pills solely for his father’s prescribed use, as required to fall within the ultimate user exemption. Rather, the record reflects overwhelming evidence that the defendant possessed his father’s oxycodone for his own purpose of unlawfully selling the pills. Although the defendant presented evidence that the oxycodone was prescribed to his father, that the defendant drove his father to and from appointments related to his care, and that the defendant lived with and cared for his father, “no reasonable person could conclude that Defendant was in lawful possession of his father’s oxycodone at the time of his arrest.” Among other things the defendant gave a written confession admitting that he was selling the pills to make money. Because the defendant failed to present substantial evidence that he possessed the pills solely for his father’s use, he was not entitled to the instruction.

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