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., 06/17/2024
E.g., 06/17/2024

In this Mecklenburg County case, defendant appealed his conviction for assault on a female, arguing prejudicial error in overruling his objection to the State’s comment during closing argument regarding his decision not to testify. The Court of Appeals found no prejudicial error. 

In May of 2021, defendant came to trial for various charges related to assaulting a female. During closing argument, the prosecutor twice mentioned that the jury should not hold defendant’s decision not to testify against him. After the first reference, defendant objected, but the trial court overruled the objection and let the prosecutor continue. The jury was then dismissed for lunch. 

After lunch, but before the jury returned, defendant moved for a mistrial, citing State v. Reid, 334 N.C. 551 (1993), and pointing out that the court did not give a curative instruction after the improper statement in closing argument. The trial court denied the mistrial motion but agreed that it should have sustained the objection. When the jury returned, the trial court gave a curative instruction and “explained that the State’s comment was improper, instructed the jury not to consider Defendant’s decision not to testify, and polled the jury to ensure that each juror understood.” Slip Op. at 6. In light of the robust curative instruction, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court cured the error of overruling defendant’s objection.  

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of disseminating obscene material to a minor. On appeal the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence that the material was obscene. At trial the victim testified that the defendant showed her movies involving “a guy and a girl” having sex naked. The State introduced a photograph of three pornographic DVDs found in a search of the premises and the victim’s mother testified that the defendant “had so many” pornographic DVDs. According to the victim’s mother, when the allegations came to light, the defendant disposed of some of his pornography collection and put the rest in a shed. The victim’s mother later found that material and gave it to detectives. At trial various titles from the defendant’s pornography collection were read to the jury. This evidence was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to infer that the material the defendant showed to the victim was of the same nature of that contained in the defendant’s pornography collection and therefore was obscene material under contemporary community standards.

(2) The trial court’s instructions with respect to multiple counts of indecent liberties with a child, first-degree rape of a child, and sex offense in a parental role did not deprive the defendant of his constitutional right to a unanimous jury verdict. The trial court provided a single instruction for each offense, without describing the details of the conduct underlying each charge. It did however instruct the jury that it must consider each count individually and the verdict sheets identified each count by victim and included a brief description of the particular conduct alleged by reference to the location where it occurred. Additionally jurors were instructed that they all must agree to the verdict, that they could not reach a verdict by majority vote, and that they should indicate on the verdict forms when they agreed upon unanimous verdicts as to each charge. Applying the test from State v. Lawrence, 360 N.C. 368 (2006), the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the jury instructions deprived him of his right to a unanimous jury verdict. The court went on to note that “the instant case is not one in which the risk of a non-unanimous verdict would have arisen by virtue of the trial court’s instructions.” The crimes at issue do not list as elements discrete criminal activities in the disjunctive. Instead, the indecent liberties statute simply forbids any immoral, improper indecent liberties with a child under 13 if taken for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire. The particular act found to be performed is immaterial to the unanimity inquiry. Thus, even if some jurors were to find that the defendant engaged in one kind of sexual misconduct while others found that he engaged in another, the jury as a whole would still have unanimously found the required sexual misconduct. Here, the defendant was charged with five counts of indecent liberties against the victim. The victim testified to at least five incidents that would have constituted indecent liberties; in fact she testified to 7 such incidents. Similarly, the jury convicted the defendant of four counts of statutory rape and the victim testified to at least four specific incidents that constituted statutory rape and occurred in each of the four locations indicated on the verdict sheet. Therefore there was no danger that the rape verdicts were not unanimous.

(3) The trial court did not err by declining to reopen the case after the defendant reconsidered his decision not to testify. After the close of the State’s evidence, the trial court addressed the defendant regarding his decision whether or not to testify. The defendant informed the trial court that he would not testify. The defense did not present any evidence and rested, and the jury was excused. After the charge conference defense counsel informed the trial court that the defendant had reconsidered his decision and now wished to testify. The trial court declined to reopen the case and bring the jury back in order to allow the defendant to testify. The court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to decline to reopen the case to allow the defendant to testify.

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