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., 06/29/2024
E.g., 06/29/2024

In this Wayne County case, defendant appealed judgments for possession of heroin and cocaine and resisting a public officer, arguing error in failing to order a competency hearing sua sponte and ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant’s appellate counsel also filed a brief under Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), requesting the Court of Appeals conduct an independent review of the record. After review, the court found no error with the lack of a competency hearing, dismissed the ineffective assistance of counsel argument without prejudice, and remanded the matter to the trial court for review of whether defendant validly waived indictment. 

Defendant’s convictions arose from separate incidents in December 2018 and April 2021, where defendant was found with heroin and cocaine, respectively. In May of 2022 defendant pleaded guilty to the charges. Defendant’s appellate counsel then filed an Anders brief and defendant filed arguments on his own. 

Examining defendant’s first argument, the Court of Appeals disagreed that the trial court committed error by failing to order a competency hearing. The court noted that no party raised the issue of defendant’s capacity, and “the trial court extensively inquired as to Defendant’s mental capacity and understanding of the proceedings.” Slip Op. at 4. The applicable standard from State v. Heptinstall, 309 N.C. 231 (1983), only requires a trial court to order a hearing sua sponte if substantial evidence before the court indicates the defendant is incompetent. Because there was no substantial evidence of defendant’s lack of capacity before the trial court here, there was no error. 

Considering the ineffective assistance of counsel argument, the court explained that generally these claims “should be considered through motions for appropriate relief and not on direct appeal.” Slip Op. at 7. Because the record here was not fully developed to consider defendant’s argument regarding his representation, the court dismissed the claim without prejudice so that defendant could file a motion for appropriate relief with the trial court. 

Conducting the independent review requested by defense counsel’s Anders brief, the court identified one possible error with the information related to the April 2021 charges. On the last page of the information, a file number was crossed out and replaced with a partially illegible handwritten number. The court explained “[w]hile this may be a scrivener’s error, our independent review of the Record at least reveals this potential issue of whether Defendant validly waived his right to indictment by a grand jury specifically in file number 18 CRS 55019.” Id. at 9. Based on this issue, the court remanded to the trial court to ensure the waiver of indictment was valid. 

(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 trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion for appropriate relief alleging that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enter judgment where the defendant was charged with a bill of information that did not include or attach a waiver of indictment. G.S. 15A-642 allows for the waiver of indictment in non-capital cases where a defendant is represented by counsel. The statute further requires: “Waiver of Indictment must be in writing and signed by the defendant and his attorney. The waiver must be attached to or executed upon the bill of information.” G.S. 15A-642(c). The court rejected the State’s argument that the statute’s requirements about waiver of indictment were not jurisdictional.

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