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., 11/27/2021
E.g., 11/27/2021

The defendant was placed on 36 months of supervised probation after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses. The defendant’s probation officer subsequently filed a violation report alleging that the defendant had violated his probation by using illegal drugs, and an addendum alleging that the defendant had absconded from probation. At the violation hearing, the defendant admitted to using illegal drugs, but denied that he absconded. The state presented testimony at the violation hearing from a probation officer who was not involved in supervising the defendant, but read from another officer’s notes regarding the defendant’s alleged violations. The trial court found the defendant in violation, revoked his probation for absconding, and activated his suspended 10 to 21 month sentence. The defendant filed a pro se notice of appeal, which was defective, but the court granted his petition for writ of certiorari and addressed the merits.

On appeal, the defendant argued that his confrontation rights under G.S. 15A-1345(e) were violated when the trial court allowed another probation officer to testify from the supervising officer’s notes, over the defendant’s objection. However, at the hearing the defendant did not state that the objection was based on his statutory confrontation right, nor did he request that the supervising officer be present in court or subjected to cross-examination. The court held that, at most, it could be inferred that the defendant’s objection was based on hearsay grounds or lack of personal knowledge. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the issue was preserved despite the absence of an objection because the trial court acted contrary to a statutory mandate, per State v. Lawrence, 352 N.C. 1 (2000). In this case, the trial court did not act contrary to the statute because the objection made at the hearing was insufficient to trigger the trial court’s obligation to either permit cross-examination of the supervising officer or find good cause for disallowing confrontation. Therefore, the officer’s testimony based on the notes in the file was permissible, and it established that the defendant left the probation office without authorization on the day he was to be tested for drugs, failed to report to his probation officer, did not respond to messages, was not found at his residence on more than one occasion, and could not be located for 22 days. Contrasting these facts with State v. Williams, 243 N.C. App. 198 (2015), in which the evidence only established that the probationer had committed the lesser violation of failing to allow his probation officer to visit him at reasonable times, the evidence here adequately showed that the defendant had absconded. The court therefore affirmed the revocation, but remanded the case for correction of a clerical error because the order erroneously indicated that both violations justified revocation, rather than only the absconding per G.S. 15A-1344(d2).

The defendant was on supervised probation for a conviction of possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana, and the state alleged that he violated his probation by testing positive for cocaine and committing a new criminal offense. At a hearing held on the violation, the defendant’s probation officer testified about the positive drug screen, and a police officer testified about the alleged new criminal activity. Officers used a confidential informant to conduct two controlled buys of a white powdery substance from the defendant, and then obtained a search warrant for his home where they discovered cash and additional drugs, resulting in new criminal charges against the defendant. The informant did not testify at the probation hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court revoked the defendant’s probation and the defendant appealed.

The trial court’s oral pronouncement only indicated that the revocation was based on the commission of a new criminal offense, but the written findings indicated that the revocation was based on both allegations, so per case precedent the written order was deemed controlling on appeal. The appellate court agreed that pursuant to the Justice Reinvestment Act, the defendant’s probation could not be revoked for using cocaine; instead, the trial court was only authorized to modify his conditions of probation or impose a 90-day CRV, so the order of revocation based on this allegation was reversed. But the state presented sufficient evidence at the hearing that the defendant also committed a new criminal offense by possessing and selling crack cocaine, which would support revoking the defendant’s probation. 

However, rather than affirming the trial court’s order, the appellate court remanded the matter to determine whether the trial court properly exercised its discretion under G.S. 15A-1345(e), which provides that “the probationer may […] confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses unless the court finds good cause for not allowing confrontation.” (Since this was a probation revocation hearing, only the statutory confrontation right was at issue, rather than the confrontation rights under the Sixth Amendment.) The confidential informant did not testify at the hearing, and the defense objected to the admission of her hearsay statements. The trial court overruled those objections based on “the nature of these proceedings,” and the appellate court held that it was unclear whether that ruling reflected an exercise of discretion and finding of good cause. The court distinguished this case from State v. Jones, 269 N.C. App. 440 (2020), where it had previously held that a failure to find good cause was not reversible error, because in Jones the defendant did not challenge the testimony on this basis and did not request findings of good cause as to why confrontation should not be allowed, so no findings were required.

Judge Tyson concurred in part, finding that the defendant waived his statutory confrontation objection and failed to meet his burden of showing prejudice, and the trial court did not err in revoking the defendant’s probation.

The defendant was on felony probation. During a traffic stop, a law enforcement officer found a pistol in the defendant’s car, which resulted in criminal charges for possession of firearm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon and the filing of a probation violation report for committing new criminal offenses. In the trial for the new criminal charges, the judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the pistol, but the case nonetheless resulted in a mistrial. At the subsequent probation violation hearing, the court found that the defendant committed the alleged criminal offenses and revoked probation. After granting the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari, the Court of Appeals rejected his argument that he was deprived of the right to confront and cross-examine the law enforcement officer at his probation violation hearing. The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses at a probation violation hearing as provided in G.S. 15A-1345(e) is grounded in a probationer’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, which are more flexible than his or her confrontation rights at trial under the Sixth Amendment. As such, the court held that the law enforcement officer’s testimony at the prior motion to suppress was competent evidence of the alleged violations, and that the trial court did not err by finding the new criminal offense violations despite the earlier mistrial. The defendant did not request findings for good cause as to why confrontation should not be allowed, and therefore no such findings were required. The Court of Appeals affirmed the revocation of probation but remanded the case for correction of a clerical error.

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