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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

Defendant was indicted for first-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, robbery with a deadly weapon, two counts of attempted robbery with a deadly weapon, and attaining habitual felon status. At trial, he was convicted solely of possession of firearm by a felon. The charges arose from a murder that occurred during a drug transaction. Three men, Michael Harbin, Carlos James, and Derrick Copeland approached a house in Garland, NC to purchase marijuana. There were three men at the house, Jafa McKoy, a man the three would-be drug purchasers did not know, identified only as “P,” and a third man they likewise did not know. “P” approached the car in which James was sitting holding a revolver. McKoy, accompanied by the other unknown man, shot at Harbin and Copeland who had gotten out of the car. They ran. James’s body was subsequently discovered in the driveway. He had been shot in the back of the head and was dead.

Four days later, Copeland identified defendant’s photograph as a suspect for “P” with 85 to 90 percent confidence.  An SBI agent interviewed the defendant two weeks after the murder. He admitted that the men may have seen him at the house, but denied killing anyone or being present when someone was killed. Records from the defendant’s cell phone showed that it was being used in the area of the murder in the hours before James was killed, but defendant’s phone was not in use and no location could be identified during the time of the encounter with Hardin, Copeland, and James. Cell phone records showed defendant as being in the nearby area, but headed toward Clinton, shortly after Hardin and Copeland ran from the house.

At the close of the State’s evidence, the trial court found the State had presented insufficient evidence that defendant possessed the specific intent to kill under a theory of acting in concert and dismissed the counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss the remaining charges. Defendant did not testify or present any evidence at trial. The jury found Defendant guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon and found the defendant not guilty of the remaining charges. Defendant stipulated and pled guilty to attaining habitual felon status. The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a habitual felon, and the defendant appealed. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Even assuming that the State offered no direct evidence that the defendant possessed a firearm on the occasion in question, the court held that the State submitted sufficient circumstantial evidence to support a reasonable inference of the defendant’s guilt. The defendant admitted that he was present at house the morning of the incident and that Copeland, Harbin, and James may have seen him there. Defendant’s cell phone was located near the scene close to the time of the incident. Copeland identified the defendant from a photo array as the armed suspect present at the scene with “85 to 90 percent” confidence. Copeland testified “P” had a “beard, brown skin, [and a] tattoo on the upper cheek,” and estimated he was about 6’2” tall and weighed about 240 pounds. Harbin testified “P” was wearing a hat, had a beard, and “was like a burley dude, like a kind of bigger dude.” The State also presented testimony from Jane Peterson, defendant’s girlfriend at the time of the incident. She described the defendant at the time as having a close-cut beard and a tattoo on his arm and on his face. The court explained that “[a]lthough this evidence may not rule out every hypothesis of Defendant’s innocence, that is not the State’s burden on Defendant’s motion to dismiss.”

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