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., 04/16/2024
E.g., 04/16/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969) , COA22-415, ___ N.C. App. ___ 2023-04-18

In this Haywood County case, defendant appealed his convictions for multiple felony and misdemeanor child abuse offenses, arguing a range of issues related to sentencing and errors by the trial court, as well as possible ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals agreed with defendant’s sentencing arguments and remanded for resentencing, but found no prejudicial or plain error. The court dismissed defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim without prejudice to allow him to file a motion for appropriate relief with the trial court. 

Defendant came to trial in October of 2017 for abusing the children of his wife over the course of several years. Abuse included paddling one child victim so hard she suffered permanent injuries and required medical treatment. At trial, the jury found defendant guilty of all charges against him except for rape, and also found an aggravating factor that defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence. The trial court sentenced defendant to higher classifications of intentional child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury (“ICAISBI”) and intentional child abuse inflicting serious physical injury (“ICAISPI”) due to the aggravating factor.

The Court of Appeals first identified defendant’s meritorious issues, explaining that under applicable law, the evidence necessary to prove an element of the offense cannot be used as an aggravating factor. Here, “both misdemeanor and felony child abuse require showing the defendant is a ‘parent . . . or . . . other person providing care to or supervision of [a] child,’” meaning the aggravating factor could not be applied to defendant. Slip Op. at 10, quoting GS §§ 14-318.2 & -318.4. The state conceded this error, and the court remanded all convictions for resentencing. 

The court next considered defendant’s argument that his ICAISPI and ICAISBI convictions were ambiguous due to a change in the felony classifications on December 1, 2013. Because the abuse in question occurred between January 2009 and March 2014, and the jury did not perform a specific finding of the date of the offenses, the court found that the verdict was ambiguous. Noting that this seemed to be a matter of first impression, the court explained:

[W]e have not found, and the parties have not provided, a published case resolving whether a general verdict is rendered ambiguous by evidence showing the completed offense may have been committed on either temporal side of a statutory reclassification of the crime. . . . [W]e hold that the general verdict is ambiguous under these circumstances and a defendant, absent a determination by the jury by special verdict form as to the specific date of or date range of offense sufficient to determine which sentencing regime is applicable, must be sentenced under whichever statutory classification is lower.

Id. at 12. The court remanded for resentencing the ICAISPI and ICAISBI offenses at their lower pre-elevation levels because the court could not engage in speculation about which dates supported the jury’s decision to convict defendant. 

The court did not find merit in defendant’s argument that the scarring one victim suffered from paddling could not support a finding of serious bodily injury. Instead, the court drew a distinction between cases with “superficial” or “aesthetic” injuries with the more serious, permanent injuries suffered by the victim in this matter. Likewise, the court rejected defendant’s argument that the jury verdict sheet for ICAISBI represented error, as it asked the jury to determine if defendant was guilty of “inflicting permanent scarring to the buttocks and/or legs” of the victim. Id. at 23. The court explained that the indictment and jury instructions given by the trial court adequately explained all elements of the offense. 

The court also rejected defendant’s arguments regarding lesser included offenses. The court considered and rejected defendant’s argument regarding lawful corporal punishment, explaining that overwhelming evidence showed the acts were not within the bounds of lawful punishment. Finally, the court rejected defendant’s argument the trial court erred by preventing the disclosure of juvenile records. 

For defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the court explained that the record was insufficient to determine whether defense counsel made certain strategic decisions, and “[w]hen the record is silent on that question of fact—as in this case—the appropriate action is to allow an evidentiary hearing by MAR.” Id. at 35. 

(Dec. 31, 1969)

The defendant was charged with two counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, a Class H felony offense, and attaining the status of a habitual felon. The defendant entered an Alford plea to the sexual-exploitation charges and stipulated to having attained habitual-felon status. The plea arrangement provided that the charges would be consolidated into one Class H felony judgment, and that the defendant, as a habitual felon and a prior record level III offender, would receive an enhanced, Class D-level sentence of 67 to 93 months’ imprisonment, pursuant to G.S. 14-7.6. 

However, before accepting the plea and entering judgment, the trial court determined that the maximum sentence should be increased from 93 months to 141 months pursuant to the sentencing enhancement provided in G.S. 15A-1340.17(f) for certain “reportable convictions” that require enrollment in the sex-offender registry. The Court of Appeals allowed the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by increasing his maximum sentence from 93 months to 141 months pursuant to G.S. 15A-1340.17(f)’s sentencing-enhancement provision, which he argued does not apply to Class F through I felony reportable convictions enhanced with habitual-felon status. The Court of Appeals agreed, concluding that the defendant’s contemporaneous conviction of being a habitual felon did not reclassify his Class H felony convictions to a Class D felony conviction. Slip op. at ¶ 20. The Court rationalized that the plain language of G.S. 15A-1340.17(f) suggests that the sentencing enhancement only applies to those convicted of certain Class B1 through E felonies, rather than those convicted of lower-level felonies but punished at the higher level of Class B1 through E due to the application of some other sentencing enhancement. The Court thus held that the trial court erred by applying the 15A-1340.17(f) sentencing enhancement in the defendant’s case.

(Dec. 31, 1969)

The defendant was convicted of indecent liberties with a child and felony child abuse by sexual act based on crimes committed against his daughter and stepdaughter.  The court of appeals held that the trial court properly determined the defendant’s maximum term of imprisonment for felony child abuse by sexual act, a Class D felony, based upon the minimum term it had selected (64 months) rather than the minimum term permitted by statute (51 months). G.S. 15A-1340.17(f) provides that, for offenders sentenced for reportable convictions that are Class B1 through E felonies, the maximum term of imprisonment “shall be equal to the minimum term of imprisonment and twenty percent (20%) of the minimum term of imprisonment, rounded to the next highest month, plus 60 additional months.” Once the trial court set the defendant’s minimum term of imprisonment at 64 months (the top of the presumptive range), it properly added 64 plus 13 (20 percent of 64, 12.8, rounded to the next highest month) plus 60, totaling 137 months.

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