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., 04/13/2024
E.g., 04/13/2024
(Dec. 31, 1969)

In this Alamance County case, defendant appealed his convictions for human trafficking and sexual servitude regarding his ex-wife, arguing error in the denial of his motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals found no error.

From 2015 to 2018, defendant operated a prostitution ring in the Alamance County area, operating at truck stops and using websites such as backpage.com to solicit customers. Eight to twelve women were involved in defendant’s prostitution ring, and paid him for drugs and hotel rooms that he provided, which were to be used for liaisons with paying customers. One of the women involved in the prostitution ring was defendant’s ex-wife, who assisted him in doing whatever was needed to operate the prostitution ring. After several incidents with law enforcement, defendant was arrested and charged with several counts of human trafficking, sexual servitude, and promoting prostitution. Another prostitute that worked with defendant was also charged and reached a plea agreement after agreeing to testify for the state. 

Reviewing defendant’s appeal, the court found ample evidence to support the denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. Defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence showing he held his wife in sexual servitude or trafficked her. The court pointed to evidence showing that defendant arranged for and transported his ex-wife to a truck stop on at least one occasion in 2017 for prostitution, including evidence showing his name on a business card used by the caller requesting a prostitute. Evidence also showed that defendant sold drugs to his ex-wife and provided her with a room at the hotel where he provided rooms to the other prostitutes he managed. Based on this evidence in the record, the court found no error in dismissing defendant’s motion. Although the court noted that some evidence supported the conclusion that the ex-wife may have been involved in the management of the prostitution ring, the court explained that “[c]ontradictions and discrepancies do not warrant dismissal of the case but are for the jury to resolve.” Slip Op. at 12-13, quoting State v. Scott, 356 N.C. 591, 596 (2002).

 

(Dec. 31, 1969) review granted, ___ N.C. ___, 871 S.E.2d 511 (May 4 2022)

In this human trafficking case involving multiple victims, (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the defendant to represent himself; (2) the indictments were sufficient to convey subject matter jurisdiction; (3) the trial court did not err by entering judgments for multiple counts of human trafficking for each victim; and (4) the trial court did not err in determining the defendant’s prior record level.

(1)  The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s statements concluding that he had an “absolute right” to represent himself coupled with the trial court’s failure to consider whether he fell into the “gray area” of being competent to stand trial but incapable of representing himself was a mistake of law requiring a new trial.  While the defendant suffered from an unspecified personality disorder and drug use disorders, the record showed that the trial court “undertook a thorough and realistic account of Defendant’s mental capacities and competence before concluding Defendant was competent to waive counsel and proceed pro se.”  The Court of Appeals noted that after interacting with him, considering his medical conditions, and receiving testimony concerning his forensic psychiatric evaluation, two judges had ruled that Defendant was competent to proceed and represent himself.  The Court of Appeals said that even if the trial court erred in allowing the defendant to represent himself, he invited the error by disagreeing with the manner of representation of appointed counsel and any such error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

(2) The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s arguments concerning the sufficiency of the seventeen indictments charging him with human trafficking of six different victims.  The Court noted that the indictments alleged every element of the offense within a specific time frame for each victim and tracked the language of the relevant statute word for word.

(3) The Court then turned to and rejected the defendant’s argument that human trafficking is a continuous offense and may only be charged as one crime for each victim.  The Court explained that the defendant’s interpretation of G.S. 14-43.11, which explicitly provides that each violation of the statute “constitutes a separate offense,” would “result in perpetrators exploiting victims for multiple acts, in multiple times and places, regardless of the length of the timeframe over which the crimes occurred as long as the Defendant’s illegal actions and control over the victim were ‘continuous.’”  The Court characterized human trafficking as “statutorily defined as a separate offense for each instance.” 

(4) Finally, the Court determined that the defendant failed to show any error in the trial court’s calculation of his prior record level for sentencing purposes.  With regard to a prior federal felon in possession of a firearm charge, the defendant conceded its classification as a Class G felony on the basis of substantial similarity by not objecting at trial when given the opportunity.  Likewise with regard to a misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charge, the defendant conceded its classification as a Class 1 misdemeanor by not objecting when given the opportunity.

Judge Arrowood concurred in part and dissented in part by separate opinion, expressing his view that it was improper to convict the defendant of multiple counts per victim of human trafficking.  Judge Arrowood explained that North Carolina precedent, specifically involving issues of first impression addressing statutory construction, “clearly instructs that, where a criminal statute does not define a unit of prosecution, a violation thereof should be treated as a continuing offense.”  Judge Arrowood then proceeded with a lengthy and detailed analysis of the appropriate unit of prosecution for human trafficking in North Carolina.

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