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., 09/25/2022
E.g., 09/25/2022

The defendant was charged with and convicted of dogfighting and related offenses in Orange County. (1) He argued the evidence was insufficient to establish his specific intent to keep the dogs for purposes of fighting. The court disagreed. When the county Animal Services officials visited the property, they found equipment used in the strength training of dogs, at-home medications used to treat animal wounds, and an apparent dogfighting pit, as well as notes on preparing dogs for fights and dogfighting magazines. There was also evidence that many of the dogs had medical conditions commonly associated with dogfighting. This was sufficient evidence of the defendant’s specific intent, and the trial court properly denied the motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence.

(2) During direct examination of its expert witness, the State asked a leading question about the defendant’s intent. The defendant did not object at trial but complained on appeal that the question amounted to plain error. The court disagreed, noting that trial courts have the discretion to allow leading questions concerning evidence previously admitted without objection, as was the case here. The court further observed that plain error review is not available for discretionary decisions of the trial court, and the case “did not remotely approach” the circumstances where invocation of Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure was warranted to obtain review. Even assuming plain error review was available, the court found there was no error—plain or otherwise—and rejected this argument.

(3) The trial court ordered the defendant to pay Animal Services restitution in the amount of $70,000 for its care and keep of the animals and immediately converted the award to a civil judgment (presumably based on the 60-month minimum active portion of the sentence imposed in the case). Thirty dogs were seized from the defendant’s property, but he was only convicted of offenses relating to 17 of the animals. According to the defendant, the restitution award should have therefore been proportionally reduced. The court disagreed, observing that “[t]he trial court may impose restitution for ‘any injuries or damages arising directly and proximately out of the offense committed by the defendant,’” pointing to G.S. 15A-1340.34(c). Crew Slip op. at 9. Because the defendant’s crimes resulted in the removal of all the animals, he could properly be held responsible for the cost of caring for the animals.

The defendant also argued that the trial court erred in failing to consider his ability to pay before ordering restitution. While the trial court need not make express findings on the issue, G.S. 15A-1340.36(a) requires the judge to consider the defendant’s ability to pay among several other factors when deciding restitution. Here, there was evidence in the record concerning the defendant’s income, the price of a “good puppy,” and of the defendant’s living arrangements. “Based on this evidence, the trial court’s determination that the defendant had the ability to pay was within the court’s sound discretion and certainly not manifestly arbitrary or outside the realm of reason.” Crew Slip op. at 10-11.

Finally, the defendant argued the trial court improperly converted the restitution award to a civil judgment. The court agreed. The restitution statutes distinguish between offenses subject to the Crime Victim’s Rights Act (“VRA”) and offenses exempt from that law. G.S. 15A-1340.38 expressly authorizes a trial court to convert an award of restitution to a civil judgment in VRA cases. No similar statutory authorization exists for non-VRA cases. While some other offenses have separate statutory provisions permitting conversion of a restitution award to a civil judgment (see, e.g., G.S. 15-8 for larceny offenses), no such statute applied to the crimes of conviction here. The court noted that G.S. 19A-70 authorizes animal services agencies to seek reimbursement from a defendant for the expenses of seized animals and observed that the agency failed to pursue that form of relief. The court rejected the State’s argument that the trial court’s action fell within its inherent authority. The civil judgments were therefore vacated. The convictions and sentence were otherwise undisturbed.

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