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.

Instructions

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E.g., 11/30/2021
E.g., 11/30/2021

The defendant was convicted of attempted first-degree murder for shooting a law enforcement officer who was attempting to serve a warrant for the defendant’s arrest for violating probation. During closing argument, the prosecutor stated:

[You m]ight...

The defendant was convicted of possession of firearm by a felon for his involvement in a drug transaction in which one of the would-be-drug-buyers was shot and killed. Witnesses described the defendant, who they said pulled out a revolver and moved toward the car where the victim was...

On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 808 S.E.2d 178 (2017), the court held that the prosecutor’s remarks during closing argument in this first-degree murder case were not so grossly improper as to require the trial court to...

In this capital case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his requests for a mistrial because of two statements made by the State during closing arguments at the guilt phase of the trial. During the investigation of the case, the...

(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion under the Racial Justice Act to prohibit the State from seeking the death penalty without holding an evidentiary hearing. Assuming arguendo that any version of the RJA applies to the defendant, the...

In case where the defendant was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, the court reversed the opinion below, ___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 703 (2016), for the reasons stated in the dissent. The case involved the drowning of a child under the...

(1) On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals in this sexual exploitation of a minor case, the court held that although statements in the prosecutor’s final jury argument were improper, they were not prejudicial. The defendant claimed that the images at...

State v. Huey, 370 N.C. 174 (Sept. 29, 2017)

Reversing a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals in this murder case, the court held that while certain statements made by the prosecutor in his closing argument were improper, the arguments did not amount to prejudicial error. The ADA opened closing arguments by saying “Innocent men don’t...

State v. Dalton, 369 N.C. 311 (Dec. 1, 2016)

Affirming the Court of Appeals in this murder case, the court held that the prosecutor’s closing argument exaggerating the defendant’s likelihood of being released from civil commitment upon a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity and constituted prejudicial error requiring a new trial. At...

State v. Hembree, 368 N.C. 2 (Apr. 10, 2015)

During closing arguments at the guilt-innocence phase of this capital murder trial, the State improperly accused defense counsel of suborning perjury. The prosecutor argued in part: “Two years later, after [the defendant] gives all these confessions to the police and says exactly how he killed [...

State v. Phillips, 365 N.C. 103 (June 16, 2011)

(1) The court rejected the capital defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to intervene ex mero motu at several points during the State’s argument in the guilt-innocence phase. The defendant argued that the trial judge should have intervened when the prosecutor...

State v. Phillips, 365 N.C. 103 (June 16, 2011)

The court rejected the capital defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to intervene ex mero motu during the State’s argument in the guilt-innocence phase. The defendant argued that the trial court should have intervened when the prosecutor commented about a defense expert on...

State v. Waring, 364 N.C. 443 (Nov. 5, 2010)

(1) No gross impropriety occurred in closing argument in the guilt-innocence phase of a capital trial when the prosecutor (a) asserted that a mark on the victim’s forehead was caused by the defendant’s shoe and evidence supported the statement; (b) suggested that the defendant’s accomplice...

State v. Waring, 364 N.C. 443 (Nov. 5, 2010)

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu during closing argument in the sentencing phase of a capital trial when the prosecutor asserted that defense counsel’s mitigation case was a “lie” based on “half-truths” and omitted information.

State v. Waring, 364 N.C. 443 (Nov. 5, 2010)

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu during closing argument in the sentencing phase of a capital trial when the prosecutor used the words “laugh, laugh” when impeaching the credibility of a defense expert.

State v. Waring, 364 N.C. 443 (Nov. 5, 2010)

(1) No gross impropriety occurred in closing argument in the guilt-innocence phase of a capital trial when the prosecutor (a) improperly expressed his personal belief that there was overwhelming evidence of guilt; (b) improperly injected his personal opinion that a stab wound to the victim’s...

State v. Lopez, 363 N.C. 535 (Aug. 28, 2009)

The trial judge abused her discretion in overruling a defense objection to the State’s jury argument regarding the effect of an aggravating factor on the sentence. Although the jury’s understanding of aggravating factors is relevant to sentencing, the prosecutor’s argument introduced error...

The defendant was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor, charges that arose from sexual assaults against his daughters. During closing argument, the prosecutor said that the defendant’s excuse for possibly touching his daughters’ breasts—that he lacked feeling in his hands...

On remand from the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision (summary here) that there was no prejudicial error in the prosecutor’s closing argument with respect to race in this murder trial, the Court of Appeals considered the...

The defendant was charged with first degree burglary after she was found inside the victims’ home in the early morning hours, having taken items from their cars and placed them inside a purse belonging to one of the homeowners. The defendant appeared to be impaired at the time she was arrested....

State v. Ricks, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (May. 5, 2020) rev’d in part on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, 2021-NCSC-116 (Sep 24 2021)

The defendant was convicted in a jury trial of multiple counts of statutory rape of a child, statutory sex offense with a child, and taking indecent liberties with a child. The trial court sentenced the defendant to 300 to 420 months of imprisonment and ordered lifetime satellite-based...

In this first-degree murder case, the defendant, who was white, was charged with shooting through a window in his garage door and killing the victim, who was black. The victim was one of a group of about 20 people who had briefly gone to a party at a nearby house, and he was shot and...

The trial court did not err in this murder case by failing to intervene ex mero motu to strike prosecutor’s comments during closing arguments. Citing case precedent, the court held that neither the prosecutor’s characterization of the defendant as “evil” nor a brief reference to the defense...

In this felony death by vehicle case, the prosecution did not incorrectly state the standard for impairment in jury argument. The defendant asserted that the prosecutor’s statements suggested that the jury could find the defendant guilty merely if impairing substances were in his blood. The...

In this felony death by vehicle case the prosecutor did not improperly appeal to the jury’s passion and prejudice requiring the trial court to intervene ex mero motu. The prosecutor asserted that the jury “can send a message” with its verdict and told the jury that it was “the moral voice and...

In this drug trafficking case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to intervene ex mero motu during the State’s closing argument. During those arguments, the prosecutor, without objection, made references to the defendant’s right to a jury trial and...

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu during the State’s closing argument. At issue was the prosecutor’s reference to the defendant’s gang ties. Here, when the defendant called two codefendants as witnesses, both testified that they were gang members and one admitted...

In this felon in possession of a firearm case, the court held that although some of the prosecutor’s statements were improper, they were not so improper as to deprive the defendant of a fundamentally fair trial.

     The court first determined that, in context, the prosecutor’s use of the...

State v. Mumma, ___ N.C. App. ___, 811 S.E.2d 215 (Feb. 6, 2018) modified and affirmed on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (May 10 2018)

In this murder case, the trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu during the State’s closing argument. The defendant argued that the prosecutor’s closing arguments injected the prosecutor’s personal beliefs, appealed to the jury’s passion, and led the jury away from the...

In this DWI case the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by failing to intervene ex mero motu to statements made by the prosecutor in closing argument. The court found the defendant’s argument to be “meritless at best,” noting that the statements at issue were...

In this murder case, the prosecutor’s statement that the defendant “can’t keep her knees together or her mouth shut” was “improperly abusive.” The defendant was charged with murdering her husband, and the State’s evidence indicated that she was having an affair with her therapist. However, the...

In this DWI case, the trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu when the prosecutor speculated in closing argument about what the defendant’s breathalyzer test would have been an hour before she was actually tested. The court found that the argument at issue was not so grossly...

(1) During closing statements to the jury, the prosecutor did not impermissibly comment on the defendant’s failure to take the stand. In context, the prosecutor’s statements summarized the evidence before the jury and asserted that no evidence was presented to support defense counsel’s...

(1) During closing statements to the jury, the prosecutor did not impermissibly comment on the defendant’s failure to take the stand. In context, the prosecutor’s statements summarized the evidence before the jury and asserted that no evidence was presented to support defense counsel’s...

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant final closing arguments in this DWI case. Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts provides that “if no evidence is introduced by the defendant, the right to open and close the argument to the jury shall...

(1) The prosecutor’s statement, which was clarified after objection, was not in violation of the law or calculated to mislead or prejudice the jury. After the trial court sustained defense counsel’s objection to the prosecutor’s statement about the victim, “I think she is telling the truth,” the...

Although the prosecutor improperly argued to the jury in this armed robbery case that it did not matter whether a shotgun in question was loaded for purposes of determining whether it was a dangerous weapon, the defendant was not prejudiced by this argument where the trial judge properly...

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene sua sponte during the prosecutor’s closing argument. Here, the prosecutor argued facts in evidence regarding a prior assault by the defendant and the trial court gave an appropriate limiting instruction regarding the defendant’s prior...

The court held, in this burning of personal property case, that although some of the prosecutor’s comments regarding the credibility of certain witness testimony during closing arguments may have been objectionable, they did not rise to the level of requiring the trial court to intervene ex mero...

State v. Carvalho, 243 N.C. App. 394 (Oct. 6, 2015) aff’d per curiam, 369 N.C. 309 (Dec 21 2016)

The State’s closing arguments did not require the trial court to intervene ex mero moto. With respect to comments regarding 404(b) evidence, the State did not ask the jury to use the evidence for an improper purpose. To the extent that the State referred to any improper evidence, the references...

In this DWI case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that comments made during the prosecutor’s final argument and detailed in the court’s opinion were so grossly improper that the trial court should have intervened ex mero motu. Among the challenged comments were those relating to the...

In this murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by overruling the defendant’s objections to the State’s closing argument. Although the prosecutor’s remarked that the case was one of “the most gruesome and violent murders this community has ever seen,” the comment related...

In a case where the defendant was convicted of sexual battery and contributing to the abuse or neglect of a juvenile, the trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu during the prosecutor’s final argument to the jury. The defendant challenged the prosecutor’s statement that he...

(No. COA13-925). Although the prosecutor’s statements during closing argument in a robbery case were improper, a new trial was not required. The prosecutor argued that if the defendant “had gotten hold” of a rifle loaded with 14 rounds, “one each for you jurors,” “this might have been an...

Where the defendant opened the door to the credibility of a defense witness, the prosecutor’s possibly improper comments regarding the witness’s credibility were not so grossly improper as to require intervention by the trial court ex mero motu. Among other things, the prosecutor stated: “that...

In this child sex case, the trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu when the prosecutor referred to the complainants as “victims.” 

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu during that State’s closing argument. Even if the prosecutor misstated the evidence, the trial court’s jury instruction cured any defect. The trial court instructed the jury that if their “recollection of the evidence differs from...

In this DWI case, the trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu to the State’s closing arguments. The defendant argued that certain remarks were improper because they speculated that he had driven impaired on other occasions; were sarcastic and provoked a sense of class envy;...

In this DWI case, the trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu to the State’s closing arguments. The defendant argued that certain remarks were improper because they speculated that he had driven impaired on other occasions; were sarcastic and provoked a sense of class envy;...

In a murder case, the trial court was not required to intervene ex mero motu when the prosecutor argued to the jury that depression might make you suicidal but it “doesn’t make you homicidal.” The defendant’s witness had testified that depression can make a person suicidal. In context, the...

In this sexual assault trial, the prosecutor’s comment during closing argument was not a comment on the defendant’s failure to testify. The prosecutor stated: “There are only two people in this courtroom as we sit here today that actually know what happened between the two people, and that’s [...

State v. Foust, 220 N.C. App. 63 (Apr. 17, 2012)

The prosecutor did not improperly refer to the defendant’s failure to testify but rather properly commented on the defendant’s failure contradict or challenge the State’s evidence.

State v. Foust, 220 N.C. App. 63 (Apr. 17, 2012)

In a rape case, the trial court was not required to intervene ex mero motu when the State asserted in closing: “What happened . . . is no different than a hunter in the field, a beast in the field sitting [sic] a prey, stalking the prey, learning the prey, and at some point in time, eventually...

While the prosecutor would have been better advised to have refrained from making comments that might have encouraged the jury to lend an ear to the community and engage in general deterrence, any impropriety did not render the trial fundamentally unfair.

While the prosecutor would have been better advised to have refrained from making comments that might have encouraged the jury to lend an ear to the community and engage in general deterrence, any impropriety did not render the trial fundamentally unfair.

The trial court committed reversible error by denying the defendant the right to the final argument based on its ruling that he had “introduced” evidence within the meaning of Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts during his cross-examination of the victim...

Because the defendant did not present any evidence at trial, the trial court committed reversible error by denying the defendant final closing argument. Defense counsel cross-examined an officer who responded to a call about the break-in and identified defense Exhibit 2, a report made by that...

In a drug trafficking case, the trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu during the prosecutor’s closing argument. The prosecutor asserted: “Think about the type of people who are in that world and who would be able to testify and witness these type of events. I submit to you...

Although reversing on other grounds, the court characterized the prosecutor’s closing argument as “grossly improper.” The prosecutor repeatedly engaged in abusive name-calling of the defendant and expressed his opinion that defendant was a liar and was guilty. The entire tenor of the prosecutor’...

Although reversing on other grounds, the court characterized the prosecutor’s closing argument as “grossly improper.” The prosecutor repeatedly engaged in abusive name-calling of the defendant and expressed his opinion that defendant was a liar and was guilty. The entire tenor of the prosecutor’...

In a case involving attempted murder and other charges, the prosecutor’s reference to the victims as sheep and the defendant as a “predator” did not require the trial court to intervene ex mero motu. However, the court stated that comparisons between criminal defendants and animals are strongly...

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to display an enhanced version (frame-by-frame presentation) of a video recording during closing argument and jury deliberations. The trial court correctly determined that the enhanced version was not new evidence since the...

In a child sex case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by ruling that the defendant could not argue that his nephew or someone else had assaulted the victim. It concluded: “Although defendant argues that he was improperly prevented from arguing that someone...

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu when, in a triple homicide case, the prosecutor argued, among other things, “If that . . . isn’t murder, I don’t know what is” and “I know when to ask for the death penalty and when not to. This isn’t the first case, it’s the ten...

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu when the prosecutor referred to the defendant as a con man, liar, and parasite. The defendant was charged with obtaining property by false pretenses, an offense committed by deceiving or lying to win the confidence of victims....

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that plain error occurred when the prosecutor misrepresented the results of the SBI Crime Lab phenolphthalein blood tests. At trial, a SBI agent explained that a positive test result would provide an indication that blood could be present. On cross-...

State v. Oakes, 209 N.C. App. 18 (Jan. 4, 2011)

The prosecutor’s statements during closing argument were not so grossly improper as to require the trial court to intervene ex mero motu. Although disapproving a prosecutor’s comparisons between criminal defendants and animals, the court concluded that the prosecutor’s statements equating the...

The prosecutor’s characterization of the defendant’s statements as lies, while “clearly improper,” did not require reversal. The court noted that the trial court’s admonition to the prosecutor not to so characterize the defendant’s statements neutralized the improper argument.

The trial court abused its discretion when it allowed the prosecutor, in closing argument and over the defendant’s objection, to compare the defendant’s impaired driving case to a previous impaired driving case litigated by the prosecutor. The prosecutor discussed the facts of the case,...

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s mistrial motion based on the prosecutor’s closing statement. During closing arguments in this murder case, defense counsel stated that “a murder occurred” at the scene in question. In his own closing, the prosecutor stated...

Prosecutor’s comment during jury argument was improper. The comment attacked the integrity of defense counsel and was based on speculation that the defendant changed his story after speaking with his lawyer.

The trial court did not err by failing to intervene ex mero motu when, in closing argument, the prosecutor suggested that the defendant was lying. The comments were not so grossly improper as to constitute reversible error.

The prosecutor did not improperly comment on the defendant’s failure to testify by pointing out to the jury in closing that the defense had not put on any mental health evidence as forecasted in its opening statement; however, the court disapproved of the prosecutor’s statement that this...

The prosecutor’s comments during closing did not constitute a reference to the defendant’s failure to testify; the comments responded to direct attacks on the State’s witnesses and pertained to the defendant’s failure to produce witnesses or exculpatory evidence.

The trial judge erred in denying the defendant final jury argument. The defendant did not introduce evidence under Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice when cross-examining an officer. Defense counsel referred to the contents of the officer’s report when cross-examining the officer. However...

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