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., 06/18/2022
E.g., 06/18/2022
State v. Hembree, 368 N.C. 2 (Apr. 10, 2015)

In this capital murder case in which the State introduced 404(b) evidence regarding a murder of victim Saldana to show common scheme or plan, the trial court erred by allowing Saldana’s sister to testify about Saldana’s good character. Evidence regarding Saldana’s character was irrelevant to the...

State v. Lane, 365 N.C. 7 (Mar. 11, 2011)

In a capital murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding expert testimony from a neuropharmacologist and research scientist who studies the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain, proffered by the defense as relevant to the jury’s determination of the reliability of...

In this Richmond County case, the defendant was found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill for shooting an acquaintance during an argument, and, during the same incident, shooting another acquaintance...

In this first-degree murder case, the trial court did not commit plain error under Rules 401 and 402 by admitting testimony from the victim’s brother and the brother’s wife concerning how the victim’s death affected the brother.  With regard to the brother’s testimony, the Court of Appeals...

In this Rowan County case, two defendants, Sindy Abbitt and Daniel Albarran, were convicted of first-degree murder on the basis of premeditation and deliberation and felony murder, attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, and assault with a deadly weapon after they entered a victim’s...

In this sex offense with a child case, the trial court did not err by prohibiting the defendant from introducing evidence of the immigration status of the victim’s mother, a testifying witness, on the basis that the evidence was irrelevant under Rule 401.  The mother’s immigration status did not...

An officer initiated a voluntary encounter with the defendant sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car. The officer detected a marijuana odor, and the defendant admitted he was smoking a blunt and handed it to the officer. Once backup arrived, the officer asked the defendant to step...

In a case where the defendant was found guilty of obtaining property by false pretenses and insurance fraud involving a claim regarding a stolen truck, although the trial court erred by admitting evidence of a truck later found in a river, the error did not rise to the level of plain error. The...

(1) In this first-degree murder case, the trial court did not err by declining to give the defendant’s requested special jury instruction regarding potential bias of a State’s witness. Because the issue involves the trial court’s choice of language in jury instructions, the standard of review...

In this first-degree murder case, the trial court did not err by admitting letters detailing the defendant’s outstanding debts. The defendant argued that the letters were not relevant. At the time of the victim’s death, she was considering calling off her engagement to the defendant because of...

In this case involving convictions of felony murder, discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, and possession of marijuana with intent to sell, the trial court did not err by admitting certain photographs at trial. Two of the photographs (“Gun Photos”) were of firearms; the photos were...

State v. Alonzo, ___ N.C. App. __, 819 S.E.2d 584 (Aug. 21, 2018) modified and affirmed on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Feb 28 2020)

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by finding that the defendant’s proffered testimony was not relevant. The defendant was charged with committing sexual acts on his daughter Sandy while home from the military on compassionate leave. At trial, the defendant attempted...

Although the trial court erred by admitting into evidence in this stalking case approximately 28 photographs of firearms, ammunition, and surveillance equipment found throughout the defendant’s home during the execution of a search warrant, the error did not amount to prejudicial error....

In this stalking case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence Domestic Violence Protective Orders (DVPOs) obtained by the victim against the defendant. The defendant asserted that the findings of fact in the DVPOs unfairly prejudiced him and confused the jury....

In this second-degree murder vehicle accident and felony speeding to elude case, the trial court did not err by excluding, under Rule 401, the defendant’s testimony regarding his medical diagnoses. At trial, the defendant attempted to testify to his cognitive impairments and behavioral problems...

In this case involving a gang-related home invasion and murder, the trial court did not commit plain error by admitting rap lyrics found in a notebook in the defendant’s room. The lyrics, which were written before the killing, described someone “kick[ing] in the door” and “spraying” bullets with...

The trial court did not err by joining for trial offenses that occurred on different dates. The first set of offenses occurred on May 15, 2015 and involved assaults and sexual assaults on B.A. The second set of charges arose from a breaking or entering that occurred approximately eight months...

Although statements made by a law enforcement officer during a videotaped interrogation of the defendant were not relevant, the defendant failed to show prejudice warranting a new trial. The court distinguished cases holding that statements by a law enforcement officer during a videotaped...

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that two photos from a photo line-up were irrelevant. The victims had identified the photographs during a photo lineup as depicting the perpetrator. The photographs were admitted as substantive evidence and published to the jury at trial without...

In this case involving second-degree murder arising out of a vehicle collision, the trial court did not err by admitting staged photographs into evidence. An expert in crash investigation and reconstruction explained to the jury, without objection, how the accident occurred. The photographs were...

State v. Ford, 245 N.C. App. 510 (Feb. 16, 2016)

In this voluntary manslaughter case, where the defendant’s pit bull attacked and killed the victim, the trial court did not err by admitting a rap song recording into evidence. The defendant argued that the song was irrelevant and inadmissible under Rule 403, in that it contained profanity and...

In this sexual assault case involving allegations that the defendant, a high school wrestling coach, sexually assaulted wrestlers, the trial court erred by excluding evidence that one of the victims was biased. The defendant sought to introduce evidence showing that the victim had a motive to...

In this sex case involving a six-year-old victim, the trial court committed prejudicial error by excluding evidence that the defendant found the victim watching a pornographic video. The evidence was relevant to explain an alternate source of the victim’s sexual knowledge, from which she could...

In a case involving charges of obtaining property by false pretenses arising out of alleged insurance fraud, the trial court did not err by admitting testimony that the defendant did not appear for two scheduled examinations under oath as required by her insurance policy and failed to respond to...

In this murder case, the defendant’s statements about his intent to shoot someone in order to retrieve the keys to his grandmother’s car, made immediately prior to the shooting of the victim, were relevant. The statements showed the defendant’s state of mind near the time of the shooting and...

In this homicide case where the defendant was charged with murdering his wife, the trial court did not err by admitting into evidence lyrics of a song, “Man Killer,” allegedly authored by defendant and containing lyrics about a murder, including “I’ll take the keys to your car”, “I’m just the...

In this homicide case where the defendant was charged with murdering his wife, the trial court properly allowed forensic psychologist Ginger Calloway to testify about a report she prepared in connection with a custody proceeding regarding the couple’s children. The report contained, among other...

In this homicide case, the trial court did not err by admitting evidence of four firearms found in the car when the defendant was arrested following a traffic stop. The State offered the evidence to show the circumstances surrounding defendant’s flight. Defendant argued that the evidence was...

In a sexual assault case involving DNA evidence, the trial court did not err by excluding as irrelevant defense evidence that police department evidence room refrigerators were moldy and that evidence was kept in a disorganized and non-sterile environment where none of the material tested in the...

In a murder case, the trial court did not err by admitting testimony concerning nine-millimeter ammunition and a gun found at the defendant’s house. Evidence concerning the ammunition was relevant because it tended to link the defendant to the scene of the crime, where eleven shell casings of...

In this felony-murder case, although the court was “uncertain of the relevance” of certain photos that the State introduced and questioned the defendant about regarding gang activity, the court found no plain error with respect to their introduction.

In this felony-murder case, although the court was “uncertain of the relevance” of certain photos that the State introduced and questioned the defendant about regarding gang activity, the court found no plain error with respect to their introduction.

State v. Young, 233 N.C. App. 207 (Apr. 1, 2014) rev’d on other grounds, 368 N.C. 188 (Aug 21 2015)

In this murder case where the defendant was charged with killing his wife, statements by the couple’s child to daycare workers were relevant to the identity of the assailant. The child’s daycare teacher testified that the child asked her for “the mommy doll.” When the teacher gave the child a...

In this murder case, the trial court did not err by excluding the defendant’s proffered evidence about the victim’s gang membership. The defendant asserted that the evidence was relevant to self-defense. However, none of the proffered evidence pertained to anything that the defendant actually...

In an armed robbery case, the trial court did not err by admitting three photographs of the defendant and his tattoos, taken at the jail after his arrest. The photographs were relevant to identity where crime scene surveillance camera footage clearly showed the location and general dimensions of...

In this multiple murder case where the defendant killed the victims with a shotgun, evidence of firearms and ammunition found in the defendant’s residence, ammunition found in his truck, instructions for claymore mines found on his kitchen table, and unfruitful searches of two residences for...

In this multiple murder case the trial court properly admitted crime scene and autopsy photographs of the victims’ bodies. Forty-two crime scene photos were admitted to illustrate the testimony of the crime scene investigator who processed the scene. The trial court also admitted crime scene...

Trial court did not err by excluding defense evidence of guilt of another where the evidence was “sheer conjecture” and was not inconsistent with the defendant’s guilt. 

The trial court did not commit plain error by failing to redact portions of a transcript of the defendant’s interrogation where the challenged statements were relevant. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court should have redacted statements made by the detective, finding...

In an attempted murder and assault case, the trial court committed plain error by allowing an officer to testify about gangs and gang-related activity where the evidence was not relevant to guilt or to the aggravating factor that the crimes were gang-related. The State’s theory was that the...

In a murder case, the trial court did not err by admitting a knife found four years after the crime at issue. The defendant objected on relevancy grounds. The defendant’s wife testified that he told her that he murdered the victim with a knife that matched the description of the one that was...

State v. Miles, 222 N.C. App. 593 (Aug. 21, 2012) aff’d per curiam, 366 N.C. 503 (Apr 12 2013)

In a murder case, the trial court did not err by excluding evidence suggesting that the victim’s wife committed the crime. Distinguishing cases where alternate perpetrators were positively identified and both direct and circumstantial evidence demonstrated the third parties’ opportunity and...

In a drug trafficking and maintaining a dwelling case, evidence that a handgun and ammunition were found in the defendant’s home was relevant to both charges. 

The court held that questions of relevance are reviewed de novo but with deference to the trial court’s ruling.

Following Houseright and holding that the court reviews “questions of relevance de novo although we give great deference to the trial court's relevancy determinations.”

(1) The trial court erred by admitting evidence concerning the history of the Bloods gang and the activities of various Bloods subsets. The court noted that “[e]vidence of gang membership is generally inadmissible unless it is relevant to the issue of guilt.” Here, the court was unable to...

In a case in which the defendant was charged with murdering his wife, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting a letter the defendant wrote years before his wife’s death to an acquaintance detailing his financial hardships. Statements in the letter supported the State’s theory...

(1) In a case involving murder and other charges, the trial court properly admitted a picture of the defendant with a silver revolver to illustrate a witness’s testimony that she saw the defendant at her apartment with a silver gun with a black handle. Before being received into evidence, the...

The trial court did not commit plain error by allowing the State to question two witnesses on rebuttal about whether they received money from the victim in exchange for making up statements when the defendant raised the issue of the victim’s veracity on his cross examination.

In a second-degree murder case based on impaired driving, the trial court did not commit plain error under Rule 403 by admitting the results of a chemical analysis of the defendant’s blood. The defendant had argued that because the blood sample was taken approximately three hours after the...

The defendant’s statement to an arresting officer that if the officer had come later the defendant “would have been gone and you would have never saw me again,” was relevant as an implicit admission of guilt.

In the habitual felon phase of the defendant’s trial, questions and answers contained in the Transcript of Plea form for the predicate felony pertaining to whether, at the time of the plea, the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and his use of such substances were irrelevant....

Evidence of events leading up to the assault in question was relevant to complete the story of the crime.

The trial court did not commit plain error under Rules 401 or 403 by admitting photographs of the murder victim’s body. The trial court admitted 28 photographs and diagrams of the interior of the home where the victim was found, 12 of which depicted the victim’s body. The trial court also...

In an armed robbery case, admission of evidence of two guns found in the defendant’s home was reversible error where “not a scintilla of evidence link[ed] either of the guns to the crimes charged.”

In a child sexual abuse case, evidence of the defendant’s prior violence towards the victims’ mother, with whom he lived, was relevant to show why the victims were afraid to report the sexual abuse and to refute the defendant’s assertion that the victims’ mother was pressuring the victims to...

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