Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Carolina Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the decision of the court of appeals vacating Defendant's conviction of felony larceny, holding that insufficient evidence existed to support the larceny charge. After two remands by the Supreme Court, the court of appeals vacated Defendant's larceny conviction, holding that a fatal variance existed between the indictment and the evidence presented at trial and that the State's evidence was insufficient to raise a jury question on the larceny charge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that this Court need not resolve whether a fatal variance existed because the court of appeals correctly held that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to support the larceny charge. View "State v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court arrested judgment with respect to Defendant's conviction for committing a sex offense against a child and vacated the trial court's judgment, holding that the indictment underlying Defendant's conviction for committing a sex offense against a child was fatally defective. Defendant was convicted of committing a sex offense against a child and taking indecent liberties with a child in 2013. The jury found as an aggravating factor that Defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the offense. The trial court consolidated Defendant's convictions for judgment and determined that Defendant should be sentenced in the aggravated range. The court of appeals vacated Defendant's sentence, determining that the trial court had failed to hold the statutorily required jury instruction conference before submitting the aggravating factor to the jury. The Supreme Court vacated and reversed in part the court of appeals' decision, holding (1) the trial court's failure to conduct the jury instruction conference prior to submission of the existence of the relevant statutory aggravating factor to the jury did not materially prejudice Defendant; and (2) Defendant's indictment for committing a sex offense against a child was fatally defective. The court remanded for resentencing based upon Defendant's conviction for taking indecent liberties with a child. View "State v. Corey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of trafficking in cocaine by possession, holding that Defendant did not waive his sufficiency of the evidence argument and that the court of appeals' conclusion that the State failed to present substantial evidence that Defendant possessed 400 grams or more of cocaine is left undisturbed. At issue on appeal was whether Defendant waived his sufficiency of the evidence argument by failing to raise it in the trial court and whether the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss based on insufficient evidence. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant did not waive his sufficiency of the evidence argument; and (2) because the members of the Court were equally divided as to whether the State presented sufficient evidence to support Defendant's conviction the holding of the court of appeals stands affirmed without presidential value. View "State v. Royster" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder, holding that the court of appeals properly found that the identification procedures at issue in this case were impermissibly suggestive, but the identification procedures ultimately did not violate Defendant's statutory or due process rights. After a trial, Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motions to suppress the testimony of two eyewitnesses, including their in-court identifications of Defendant as the perpetrator of the crimes. The court of appeals remanded the case for a new trial, concluding that the eyewitness testimony was the result of impermissibly suggestive identification procedures and that the testimony was prejudicial. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals properly found that the eyewitnesses were subjected to witness identification procedures that were impermissibly suggestive but erred in failing to rule that the identification was sufficiently of independent origin to negate a substantial likelihood of a misidentification. View "State v. Malone" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the decision of the court of appeals determining that the trial court erred by denying Defendant's motion to dismiss charges of felonious obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact to sexual activity by a substitute parent, holding that the court of appeals erred in finding that the trial court erred by denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the second of two felonious obstruction of justice charges. Defendant was charged with accessory after the fact to sexual activity to a substitute parent and two counts of felonious obstruction of justice, the second of which alleged that Defendant, the victim's mother, denied the sheriff's department and child protective services access to the victim. The jury convicted Defendant as charged. The court of appeals reversed the second of Defendant's felonious obstruction of justice convictions and Defendant's accessory after the fact conviction. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the record contained sufficient evidence to support Defendant's conviction for felonious obstruction of justice based upon a denial of access to the victim; and (2) the court of appeals properly concluded that the trial court erred by denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of accessory after the fact to sexual activity by a substitute parent. View "State v. Ditenhafer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of taking indecent liberties with a child and determining that the State presented sufficient evidence of the N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-1340.16(d)(15) aggravating factor to submit that aggravating factor to the jury, holding that there was not sufficient evidence to submit the aggravating factor to the jury. The aggravating factor at issue on appeal was that Defendant "took advantage of a position of trust or confidence, including a domestic relationship, to commit the offense[s]." The court of appeals determined that there was a permissible inference that because of the victim's extreme reliance on her mother, the victim, who was three years old at the time of the offense, would trust and rely on Defendant, her mother's boyfriend, even though the victim only interacted with Defendant in person on two occasions. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the State's evidence at trial was insufficient to establish the trust or confidence aggravating factor because the State failed to show that the relationship between the victim and Defendant was conducive to her reliance on him. View "State v. Helms" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming in part and reversing in part the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the omission of pertinent facts in an officer's search warrant application resulted in a lack of probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant for either Defendant's residence or vehicle. The officer in this case possessed information that would suffice to establish probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant but failed to include key portions of this information in his affidavit supporting the warrant. The trial court denied Defendant's motion to suppress, concluding that the affidavit sufficiently established probable cause to support the magistrate's issuance of a warrant authorizing a search of Defendant's residence and vehicle. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that the affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause to search the vehicle but was insufficient to establish probable cause to search the residence. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the motion to suppress should have been allowed as to evidence seized from both Defendant's residence and vehicle. View "State v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment revoking Defendant's probation after his probation period expired without making a finding of fact that good caused existed to do so under the circumstances, holding that such a finding is statutorily required. Specifically at issue was whether the court of appeals erred by affirming the trial court's revoking of Defendant's probation without making a specific finding that good cause existed to do so despite the expiration of Defendant's probationary period. The Supreme Court concluded that the court of appeals did so err, holding that the trial court's order failed to comply with N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-1344(f)(3) by activating Defendant's sentences without first making a finding of good cause to revoke Defendant's probation despite the expiration of his probationary term. View "State v. Morgan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing, but only as to Defendant individually, the superior court's determination that North Carolina's satellite-based monitoring (SBM) of sex offenders is constitutional, holding that the court of appeals erred by limiting its holding to the constitutionality of the SBM program as applied only to Defendant. Defendant was statutorily required to enroll in the SBM program and to wear an ankle monitor at all times for his lifetime based on his convictions for sex crimes. Defendant argued that the imposition of the monitoring violated his constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court found that the SBM program was not unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court held that a State conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person's body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual's movements. On remand, the superior court upheld the imposition of lifetime SBM on Defendant. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that lifetime SBM of Defendant was unreasonable. The Supreme Court modified and affirmed, holding that the program is unconstitutional as applied to all individuals who, like Defendant, are subject to mandatory lifetime SBM based solely on their status as a "recidivist." View "State v. Grady" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder and other offenses and sentencing him to life imprisonment without parole, holding that the trial court violated Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him by limiting Defendant's cross-examination of the State's principal witness, and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. At Defendant's murder trial, Lakenda Malachi was the only witness to provide direct evidence of Defendant's presence at the scene. Defendant sought to impeach Malachi's testimony, but the trial court sustained objections to defense counsel's questions. After Defendant was convicted he appealed. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court committed constitutional error by restricting Defendant's cross-examination of Malachi and that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly found that the trial court committed prejudicial error. View "State v. Bowman" on Justia Law