Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Carolina Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing judgments entered by the superior court convicting and sentencing Defendant on five separate counts for violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-269.2(b) based on an incident in which he was discovered on the grounds of a school in possession of five guns, holding that, under the rule of lenity, Defendant could only lawfully be convicted on one firearm count. Defendant's convictions arose from an incident in which he was discovered on the grounds of a school in possession of five guns. At issue was whether section 14-259.2(b) was ambiguous as to whether multiple convictions are permitted for the simultaneous possession of more than one firearm on a single occasion. The Supreme Court invoked the rule of lenity and held that Defendant could be convicted of only a single violation of the statute. View "State v. Conley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions, holding that Defendant preserved his challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence for appeal but that the State presented sufficient evidence to support the convictions. A jury found Defendant guilty of obtaining property worth less than $100,000 by false pretenses, accessing a government computer, altering court records, and unlicensed bail bonding. On appeal, Defendant argued that the State presented insufficient evidence that he aided and abetted another and that he obtained a thing of value. The court of appeals concluded that Defendant waived his challenge to the sufficiency of the State's evidence of aiding and abetting and that Defendant waived his right to appellate review to the sufficiency of the State's evidence that he obtained a thing of value. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) Defendant preserved each of his challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence; and (2) the State presented sufficient evidence that Defendant aided and abetted another and that he obtained a thing of value. View "State v. Golder" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals awarding Defendant a new trial after he was convicted of first-degree murder, holding that the trial court did not commit prejudicial error when it overruled Defendant's objections to the State's closing argument. A jury found Defendant guilty of first-degree murder by premeditation and deliberation and/or by lying in wait. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it failed to sustain his objections to comments made by the prosecutor during closing argument about race. The court of appeals agreed, holding that the trial court committed prejudicial error by overruling Defendant's objections to the prosecutor's comments and by failing to instruct the jury to disregard the comments or to declare a mistrial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, assuming without deciding that the prosecutor's comments were improper, Defendant was not prejudiced by the error. View "State v. Copley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions and rejecting Defendant's argument that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate that he was an Indian for purposes of the federal Indian Major Crimes Act (IMCA) such that he was not subject to the jurisdiction of North Carolina's courts. Defendant was charged in Jackson County with first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Defendant moved to dismiss the charges for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that he was an Indian, and therefore, he could only be tried in federal court pursuant to the IMCA. After a hearing, the trial court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss, determining that Defendant was not an Indian within the meaning of the IMCA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss; and (2) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's request for a special jury verdict. View "State v. Nobles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that the trial court failed to satisfy the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-1242 before allowing Defendant to proceed pro se, holding that the court of appeals correctly concluded that Defendant did not forfeit his right to counsel and that the trial court was therefore required to ensure that his waiver of counsel was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Defendant was charged with offenses related to his failure to maintain a valid driver's license. Defendant was first tried in the district court, where he was convicted. Defendant appealed to the superior court, where he was tried without counsel and convicted by a jury. On appeal, a majority of the court of appeals determined that Defendant did not engage in such serious misconduct as to warrant forfeiture of the right to counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant was entitled to a new trial because the trial court violated his right to counsel under the federal and state Constitutions. View "State v. Simpkins" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the superior court's judgment following Defendant's plea of guilty to trafficking in cocaine, holding that the court of appeals correctly determined that the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence discovered pursuant to an unlawful traffic stop. In his appeal, Defendant argued that his initial investigatory detention was not properly tailored to address a speeding violation and contended that the officer seized him without consent or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Therefore, Defendant argued, the officer unlawfully seized items from the vehicle during the ensuing search of the car and that those objects were the fruit of the poisonous tree. The court of appeals reversed the denial of the motion to suppress, concluding that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle after the traffic stop had been completed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence was obtained as a result of the officer's unlawful detainment of Defendant without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity after the lawful duration of the traffic stop had concluded. View "State v. Reed" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing in part the trial court's judgments and holding that the trial court had erred by denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the possession of a weapon of mass death and destruction charge for insufficiency of the evidence, holding that a "flash bang" grenade is a weapon of mass death and destruction as defined in N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-288.8(a). Defendant was convicted of, among other things, possession of a weapon of mass death and destruction, which stemmed from his possession of "flash bang" grenades. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that the flash bang grenades found in Defendant's car were not devices or weapons or grenades capable of causing mass death and destruction when constructing section 14-288.8(c)(1). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the State presented substantial evidence tending to show that Defendant possessed an "explosive or incendiary" grenade in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-288.8(a). View "State v. Carey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals vacating a judgment entered by the superior court convicting Defendant of indecent exposure and remanding for a new trial, holding that there was no error in Defendant's conviction. The court of appeals ordered a new trial in this case, concluding that the trial court should have instructed the jury that to find that Defendant's exposure was in the "presence" of someone under the age of sixteen as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-190.9 the State must show that the victim could have seen the exposure had she looked and that the failure to give the instruction was reversible error. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the requirement that the exposure be "in the presence of" the victim does not require a jury to find that the victim could have seen the exposed private parts had she looked; and (2) the evidence established that the proximity of the exposure to the victim was sufficiently close that a jury could find it was in the child's presence. View "State v. Hoyle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals upholding Defendant's convictions but modified the court of appeals' decision because the trial court did not err by not instructing the jury on the definition of "sexual act" under N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-27.1(4). A jury found Defendant guilty of taking indecent liberties with a child, guilty of felony child abuse by sexual act, and not guilty of first-degree statutory sexual offense. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court committed plain error in defining "sexual act" and did not accurately define the phrase in the context of felony child abuse under N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-318.4(a2). The court of appeals held that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury according to the definition of "sexual act" contained in section 14-27.1(4) but that the trial court's error did not amount to plain error. The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the court of appeals' decision, holding that the trial court did not err by not instructing the jury on the meaning of "sexual act" according to the definition found in section 14-27.1(4). View "State v. Alonzo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that the trial court committed prejudicial error when it failed to instruct the jury on justification as a defense for the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon, holding that the failure to give such an instruction was prejudicial, and Defendant was entitled to a new trial. The court of appeals vacated Defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon, concluding that the trial court erred by denying Defendant's requested jury instruction on justification as a defense to possession of a firearm by a felon. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals did not err by recognizing the availability of a common law justification defense for a possession of a firearm by a felon charge and by prescribing the factors set forth in United States v. Deleveaux, 205 F.3d 1292 (11th Cir. 2000), as the framework within which to determine whether the trial court erred by failing to present the defense to the jury; and (2) there was sufficient evidence of each Deleveaux factor to require a justification instruction be given to the jury, and the failure to give that instruction was prejudicial. View "State v. Mercer" on Justia Law