Thursday, March 22, 2012

NC Court of Appeals, Criminal Decisions (Mar. 20, 2012)

State v. Aguilar-Campo. Appeal of trafficking conviction.

The state provided a translated transcript of a buy involving the defendant (it was in Spanish). Right before trial, they realized the interpreter was not AOC certified, so hired someone else and gave his translation and credentials to the defense. The defense objected on grounds that this was not provided timely in discovery.

Held: No error, as there was no unfair surprise--the purpose for discovery.

Second, no error in failing to instruct jury on what knowingly means, even though defendant requested a legally accurate description. Found that this was not error, as other instructions (definition of possession) adequately included this information.

State v. Fisher. State appeal of court grant of motion to suppress.

Defendant stopped for a seat-belt violation. Cop was suspicious of drug traffic based on:

  1. Driving in a "pack of traffic", diligently, with both hands on the wheel
  2. Car registered to a woman-- 3rd party car, not the driver
  3. Dirty hand print on trunk of vehicle, indicating it had recently been used
  4. Air fresheners in the car.
  5. Defendant said he was returning from Smithfield from going shopping, which was over 2 hours away, but there was no bags in the car.
  6. Defendant never asked why he was stopped.
After defendant refused a consent search, he was detained for 20-25 minutes waiting for a canine unit to arrive, which alerted and the rest is history.

Held: This was sufficient reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant for 20-25 minutes awaiting a canine unit. While the original purpose of the stop, the seat belt, was over, there was additional reasonable suspicion to allow the detention.

Suppression reversed.

State v. Oakes. Appeal of AWDWISI and habitual felony.

Ruled it was not plain error for the court to allow admission (without any objection from counsel) of statements that when defendant was previously in jail he associated with "drug boys."

Further, while it was error to admit unredacted plea transcripts of defendant's prior convictions during the habitual felony sentencing, such error was harmless.

State v. Pittman. Appeal of insurance fraud, obtaining property by false pretenses, and exploitation of an elder adult.

Defendant sold insurance to a little old lady, befriended her, and eventually got a document making his wife the beneficiary.  His wife also became joint owner on her bank accounts, changed the address to his address, and cleaned her out.

First, no error in joining the cases of defendant and his wife for trial. They were closely related. The statements of defendant's wife that came in, about knowing signing the document's was bad, but that her husband told her to do it, "had little bearing in the jury's evaluation of the credibility of defendant’s claim to have acted in Satterwhite’s best interests or with her consent." Thus, no improper prejudice.

As to Bruton or hearsay errors, defendant did not object and didn't raise plain error on appeal, so those potential errors are lost.

State v. Weathers.  Appeal of 1st degree murder convictions.

During the trial, an eye-witness began testifying about defendant's involvement, then broke down crying and refused to answer anymore questions. He became even more distraught when "a young man dressed in street clothes entered the courtroom." When asked if he had been threatened, he said "I don't even want to answer that."

Defendant's motion for mistrial was denied. The court found that the defendant had made the witness unavailable by his "wrongful acts" and forfeited his right to cross examine the witness. No mistrial was granted and the statements were left in the record.

Trial court made findings of fact that these were the defendant's wrongful acts:
  1. On the bus to the courthouse, defendant was overheard threatening Wilson.
  2. Defendant made several calls evidencing his "intent to intimidate Wilson."

The COA upheld the forfeiture ruling.

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