State v. Ditenhafer, 258 N.C. App. 537 (2018), rev'd in part 373 N.C. 116 (2019)

No Error
Reversed in Part
There is a dissent
in part on the accessory after the fact conviction
  • “The elements of felony obstruction of justice are (1) unlawfully and willfully (2) acting to prevent, obstruct, impede, or hinder justice (3) in secret and with malice or with deceit and intent to defraud.” A person obstructs justice when he or she “deliberately acts to subvert an adverse party’s investigation of wrongdoing.”
  • The court’s denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss the obstruction of justice charge based on pressuring her daughter to recant was proper. When viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, there was sufficient evidence, including her daughter’s testimony, of the defendant’s actions that pressured her daughter to recant the daughter’s allegation of repeated sexual abuse by her adoptive father/defendant’s husband with the willful intent to hinder the investigation of the abuse. Defendant directed her daughter to state she was not sexually abused and coached her daughter as to what to say. When her daughter did not recant, Defendant punished her, verbally abused her, and turned her family against her.
  • On the second charge of obstruction of justice alleging defendant denied DSS (child protection) and law enforcement access to her daughter, the state presented no evidence that defendant denied a request by either agency to interview her daughter. Several interviews with the daughter occurred, and although Defendant was present during many of those interviews, there was no request for Defendant to leave. If defendant would have refused any such request, DSS or law enforcement could have sought a court order to compel defendant’s nonattendance at the daughter’s interview. See G.S. 7B-303 regarding DSS petition for obstruction/interference. As a parent, she had the right to attend the interviews and unilaterally end the one interview she did end. The court erred in denying the motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence; conviction on this charge vacated.
  • The elements of accessory after the fact are “(1) a felony was committed; (2) the accused knew that the person he received, relieved or assisted was the person who committed the felony; and (3) the accused rendered assistance to the felon personally.” The Defendant’s failure to report the crime, which is a mere act of omission and not an affirmative act, does not render her an accessory after the fact under G.S. 14-7. There were no allegations in the indictment about defendant’s affirmative acts, which would support an accessory charge, that involved defendant’s destruction of physical evidence and telling the investigators her daughter was lying. The opinion recognizes that defendant could have been but was not charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report suspected abuse as provided for in G.S. 7B-301.
Criminal Cases with Application to Child Welfare
Obstruction of Justice
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