State v. James, __ N.C. App. __, 786 S.E.2d 73 (2016)

Reversed and Remanded

In a resentencing hearing for a defendant convicted of first-degree murder committed at age 16, the trial court failed to make adequate findings of fact to support its decision to impose a sentence of life without parole. Under G.S. 15A-1340.19C, the court must determine whether, based on “all the circumstances of the offense and the particular circumstances of the defendant,” life without parole is warranted. The court must also make findings of fact on “the absence or presence of any mitigating factors.” Despite entering a 10-page order with 34 findings of fact, the trial court failed to “include findings on the absence or presence of any mitigating factors” as mandated by the statute. Instead, the findings simply list the trial court’s considerations and final determination. The Court of Appeals also held that G.S. 15A-1340.19A, enacted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, does not violate the prohibition on ex post facto laws because it does not impose a more severe punishment than the one mandated on the date of the offense. The court similarly rejected defendant’s argument that the statute is unconstitutional because it creates a presumption in favor of life without parole for a juvenile offender.

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