Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 10/18/2021
E.g., 10/18/2021

An indictment charging accessory after the fact to first-degree murder was sufficient to support a conviction of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder. The indictment alleged that a felony was committed, that the defendant knew that the person he assisted committed that felony, and that he rendered personal assistance to the felon; it thus provided adequate notice to prepare a defense and protect against double jeopardy.

The trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury that it could find the defendant guilty of conspiracy if the defendant conspired to commit felony breaking and entering or felony larceny where the indictment alleged only a conspiracy to commit felony breaking or entering.

A conspiracy to commit armed robbery indictment was defective when it did not allege an agreement to commit an unlawful act. The court rejected the State’s argument that the indictment's caption, which identified the charge as "Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon," and the indictment's reference to the offense being committed in violation of G.S. 14-2.4 (governing punishment for conspiracy to commit a felony) saved the indictment.

When a conspiracy indictment names specific individuals with whom the defendant is alleged to have conspired and the evidence shows the defendant may have conspired with others, it is error for the trial court to instruct the jury that it may find the defendant guilty based upon an agreement with persons not named in the indictment. However, the jury instruction need not specifically name the individuals with whom the defendant was alleged to have conspired as long as the instruction comports with the material allegations in the indictment and the evidence at trial. In this case, the indictment alleged that the defendant conspired with Jimon Dollard and an unidentified male. The trial court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant guilty if he conspired with “at least one other person.” The evidence showed that the defendant and two other men conspired to commit robbery. One of the other men was identified by testifying officers as Jimon Dollard. The third man evaded capture and was never identified. Although the instruction did not limit the conspiracy to those named in the indictment, it was in accord with the material allegations in the indictment and the evidence presented at trial and there was no error. 

In this second-degree sex offense case, the court vacated and remanded for entry of judgment on attempted sexual offense where the indictment charged the defendant only with an attempted, not a completed, sex offense. The indictment, labeled “Second Degree Sexual Offense,” alleged that the defendant “did attempt to engage in a sex offense with the victim.” Notwithstanding this, the trial court instructed the jury on the completed offense and provided no instruction on attempt. 

The defendant was convicted by a jury of assault inflicting serious bodily injury and assault on a female based on an argument and fight with the mother of his child. He pushed her down, threw her head into the concrete, punched her, dragged her, and flung her onto the hood of a car. Among other injuries she had two concussions and a fractured eye socket that rendered her temporarily blind in one eye for two weeks. (1) The defendant argued on appeal that the indictment failed to allege the crime of assault inflicting serious bodily injury in that it alleged injuries that would be no more than misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury, namely, “several lacerations to the face resulting in stitches and a hematoma to the back of the head.” The court of appeals disagreed, holding that the additional description of the victim’s injuries in the indictment was irrelevant as to its validity, and may be regarded as incidental to the salient statutory language, which was present. (2) The injury to the victim’s eye met the statutory definition of “serious bodily injury” in G.S. 14-32.4(a) in that the defendant was completely blind in her left eye for one week and her vision was not fully restored for two full weeks after the assault. She could not drive for one week and was not able to return to work until her vision was completely restored. A reasonable juror thus could have concluded that the injury resulted in a “protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ,” and that it therefore qualified as a serious bodily injury. (3) Finally, the court declined to consider the defendant’s argument on appeal that the trial court should have instructed the jury on misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury. The defendant never objected to the instructions at trial and failed to argue plain error on appeal. Therefore, he waived the issue on appeal. A judge dissenting in part would have found the evidence here insufficient to qualify as a “protracted loss or impairment” when the victim fully recovered in in two weeks.

An indictment charging assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury on victim E.D. was not defective. The defendant asserted that the indictment was defective because it failed to include the word “assault” in its description of the offense. The court concluded that while the indictment failed to include that word, it sufficiently charged the offense. Specifically, it alleged, in relevant part: “that . . . the defendant . . . did E.D. with a screwdriver, a deadly weapon, inflicting serious injury, against the form of the statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the State.” Additionally, it correctly listed the offense as “AWDW SERIOUS INJURY” and referenced the correct statute. As such it sufficiently apprised the defendant of the crime.

In Re D.S., 197 N.C. App. 598 (June 16, 2009) rev’d on other grounds, 364 N.C. 184 (Aug 31 2017)

No fatal variance occurred when a juvenile petition alleged that the juvenile assaulted the victim with his hands and the evidence established that he touched her with an object.

State v. Lee, 218 N.C. App. 42 (Jan. 17, 2012)

There was no fatal variance between an indictment charging assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury and the evidence at trial. The indictment alleged the deadly weapon to be a handgun while the trial evidence showed it was an AK-47 rifle. The court reasoned: “both a handgun and an AK-47 rifle are a type of gun, are obviously dangerous weapons, and carry the same legal significance.” Moreover, the defendant failed to demonstrate that the variance caused prejudice.  

Even if there was a fatal variance between the indictment, which alleged that the defendant accomplished the strangulation by placing his hands on the victim’s neck, and the evidence at trial, the variance was immaterial because the allegation regarding the method of strangulation was surplusage.

There was no fatal variance between a warrant charging assault on a government officer under G.S. 14-33(c)(4) and the evidence at trial. The warrant charged that the assault occurred while the officer was discharging the duty of arresting the defendant for communicating threats but at trial the officer testified that the assault occurred when he was arresting the defendant for being intoxicated and disruptive in public. The pivotal element was whether the assault occurred while the officer was discharging his duties; what crime the arrest was for is immaterial.

Indictment charging assault on a government officer under G.S. 14-33(c)(4) need not allege the specific duty the officer was performing and if it does, it is surplusage.

State v. Collins, 221 N.C. App. 604 (July 17, 2012)

There was no fatal defect in an indictment for felony assault on a handicapped person. The indictment alleged, in part, that the defendant unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously assaulted and struck “a handicapped person by throwing Carol Bradley Collins across a room and onto the floor and by striking her with a crutch on the arm. In the course of the assault the defendant used a deadly weapon, a crutch. This act was in violation of North Carolina General Statutes section 14-17.” The court rejected the argument that the indictment was defective for failing to allege the specific nature of the victim’s handicap. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective by failing to allege that he knew or reasonably should have known of the victim’s handicap. Citing State v. Thomas, 153 N.C. App. 326 (2002) (assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer case), the court concluded that although the indictment did not specifically allege this element, its allegation that he “willfully” assaulted a handicapped person indicated that he knew that the victim was handicapped. Finally, the court determined that the indictment was not defective because of failure to cite the statute violated. Although the indictment incorrectly cited G.S. 14-17, the statute on murder, the failure to reference the correct statute was not, by itself, a fatal defect.

Indictment charging malicious conduct by prisoner under G.S. 14-258.4 need not allege the specific duty the officer was performing and if it does, it is surplusage.

State v. Barnett, 245 N.C. App. 101 (Jan. 19, 2016) rev’d in part on other grounds, 369 N.C. 298 (Dec 21 2016)

A two-count indictment properly alleged habitual misdemeanor assault. Count one alleged assault on a female, alleging among other things that the defendant’s conduct violated G.S. 14-33 and identifying the specific injury to the victim. The defendant did not contest the validity of this count. Instead, he argued that count two, alleging habitual misdemeanor assault, was defective because it failed to allege a violation of G.S. 14-33 and that physical injury had occurred. Finding State v. Lobohe, 143 N.C. App. 555 (2001) (habitual impaired driving case following the format of the indictment at issue in this case), controlling the court held that the indictment complied with G.S. 15A-924 & -928. 

On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 808 S.E.2d 178 (2017), the court reversed the decision below holding that the short form indictment for attempted first-degree murder was not fatally defective. G.S. 15-144 provides short form language for charging murder. It provides: “[I]t is sufficient in describing murder to allege that the accused person feloniously, willfully, and of his malice aforethought, did kill and murder (naming the person killed), and concluding as is now required by law; and it is sufficient in describing manslaughter to allege that the accused feloniously and willfully did kill and slay (naming the person killed), and concluding as aforesaid . . . .” The indictment here charged the defendant with attempted first-degree murder and alleged, in relevant part, that the defendant “did attempt to kill and slay” the victim with malice aforethought. Although agreeing that the terms “murder” and “slay” are not interchangeable, the court concluded that use of the word slay in place of the word murder in the indictment at issue “is a distinction without a difference” where the indictment also charged that the killing was done with malice aforethought. The court noted that “[w]hile it may have been a better practice” for the State to use the exact language provided in the statute, “the prosecution’s failure to do so did not render the indictment fatally defective.” It held: “the use of the term ‘slay’ instead of ‘murder’ in an indictment that also includes an allegation of ‘malice aforethought’ complies with the relevant constitutional and statutory requirements for valid murder offense indictments and serves its functional purposes with regard to both the defendant and the court.”

In this child abuse case the trial court erred by allowing the State to amend the indictment. The defendant was indicted for negligent child abuse under G.S. 14-318.4(a5) after police discovered her unconscious in her apartment with track marks on her arms and her 19-month-old child exhibiting signs of physical injury. Under that statute, a parent is guilty of negligent child abuse if the parent’s “willful act or grossly negligent omission in the care of the child shows a reckless disregard for human life” and the parent’s act or omission “results in serious bodily injury to the child.” The indictment charged that the defendant committed this offense by negligently failing to treat her child’s wounds. At trial, the trial court allowed the State to amend the indictment “to include failure to provide a safe environment as the grossly negligent omission as well.” This amendment was improper because it constituted a substantial alteration of the indictment. The amendment alleged conduct that was not alleged in the original indictment and which constituted the “willful act or grossly negligent omission,” an essential element of the charge. The amendment thus allowed the jury to convict the defendant of conduct not alleged in the original indictment. Additionally, the amendment violated the North Carolina Constitution, which requires the grand jury to indict and the petit jury to convict for offenses charged by the grand jury.

Where the warrant charging contributing to the abuse or neglect of a juvenile alleged, in part, that the defendant knowingly caused, encouraged, and aided the child “to commit an act, consume alcoholic beverage,” the State was not prohibited from showing that the defendant also contributed to the abuse or neglect of the juvenile by engaging her in sexual acts. The court noted that an indictment that fails to allege the exact manner in which the defendant contributed to the delinquency, abuse, or neglect of a minor is not fatally defective.

(1) An indictment for contributing to the delinquency/neglect of a minor was not defective. The indictment tracked the statutory language but did not specify the specific acts at issue. An indictment for a statutory offense is sufficient if the offense is charged in the words of the statutes, or equivalent words. Any error in the caption of the indictment was immaterial. (2) With respect to assault on a child under 12, the trial court erred by permitting the jury to convict on a criminal negligence theory of intent, which was not alleged in the indictment.

An indictment charging felony child abuse by sexual act under G.S. 14-318.4(a2) is not required to allege the particular sexual act committed. Language in the indictment specifying the sexual act as anal intercourse was surplusage.

In this malicious maiming case, the trial court did not err by instructing the jury on a theory that was not alleged in the indictment. The indictment alleged that the defendant “put out” the victim’s eye. The jury instructions told the jury it could convict if it found that the defendant “disabled or put out” the victim’s eye. Given the evidence in the case—that the victim suffered complete blindness—term “disabled” as used in the instructions can only be interpreted to mean total loss of sight.

State v. McDaris, 367 N.C. 115 (Oct. 4, 2013)

The court per curiam affirmed the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the court of appeals in State v. McDaris, 224 N.C. App. 399 (Dec. 18, 2012) (No. COA12-476). The court of appeals had held that a variance between the indictments and the jury instructions did not deprive the defendant of a defense. The indictments charged the defendant with statutory rape of a 13, 14, or 15 year old but specified that the victim was 15 years old at the time. Based on the evidence, the trial court instructed the jury that it could convict the defendant if the jury found that the victim was 14 or 15 years old. The jury found the defendant guilty. On appeal the defendant argued that the trial court committed reversible error by instructing the jury that it could convict if it found that the acts occurred when the victim was 14 or 15 years old, because the indictments alleged that she was 15 years old. At trial the defendant attempted to prove that the incidents occurred when the victim was 16, which would have been a complete defense. The jury rejected this defense. In light of this, the court of appeals determined that any error was not so prejudicial as to require a new trial.

On review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the court of appeals in State v. Pizano-Trejo, ___ N.C. App. ___, 723 S.E.2d 583 (2012), the members of the Supreme Court equally divided, leaving the decision below undisturbed and without precedential value. The court of appeals had held that the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury and accepting its guilty verdict for the crimes of “sexual offense with a child,” a crime for which the defendant was not indicted. The defendant was indicted for one count of first degree statutory sexual offense under G.S. 14–27.4(a)(1), and two counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. However, the trial court instructed the jury on the crime of sexual offense with a child by an adult offender under G.S. 14–27.4A. The defendant was found guilty of both counts of taking indecent liberties with a child and one count of first degree statutory sex offense pursuant to G.S. 14–27.4(a)(1). 

In this Cabarrus County case, the defendant was convicted of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree rape. After developing a friendship with the victim, he drugged her without her knowledge, took her to a friend’s house and raped her. The defendant appealed, raising numerous challenges.

(1) The defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions and that his motion to dismiss should have been granted. He did not raise an argument about the rape conviction on appeal. Any argument as to the sufficiency of evidence for that offense was therefore deemed abandoned and waived. As to the kidnapping conviction, the defendant argued he could not be sentenced for both kidnapping and the rape as a matter of double jeopardy, since the rape was used to elevate the kidnapping to first degree. “The proper remedy in the event of conviction of first-degree kidnapping and the sexual assault that constitutes an element of first-degree kidnapping is to arrest judgement on the first-degree kidnapping and resentence the defendant for second-degree kidnapping.” Slip op. at 10-11 (citation omitted). While the defendant correctly noted this rule, the court found it inapplicable to the defendant’s case. The State’s evidence showed at least two distinct sexual assaults. In addition to the rape, the defendant also committed a separate sexual battery, and that offense was used to elevate the kidnapping offense to first-degree (and not the rape). Following the sexual battery in one room, the defendant moved the victim to another room to commit the rape. This showed separate and distinct offenses. The trial court also correctly instructed the jury on these principles and its instructions required the jury to find a separate and distinct sexual battery in support of the first-degree kidnapping. Because the defendant was not convicted of the underlying sexual battery used to support the first-degree kidnapping, double jeopardy did not preclude separate punishments for the distinct rape and kidnapping.

(2) The was also sufficient evidence to support the aggravating factor that the defendant took advantage of a position of trust to accomplish the crimes. The Court of Appeals noted it “has upheld a finding of the ‘trust or confidence’ factor in very limited factual circumstances.” Id. at 18 (citation omitted). Here, the State presented sufficient evidence of the factor in aggravation. The defendant was a family friend and was close with the victim. Evidence showed the defendant gave the victim’s family Christmas gifts, checked on family members, frequently spent time with the victim and advised her on various matters, among other connections. This was sufficient to demonstrate a position of trust over the victim which the defendant exploited in order to commit the crimes.

(3) The two sisters of the victim testified to prior instances of sexual assault by the defendant towards each of them. The trial court admitted this evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b) of the Rules of Evidence as proof of a common plan or scheme by the defendant. The defendant raped one of the sisters in a nearly identical manner as the victim and committed sexual battery upon the other sister “in a manner indicating an intent to go further.” Id. at 21. Like with the victim, the defendant developed a position of trust with each of the sisters before committing sexual assaults on them. The trial court therefore correctly determined the prior bad acts were substantially similar to the circumstances of the current offense. The assaults occurred 10 and 8 years before the events of the current case. The court agreed with the trial judge that this evidence was not too remote in time to satisfy the requirements of Rule 404(b):

Our Supreme Court has held that ‘[w]hen similar acts have been performed continuously over a period of years, the passage of time serves to prove, rather than disprove, the existence of a plan’ rendering the prior bad acts ‘not too remote to be considered as evidence of defendant’s common scheme to abuse the victim sexually.’ Id. at 22 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original).

 The evidence showed the defendant’s acts were continuous over the course of time and therefore not too remote in time to be admitted under Rule 404(b). The trial court also conducted the necessary balancing under Rule 403 of the Rules of Evidence to determine the testimony was not more prejudicial than probative and instructed the jury about the limited purpose of the evidence. The admission of this evidence was therefore not error or an abuse of discretion.

(4) The defendant argued that the admission of toxicology results by way of a substitute analyst violated his Sixth Amendment rights to confrontation. The court disagreed, noting the rule on substitute analyst testimony:

[A]n expert witness may testify as to the testing or analysis conducted by another expert if: (i) that information is reasonably relied on by experts in the field in forming their opinions; and (ii) the testifying expert witness independently reviewed the information and reached his or her own conclusion in this case. Id. at 26 (citation omitted).

The evidence showed that the substitute analyst reviewed the results of the testing done by the non-testifying analysts and formed his own opinion about the results. “Thus, [the analyst’s] opinion was based on his own analysis and not merely surrogate testimony for an otherwise inadmissible lab report . . .” Id. at 31. Under these circumstances, the defendant was not entitled to cross-examine the analysts who actually performed the testing. According to the court, "when an expert gives an opinion, the opinion is the substantive evidence, and the expert is the witness whom the defendant has the right to confront.” Id. Because the expert opinion was properly admitted and the defendant was able to cross-examine that expert, there was no violation of the defendant’s confrontation rights.

(5a) The indictment for second-degree rape identified the victim only by reference to her initials, and the defendant argued this constituted a fatal indictment defect for failure to identify the victim.  He pointed to a recent case holding that “Victim #1” was insufficient to identify the victim. State v. McKoy, 196 N.C. App. 650, 654 (2009), foreclosed this argument. Citing from that case, the court observed: 

[W]here the statutes defining second-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense require the offenses to be against ‘another person,’ the indictments charging these offenses do not need to state the victim’s full name, nor do they need to add periods after each letter in initials in order to accomplish the common sense understanding that initials represent a person. Id.

Unlike the situation where the indictment names only a “victim,” the use of initials sufficed to identify the victim and did not constitute a fatal defect. [Jeff Welty blogged about the use of initials in charging documents here.]

(5b) The first-degree kidnapping indictment was also not defective. The defendant claimed a fatal flaw based on the indictment’s failure to identify the specific crime constituting the sexual assault for purposes of first-degree kidnapping. There is no requirement that an indictment for first-degree kidnapping identify the felony used to enhance the offense to first-degree. The indictment was otherwise sufficient to put the defendant on notice and was valid in all respects. 

(6) The trial court’s instructions to the jury on the existence of the aggravating factor violated G.S. § 15A-1340.16(d). That statute provides in pertinent part that evidence used at trial to support the existence of an element of the offense may not thereafter be used to prove a factor in aggravation. The jury instructions permitted the jury to consider “all of the evidence,” rather than limiting its consideration to evidence not used to support the intent requirements for the two crimes. The defendant did not object to the instructions at the time and alleged plain error on appeal. Plain error requires that the defendant demonstrate “a reasonable possibility that, had the instruction been given, the jury would have failed to find the existence of the aggravating factor.” Id. at 36. The court noted that occupying a position of trust is not an element of either of the crimes at issue and rejected the contention that the same evidence was used to prove both the intent to commit the crimes and the aggravating factor. The defendant could not demonstrate the possibility of a different result absent the instructions on the aggravating factor, and accordingly could not demonstrate prejudice for plain error.

(7) The defendant’s argument that his objections to an order requiring him to enroll in satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) were improperly overruled were abandoned on appeal, because the defendant failed to raise any argument for this issue.

A majority of the court determined there were no reversible error in the trial and the convictions were affirmed.

Judge Murphy dissented in part. He wrote separately to note his disagreement with the majority’s analysis of the Confrontation Clause issue. Judge Murphy would have granted a new trial based on the Sixth Amendment violation and would have held the plain error jury instruction issue in (5) above, as well as the SBM issue in (6), were therefore moot. He otherwise concurred in the majority’s judgment.

(1) A short form indictment under G.S. 15-144.1 was sufficient to charge the defendant with attempted statutory rape of a 13, 14, or 15 year old. The defendant had argued that the statutory short form does not apply to an indictment alleging statutory rape of a 13 year old. (2) The indictment conformed to the requirements of G.S. 15-144.1 even though it failed to allege that the act occurred “by force and against her will” or that the defendant attempted to “ravish and carnally know” the victim. 

(1) An indictment charging statutory rape of a 13, 14, or 15 year old was not defective because it alleged that the defendant did “carnally know” the victim. The court rejected the argument that the indictment was required to allege that “vaginal intercourse” occurred, concluding that the two terms were synonymous. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the same indictment was defective in that it failed to conform to the short form provided in G.S. 15-144.1. The court concluded that the short form did not apply to the crime charged and that the indictment alleged all material elements of the offense.

In this second-degree sex offense case, the court vacated and remanded for entry of judgment on attempted sexual offense where the indictment charged the defendant only with an attempted, not a completed, sex offense. The indictment, labeled “Second Degree Sexual Offense,” alleged that the defendant “did attempt to engage in a sex offense with the victim.” Notwithstanding this, the trial court instructed the jury on the completed offense and provided no instruction on attempt. 

Where the indictment charged the defendant with sexual offense in violation of G.S. 14-27.4(a)(1) (first-degree statutory sex offense with a child under the age of 13), the trial court erred by instructing the jury on sexual offense with a child in violation of G.S. 14-27.4A(a) (statutory sexual offense by an adult). The court noted that the charged offense was a lesser included of the offense of conviction, and that while the charged offense requires the State to prove that the defendant was at least 12 years old and at least 4 years older than the victim, the offense of conviction requires proof that the defendant is at least 18 years old. The court found itself bound by State v. Hicks, 239 N.C. App. 396 (Feb. 17, 2015), vacated the conviction and remanded for resentencing on the lesser included offense.

The trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury on sexual offense with a child by an adult offender under G.S. 14-27.4A when the indictment charged the defendant with first-degree sexual offense in violation of G.S. 14-27.4(a)(1), a lesser-included of the G.S. 14-27.4A crime. The court vacated defendant's conviction under G.S. 14-27.4A and remanded for resentencing and entry of judgment on the lesser-included offense. Additionally, the court appealed to the General Assembly to clarify the relevant law:

This case illustrates a significant ongoing problem with the sexual offense statutes of this State: the various sexual offenses are often confused with one another, leading to defective indictments.

Given the frequency with which these errors arise, we strongly urge the General Assembly to consider reorganizing, renaming, and renumbering the various sexual offenses to make them more easily distinguishable from one another. Currently, there is no uniformity in how the various offenses are referenced, and efforts to distinguish the offenses only lead to more confusion. For example, because "first degree sexual offense" encompasses two different offenses, a violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4(a)(1) is often referred to as "first degree sexual offense with a child" or "first degree statutory sexual offense" to distinguish the offense from "first degree sexual offense by force" under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4(a)(2). "First degree sexual offense with a child," in turn, is easily confused with "statutory sexual offense" which could be a reference to a violation of either N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4A (officially titled "[s]exual offense with a child; adult offender") or N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.7A (2013) (officially titled "[s]tatutory rape or sexual offense of person who is 13, 14, or 15 years old"). Further adding to the confusion is the similarity in the statute numbers of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4(a)(1) and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.4A. We do not foresee an end to this confusion until the General Assembly amends the statutory scheme for sexual offenses.

(citations omitted).

In re J.F., 237 N.C. App. 218 (Nov. 18, 2014)

Noting that the sufficiency of a petition alleging a juvenile to be delinquent is evaluated by the same standards that apply to indictments, the court held that petitions alleging two acts of sexual offense and two acts of crime against nature were sufficient. In addition to tracking the statutory language, one sexual offense and one crime against nature petition alleged that the juvenile performed fellatio on the victim; the other sexual offense and crime against nature petitions alleged that the victim performed fellatio on the juvenile. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that any more detail was required, noting that if the juvenile wanted more information about the factual circumstances underlying each charge he should have moved for a bill of particulars.

In re J.F., 237 N.C. App. 218 (Nov. 18, 2014)

Noting that the sufficiency of a petition alleging a juvenile to be delinquent is evaluated by the same standards that apply to indictments, the court held that petitions alleging two acts of sexual offense and two acts of crime against nature were sufficient. In addition to tracking the statutory language, one sexual offense and one crime against nature petition alleged that the juvenile performed fellatio on the victim; the other sexual offense and crime against nature petitions alleged that the victim performed fellatio on the juvenile. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that any more detail was required, noting that if the juvenile wanted more information about the factual circumstances underlying each charge he should have moved for a bill of particulars.

(1) In this Montgomery County case, the defendant was convicted of indecent liberties with a child and attaining the status of habitual felon.  (1) The defendant argued on appeal that the indecent liberties indictment was fatally defective because it identified the alleged victim only by her initials. The Court of Appeals disagreed.  First, the Court noted that State v. McKoy, 196 N.C. App. 650 (2009), held that identifying the victim by initials was sufficient for an indictment charging second-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that McKoy was overruled by State v. White, 372 N.C. 248 (2019), a case in which the North Carolina Supreme Court held that a sex offense indictment identifying the victim only as “Victim #1” was insufficient. Next, the Court considered whether the indictment would inform a person of reasonable understanding that the defendant was charged with indecent liberties with a child and whether the use of the victim’s initials protected the defendant’s constitutional rights to notice and freedom from double jeopardy. The Court found the indictment satisfied both requirements. A person with common understanding would know the intent of the indictment, and the record demonstrated that the defendant had notice of the victim’s identity.  The arrest warrants listed the victim’s full name. The defendant was interviewed by officers regarding his contact with the victim, and he admitted that he knew her. The defendant did not argue that he had difficulty preparing his case because the initials were used rather than the victim’s full name. In addition, the victim testified at trial and identified herself by her full name in open court. The Court concluded there was no possibility that the defendant was confused regarding the victim’s identity; therefore the use of initials in the indictment provided the defendant with sufficient notice to prepare his defense and protect himself against double jeopardy. 

(2) The defendant argued that the trial court plainly erred by admitting testimony and evidence that vouched for the victim’s credibility. The defendant objected on appeal (but not at trial) to the introduction of statements from Randolph County Department of Social Services employee Morgan Halkyer and Andrew, the victim’s uncle. Halkyer’s recorded interview with the victim was played for the jury.  In that interview, Halkyer told the victim:  “No kid should ever be put in that situation by an adult, you know, they’re an adult, they should know better.” The Court held that Halkyer did not impermissibly vouch for the victim’s credibility since her statements were not tantamount to an opinion that the victim was telling the truth. Instead, the statements provided the jury with the context of Halkyer’s interview.  In that interview, Halkyer was not attempting to opine about whether the victim was truthful but was comforting the victim with general statements about adult behavior. 

The defendant also argued that the trial court plainly erred in admitting text messages Andrew sent to the victim, in which stated that the defendant committed a crime. Among the texts was a statement that “they need to understand that a 40 year old man took you too [sic] his house and attempted inappropriate actions. It's [sic] may not be sexual assault but it is illegal.” Considering that the jury was instructed that its role was to judge the believability of the witnesses, the victim’s extensive testimony at trial, and the defendant’s statement that “maybe things did go a little too far,” the Court found that the defendant failed to demonstrate that Andrew’s text messages had a probable impact on the jury’s verdict. Thus, the Court held that any error in the admission of this evidence was not plain error.

Five indecent liberties indictments were sufficient where they were couched in the language of the statute and specified different and non-overlapping time frames. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictments were insufficient because they included “non-specific allegations.”

In an indecent liberties case, the trial judge’s jury instructions were supported by the indictment. The indictment tracked the statute and did not allege an evidentiary basis for the charge. The jury instructions, which identified the defendant’s conduct as placing his penis between the child’s feet, was a clarification of the evidence for the jury.

An indictment charging felony peeping was not defective. Rejecting the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that the defendant’s conduct was done without the victim’s consent, the court concluded that “any charge brought under N.C.G.S. § 14-202 denotes an act by which the defendant has spied upon another without that person’s consent.” Moreover, the charging language, which included the word “surreptitiously” gave the defendant adequate notice. Further, the element of “without consent” is adequately alleged in an indictment that indicates the defendant committed an act unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously.

State v. James, 368 N.C. 728 (Mar. 18, 2016)

In an appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 774 S.E.2d 871 (2015), the court per curiam affirmed for the reasons stated in State v. Williams, 368 N.C. 620 (Jan. 29, 2016) (in a case where the defendant, a sex offender, was charged with violating G.S. 14-208.11 by failing to provide timely written notice of a change of address, the court held that the indictment was not defective; distinguishing State v. Abshire, 363 N.C. 322 (2009), the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it alleged that he failed to register his change of address with the sheriff’s office within three days, rather than within three business days).

State v. Williams, 368 N.C. 620 (Jan. 29, 2016)

In a case where the defendant, a sex offender, was charged with violating G.S. 14-208.11 by failing to provide timely written notice of a change of address, the court held that the indictment was not defective. Distinguishing State v. Abshire, 363 N.C. 322 (2009), the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it alleged that he failed to register his change of address with the sheriff’s office within three days, rather than within three business days. 

Indictments charging the defendant with failing register under G.S. 14-208.11(a)(2) and (a)(7) were not fatally defective where the indictments substantially tracked the language of the statute.

In a failure to register as a sex offender case, the indictment was not defective on grounds that did not allege that the defendant failed to provide “written notice” of his address change “within three business days.” Citing prior case law, the court noted that it has already rejected arguments. The court followed this case law, refusing “to subject the indictment to hyper technical scrutiny.” It further noted that the defendant did not establish that this pleading issue prejudiced his trial preparation. Finally, it noted that the better practice would be for the prosecution to allege that the defendant failed to report his change in address “in writing” and “within three business days.” 

An indictment charging failing to notify the sheriff of a change in address was not defective. The indictment alleged, in relevant part, that the defendant “fail[ed] to register as a sex offender by failing to notify the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office of his change of address.” The defendant argued that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that he was required to provide “written notice” of a change of address. The court held: “we consider the manner of notice, in person or in writing, to be an evidentiary matter necessary to be proven at trial, but not required to be alleged in the indictment.”

(1) In a failing to register case the indictment was not defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant failed to provide 10 days of written notice of his change of address to “the last registering sheriff by failing to report his change of address to the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office.” The defendant allegedly moved from Burke to Wilkes County. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was fatally defective for not alleging that he failed to provide “in-person” notice. It reasoned that the defendant was not prosecuted for failing to make an “in person” notification, but rather for failing to give 10 days of written notice, which by itself is a violation of the statute. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that an error in the indictment indicating that the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office was the “the last registering sheriff” (in fact the last registering sheriff was the Burke County sheriff), invalidated the indictment. (2) The trial court did not err by allowing the State to amend the indictment and expand the dates of offense from 7 November 2012 to June to November 2012. It reasoned that the amendment did not substantially alter the charge “because the specific date that defendant moved to Wilkes County was not an essential element of the crime.”

An indictment charging the defendant with violating G.S. 14-208.18(a) (prohibiting registered sex offenders from being “[w]ithin 300 feet of any location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors when the place is located on premises that are not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors”) was not defective. The charges arose out of the defendant’s presence at a Wilkesboro public park, specifically, sitting on a bench within the premises of the park and in close proximity to the park’s batting cage and ball field. The indictment alleged, in relevant part, that the defendant was “within 300 feet of a location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors, to wit: a batting cage and ball field of Cub Creek Park located in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that the batting cages and ball field were located on a premise not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors.

An indictment charging failing to notify the sheriff’s office of change of address by a registered sex offender under G.S. 14-208.9 was defective where it failed to allege that the defendant was a person required to register. 

Following State v. Harris, 219 N.C. App. 590 (Apr. 3, 2012) (an indictment charging the defendant with being a sex offender unlawfully on the premises of a place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors in violation of G.S. 14-208.18 was defective because it failed to allege that he had been convicted of an offense enumerated in G.S. Ch. 14 Article 7A or an offense involving a victim who was under 16 years of age at the time of the offense), the court held that the indictment at issue was defective.

An indictment charging the defendant with being a sex offender unlawfully on the premises of a place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors in violation of G.S. 14-208.18 was defective. According to the court the “essential elements” of the charged offense are that the defendant (1) knowingly is on the premises of any place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors (2) at a time when he or she was required by North Carolina law to register as a sex offender based upon a conviction for an offense enumerated in G.S. Ch. 14 Article 7A or an offense involving a victim who was under the age of 16. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment, which alleged that the defendant “did unlawfully, willfully and feloniously on the premises of Winget Park Elementary School,” was defective because it omitted any affirmative assertion that he actually went on the school’s premises. The court reasoned that although the indictment contained a grammatical error, it clearly charged the defendant with unlawfully being on the premises of the school. Next, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that he knowingly went on the school’s premises. The court reasoned that the indictment’s allegation that the defendant acted “willfully” sufficed to allege the requisite “knowing” conduct. However, the court found merit in the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that he had been convicted of an offense enumerated in G.S. Ch. 14 Article 7A or an offense involving a victim who was under 16 years of age at the time of the offense.

In this Cabarrus County case, the defendant was convicted of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree rape. After developing a friendship with the victim, he drugged her without her knowledge, took her to a friend’s house and raped her. The defendant appealed, raising numerous challenges.

(1) The defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions and that his motion to dismiss should have been granted. He did not raise an argument about the rape conviction on appeal. Any argument as to the sufficiency of evidence for that offense was therefore deemed abandoned and waived. As to the kidnapping conviction, the defendant argued he could not be sentenced for both kidnapping and the rape as a matter of double jeopardy, since the rape was used to elevate the kidnapping to first degree. “The proper remedy in the event of conviction of first-degree kidnapping and the sexual assault that constitutes an element of first-degree kidnapping is to arrest judgement on the first-degree kidnapping and resentence the defendant for second-degree kidnapping.” Slip op. at 10-11 (citation omitted). While the defendant correctly noted this rule, the court found it inapplicable to the defendant’s case. The State’s evidence showed at least two distinct sexual assaults. In addition to the rape, the defendant also committed a separate sexual battery, and that offense was used to elevate the kidnapping offense to first-degree (and not the rape). Following the sexual battery in one room, the defendant moved the victim to another room to commit the rape. This showed separate and distinct offenses. The trial court also correctly instructed the jury on these principles and its instructions required the jury to find a separate and distinct sexual battery in support of the first-degree kidnapping. Because the defendant was not convicted of the underlying sexual battery used to support the first-degree kidnapping, double jeopardy did not preclude separate punishments for the distinct rape and kidnapping.

(2) The was also sufficient evidence to support the aggravating factor that the defendant took advantage of a position of trust to accomplish the crimes. The Court of Appeals noted it “has upheld a finding of the ‘trust or confidence’ factor in very limited factual circumstances.” Id. at 18 (citation omitted). Here, the State presented sufficient evidence of the factor in aggravation. The defendant was a family friend and was close with the victim. Evidence showed the defendant gave the victim’s family Christmas gifts, checked on family members, frequently spent time with the victim and advised her on various matters, among other connections. This was sufficient to demonstrate a position of trust over the victim which the defendant exploited in order to commit the crimes.

(3) The two sisters of the victim testified to prior instances of sexual assault by the defendant towards each of them. The trial court admitted this evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b) of the Rules of Evidence as proof of a common plan or scheme by the defendant. The defendant raped one of the sisters in a nearly identical manner as the victim and committed sexual battery upon the other sister “in a manner indicating an intent to go further.” Id. at 21. Like with the victim, the defendant developed a position of trust with each of the sisters before committing sexual assaults on them. The trial court therefore correctly determined the prior bad acts were substantially similar to the circumstances of the current offense. The assaults occurred 10 and 8 years before the events of the current case. The court agreed with the trial judge that this evidence was not too remote in time to satisfy the requirements of Rule 404(b):

Our Supreme Court has held that ‘[w]hen similar acts have been performed continuously over a period of years, the passage of time serves to prove, rather than disprove, the existence of a plan’ rendering the prior bad acts ‘not too remote to be considered as evidence of defendant’s common scheme to abuse the victim sexually.’ Id. at 22 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original).

 The evidence showed the defendant’s acts were continuous over the course of time and therefore not too remote in time to be admitted under Rule 404(b). The trial court also conducted the necessary balancing under Rule 403 of the Rules of Evidence to determine the testimony was not more prejudicial than probative and instructed the jury about the limited purpose of the evidence. The admission of this evidence was therefore not error or an abuse of discretion.

(4) The defendant argued that the admission of toxicology results by way of a substitute analyst violated his Sixth Amendment rights to confrontation. The court disagreed, noting the rule on substitute analyst testimony:

[A]n expert witness may testify as to the testing or analysis conducted by another expert if: (i) that information is reasonably relied on by experts in the field in forming their opinions; and (ii) the testifying expert witness independently reviewed the information and reached his or her own conclusion in this case. Id. at 26 (citation omitted).

The evidence showed that the substitute analyst reviewed the results of the testing done by the non-testifying analysts and formed his own opinion about the results. “Thus, [the analyst’s] opinion was based on his own analysis and not merely surrogate testimony for an otherwise inadmissible lab report . . .” Id. at 31. Under these circumstances, the defendant was not entitled to cross-examine the analysts who actually performed the testing. According to the court, "when an expert gives an opinion, the opinion is the substantive evidence, and the expert is the witness whom the defendant has the right to confront.” Id. Because the expert opinion was properly admitted and the defendant was able to cross-examine that expert, there was no violation of the defendant’s confrontation rights.

(5a) The indictment for second-degree rape identified the victim only by reference to her initials, and the defendant argued this constituted a fatal indictment defect for failure to identify the victim.  He pointed to a recent case holding that “Victim #1” was insufficient to identify the victim. State v. McKoy, 196 N.C. App. 650, 654 (2009), foreclosed this argument. Citing from that case, the court observed: 

[W]here the statutes defining second-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense require the offenses to be against ‘another person,’ the indictments charging these offenses do not need to state the victim’s full name, nor do they need to add periods after each letter in initials in order to accomplish the common sense understanding that initials represent a person. Id.

Unlike the situation where the indictment names only a “victim,” the use of initials sufficed to identify the victim and did not constitute a fatal defect. [Jeff Welty blogged about the use of initials in charging documents here.]

(5b) The first-degree kidnapping indictment was also not defective. The defendant claimed a fatal flaw based on the indictment’s failure to identify the specific crime constituting the sexual assault for purposes of first-degree kidnapping. There is no requirement that an indictment for first-degree kidnapping identify the felony used to enhance the offense to first-degree. The indictment was otherwise sufficient to put the defendant on notice and was valid in all respects. 

(6) The trial court’s instructions to the jury on the existence of the aggravating factor violated G.S. § 15A-1340.16(d). That statute provides in pertinent part that evidence used at trial to support the existence of an element of the offense may not thereafter be used to prove a factor in aggravation. The jury instructions permitted the jury to consider “all of the evidence,” rather than limiting its consideration to evidence not used to support the intent requirements for the two crimes. The defendant did not object to the instructions at the time and alleged plain error on appeal. Plain error requires that the defendant demonstrate “a reasonable possibility that, had the instruction been given, the jury would have failed to find the existence of the aggravating factor.” Id. at 36. The court noted that occupying a position of trust is not an element of either of the crimes at issue and rejected the contention that the same evidence was used to prove both the intent to commit the crimes and the aggravating factor. The defendant could not demonstrate the possibility of a different result absent the instructions on the aggravating factor, and accordingly could not demonstrate prejudice for plain error.

(7) The defendant’s argument that his objections to an order requiring him to enroll in satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) were improperly overruled were abandoned on appeal, because the defendant failed to raise any argument for this issue.

A majority of the court determined there were no reversible error in the trial and the convictions were affirmed.

Judge Murphy dissented in part. He wrote separately to note his disagreement with the majority’s analysis of the Confrontation Clause issue. Judge Murphy would have granted a new trial based on the Sixth Amendment violation and would have held the plain error jury instruction issue in (5) above, as well as the SBM issue in (6), were therefore moot. He otherwise concurred in the majority’s judgment.

The trial court erred by allowing the State to amend a second-degree kidnapping indictment. The indictment alleged that the defendant restrained the victim for the purpose of facilitating the felony of assault inflicting serious injury. However, that offense is a misdemeanor. During trial, the State was allowed to amend the indictment to add the term “bodily” such that the crime specified was “assault inflicting serious bodily injury,” which is a felony. The court held that the State was bound by the crime alleged in the original indictment. However, the court continued, the indictment does allege false imprisonment, a lesser-included offense of kidnapping. Here, where the jury found that the defendant committed the acts as alleged in the indictment, the court vacated the judgment and remanded for entry of judgment and resentencing on the lesser-included offense of false imprisonment.

(1) Indictments charging kidnapping with respect to victims under 16 were not defective. The indictments alleged that the defendant unlawfully confined and restrained each victim “without the victim’s consent.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because the indictments failed to allege a lack of parental or custodial consent, they were fatally defective. The court explained:

“’[T] he victim’s age is not an essential element of the crime of kidnapping itself, but it is, instead, a factor which relates to the state’s burden of proof in regard to consent. If the victim is shown to be under sixteen, the state has the burden of showing that he or she was unlawfully confined, restrained, or removed from one place to another without the consent of a parent or legal guardian. Otherwise, the state must prove that the action was taken without his or her own consent.’” (quoting State v. Hunter, 299 N.C. 29, 40 (1980)).

The court concluded: “Because age is not an essential element of the crime of kidnapping, and whether the State must prove a lack of consent from the victim or from the parent or custodian is contingent upon the victim’s age, … the indictments … are adequate even though they allege that the victim ─ and not the parent ─ did not consent.” (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was a fatal variance between a kidnapping indictment with respect to victim D.M. and the evidence at trial. The defendant argued that the indictment alleged that D.M. was at least 16 years old but the evidence showed that D.M. was 16 at the time. The court concluded: “because D.M.’s age does not involve an essential element of the crime of kidnapping, any alleged variance in this regard could not have been fatal.”

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of first-degree kidnapping where the indictment alleged that the confinement, restraint, and removal was for the purpose of committing a felony larceny but the State failed to present evidence of that crime. Although the State is not required to allege the specific felony facilitated, when it does, it is bound by that allegation. 

Although a kidnapping indictment need not allege the felony intended, if it does, the State is bound by that allegation. Here, the indictment alleged confinement and restraint for the purpose of committing murder, but the evidence showed that the confinement or restraint was for the purpose of a committing a robbery. The State was bound by the allegation and had to prove the confinement and restraint was for the purposes of premeditated and deliberate murder (it could not rely on felony-murder).

On appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 807 S.E.2d 159 (2017), the court per curiam reversed for the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, thus holding that a larceny from a merchant indictment was not fatally defective. A majority of the panel of the Court of Appeals held that the indictment, which named the victim as “Belk’s Department Stores, an entity capable of owning property,” failed to adequately identify the victim. The court of appeals stated:

In specifying the identity of a victim who is not a natural person, our Supreme Court provides that a larceny indictment is valid only if either: (1) the victim, as named, itself imports an association or a corporation [or other legal entity] capable of owning property[;] or, (2) there is an allegation that the victim, as named, if not a natural person, is a corporation or otherwise a legal entity capable of owning property[.]” (quotations omitted).

The court of appeals further clarified: “A victim’s name imports that the victim is an entity capable of owning property when the name includes a word like “corporation,” “incorporated,” “limited,” “church,” or an abbreviated form thereof.” Here, the name “Belk’s Department Stores” does not itself import that the victim is a corporation or other type of entity capable of owning property. The indictment did however include an allegation that the store was “an entity capable of owning property.” Thus the issue presented was whether alleging that the store is some unnamed type of entity capable of owning property is sufficient or whether the specific type of entity must be pleaded. The Court of Appeals found that precedent “compel[led]” it to conclude that the charging language was insufficient. The Court of Appeals rejected the State’s argument that an indictment which fails to specify the victim’s entity type is sufficient so long as it otherwise alleges that the victim is a legal entity. The dissenting judge believed that the indictment adequately alleged the identity of the owner. The dissenting judge stated: “Given the complexity of corporate structures in today’s society, I think an allegation that the merchant named in the indictment is a legal entity capable of owning property is sufficient to meet the requirements that an indictment apprise the defendant of the conduct which is the subject of the accusation.” As noted, the Supreme Court reversed for reasons stated in the dissent.

State v. Campbell, 368 N.C. 83 (June 11, 2015)

Reversing the decision below, State v. Campbell, 234 N.C. App. 551 (2014), the court held that a larceny indictment was not fatally flawed even though it failed to specifically allege that a church, the co-owner of the property at issue, was an entity capable of owning property. The indictment named the victim as Manna Baptist Church. The court held: “[A]lleging ownership of property in an entity identified as a church or other place of religious worship, like identifying an entity as a ‘company’ or ‘incorporated,’ signifies an entity capable of owning property, and the line of cases from the Court of Appeals that has held otherwise is overruled.”

An indictment charging the defendant with felony larceny was not defective. The indictment alleged that the victim was “Sears Roebuck and Company.” The defendant argued that although the indictment contains the word “company,” it does not identify the victim as a company or other corporate entity. The Court disagreed. Noting prior case law holding defective an embezzlement indictment which alleged the victim’s name as “The Chuck Wagon,” the court noted that in this case the word “company” is part of the name of the property owner, “Sears Roebuck and Company.” It noted that that the words corporation, incorporated, limited, or company, or their abbreviated form sufficiently identify a corporation in an indictment.

State v. Forte [Duplicated], ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 764 (July 3, 2018) review granted, 371 N.C. 779 (Dec 5 2018)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was a fatal variance between the indictment for misdemeanor larceny and the evidence at trial. Specifically, the defendant argued that there was a fatal variance between the allegation that he stole a checkbook from Glenn Cox and the evidence at trial, which showed that the checkbook belonged to Cox Auto Salvage. The court noted that a larceny indictment must allege a person who has a property interest in the stolen item, and that the State must prove that person has ownership, meaning title to the property or some special property interest. As to the case at hand, it concluded:

While there is no evidence tending to show Glenn Cox was the actual owner of Cox Auto Salvage, there is ample evidence indicating Cox had a special property interest in the checkbook. Cox testified the checkbook was his, had his name written on it, and contained stubs of checks he had written. Cox always kept a company checkbook, and he realized the checkbook was missing when he needed to pay a customer. We conclude this evidence establishes Cox was in exclusive possession and control of the checkbook, and that he viewed it as being his checkbook. Therefore, Cox had a special property interest in the checkbook.

State v. Campbell [Duplicated], ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E.2d 803 (Feb. 6, 2018) review granted, ___ N.C. ___, 813 S.E.2d 849 (Jun 7 2018)

Invoking its discretion under Rule 2 to reach the merit of the defendant’s argument, the court held, over a dissent, that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss a larceny charge due to a fatal variance between the indictment and the evidence regarding ownership of the property. The indictment alleged that the property belonged to “Andy [Stevens] and Manna Baptist Church.” Andy Stevens was the church’s Pastor. In a prior opinion in the case, the court had held that a fatal variance existed because the evidence showed that the stolen property belonged only to the church. The Supreme Court however granted discretionary review as to whether the Court of Appeals erred in invoking Rule 2 to address that issue. That court remanded to the Court of Appeals for an express determination as to whether the court would exercise its discretion to invoke Rule 2 and consider the merits of the fatal variance claim. Following these instructions, the court determined that in this “unusual and extraordinary case” it would exercise its discretion to employ Rule 2 and consider the merits of the defendant’s fatal variance claim. Turning to the merits, the court adopted its analysis in its earlier decision in the case and held—again—that a fatal variance occurred. Specifically, although the indictment alleged that the property was owned by both Andy Stevens and the church, the evidence established that the property was owned only by the church. The court reiterated the principle that if the State fails to present evidence of a property interest of some sort in both owners alleged in the indictment, a fatal variance occurs. Here, the evidence did not show that Pastor Stevens held title or had any type of ownership interest in the stolen property.

State v. Bacon, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 402 (July 18, 2017) temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 802 S.E.2d 460 (Aug 4 2017)

Although there was a fatal variance between the allegation in a felony larceny indictment as to the owner of the stolen property and the proof of ownership presented at trial, the variance did not warrant dismissal. The indictments alleged that all of the stolen items, a television, gaming system, video games, laptop, camera, and earrings were the personal property of April Faison. The evidence at trial indicated that Faison did not own all of those items. Specifically, her daughter owned the laptop and the camera; the gaming system belonged to a friend. Although the defendant conceded that some of the items listed in the indictment correctly named Faison as property owner, he argued that a fatal variance with respect to the other items required dismissal. The State’s evidence would have been sufficient if it had established that Faison, while not the property owner, had some special interest in the items owned by others, for example, as a bailee. However, the State’s evidence did not establish that. The court also rejected the argument that Faison had a special custody interest in her child’s property because, here, her daughter was an adult who did not live in the home. Thus, while the evidence was sufficient to demonstrate that Faison was the owner of some of the property, there was a fatal variance with respect to ownership of other items. The court however went on to reject the argument that a larceny indictment that properly alleges the owner of certain stolen property, but improperly alleges the owner of additional property, must be dismissed in its entirety. Here, the problematic language was surplusage.

A felonious larceny indictment alleging that the defendant took the property of “Pinewood Country Club” was fatally defective. The State conceded that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that the named victim was an entity capable of owning property. The court noted however that the indictment’s failure to specify the country club as an entity capable of owning property was not fatal with respect to a separate charge of possession of stolen goods.

Exercising discretion to consider a fatal variance argument with respect to a theft of money and an iPod from a frozen yogurt shop, the court held that a fatal variance existed. The State alleged that the property belonged to Tutti Frutti, LLC, but it actually belonged to Jason Wei, the son of the sole member of that company, and the State failed to show that Tutti Frutti was in lawful custody and possession of Wei’s property when it was stolen. It clarified: “there is no fatal variance between an indictment and the proof at trial if the State establishes that the alleged owner of stolen property had lawful possession and custody of the property, even if it did not actually own the property.” 

In re D.B., 214 N.C. App. 489 (Aug. 16, 2011)

A juvenile petition alleging felony larceny was fatally defective because it contained no allegation that the alleged victim, the Crossings Golf Club, was a legal entity capable of owning property.

An indictment for felonious larceny that failed to allege ownership in the stolen handgun was fatally defective.

Fatal variance in larceny indictment alleging that the stolen gun belonged to an individual named Minear and the evidence showing that it belonged to and was stolen from a home owned by an individual named Leggett. Minear had no special property interest in the gun even though the gun was kept in a bedroom occupied by both women.

The trial court lacked jurisdiction to sentence the defendant for larceny of goods worth more than $1,000 when the indictment charged that the defendant stole “property having a value of $1,000.” 

On appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 807 S.E.2d 159 (2017), the court per curiam reversed for the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, thus holding that a larceny from a merchant indictment was not fatally defective. A majority of the panel of the Court of Appeals held that the indictment, which named the victim as “Belk’s Department Stores, an entity capable of owning property,” failed to adequately identify the victim. The court of appeals stated:

In specifying the identity of a victim who is not a natural person, our Supreme Court provides that a larceny indictment is valid only if either: (1) the victim, as named, itself imports an association or a corporation [or other legal entity] capable of owning property[;] or, (2) there is an allegation that the victim, as named, if not a natural person, is a corporation or otherwise a legal entity capable of owning property[.]” (quotations omitted).

The court of appeals further clarified: “A victim’s name imports that the victim is an entity capable of owning property when the name includes a word like “corporation,” “incorporated,” “limited,” “church,” or an abbreviated form thereof.” Here, the name “Belk’s Department Stores” does not itself import that the victim is a corporation or other type of entity capable of owning property. The indictment did however include an allegation that the store was “an entity capable of owning property.” Thus the issue presented was whether alleging that the store is some unnamed type of entity capable of owning property is sufficient or whether the specific type of entity must be pleaded. The Court of Appeals found that precedent “compel[led]” it to conclude that the charging language was insufficient. The Court of Appeals rejected the State’s argument that an indictment which fails to specify the victim’s entity type is sufficient so long as it otherwise alleges that the victim is a legal entity. The dissenting judge believed that the indictment adequately alleged the identity of the owner. The dissenting judge stated: “Given the complexity of corporate structures in today’s society, I think an allegation that the merchant named in the indictment is a legal entity capable of owning property is sufficient to meet the requirements that an indictment apprise the defendant of the conduct which is the subject of the accusation.” As noted, the Supreme Court reversed for reasons stated in the dissent.

An indictment charging the defendant with larceny from a merchant by removal of antitheft device in violation of G.S. 14-72.11 was defective in two respects. The elements of this offense include a larceny (taking the property of another, carrying it away, without the consent of the possessor, and with the intent to permanently deprive) and removal of an antishoplifting or inventory control device. In this case, the defendant was alleged to have taken clothing from a department store. The court determined that the indictment’s description of the property taken as “merchandise” was “too general to identify the property allegedly taken.” Additionally, the indictment alleged that the defendant “did remove a component of an anti-theft or inventory control device . . . . in an effort to steal” property. This language, the court determined, alleged only an attempted larceny not the completed offense. 

In this habitual larceny case where the defendant was sentenced as a habitual felon, the court held that the habitual larceny indictment was not facially invalid for failure to allege all essential elements of the offense.  The defendant argued that the habitual larceny indictment was facially invalid because it did not specifically allege that he was represented by counsel or had waived counsel in the proceedings underlying each of his prior larceny convictions.  G.S. 14-72(b)(6) provides that a conviction for a larceny offense may not be used as a prior conviction for purposes of elevating misdemeanor larceny to felony habitual larceny unless the defendant was represented by counsel or waived counsel.  Reviewing the structure of G.S. 14-72(b)(6), the North Carolina Supreme Court’s definition of the elements of the offense in a prior case, and the availability to defendants of information regarding their counsel when they obtained prior convictions, the court held that representation by or waiver of counsel in connection with prior larceny convictions is not an essential element of felony habitual larceny and thus need not be alleged in an indictment for that offense.  Because representation by or waiver of counsel is not an essential element of the offense, the court also rejected the defendant’s related sufficiency of the evidence argument.

A felonious larceny indictment alleging that the defendant took the property of “Pinewood Country Club” was fatally defective. The State conceded that the indictment was defective because it failed to allege that the named victim was an entity capable of owning property. The court noted however that the indictment’s failure to specify the country club as an entity capable of owning property was not fatal with respect to a separate charge of possession of stolen goods.

An indictment alleging possession of stolen property was defective where it failed to allege that the property was stolen or that the defendant knew or had reason to believe that it was stolen. 

An embezzlement indictment was not fatally defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant:

unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did embezzle three thousand nine hundred fifty seven dollars and eighty one cents ($3,957.81) in good and lawful United States currency belonging to AMPZ, LLC d/b/a Interstate All Battery Center. At the time the defendant was over 16 years of age and was the employee of AMPZ, LLC d/b/a Interstate All Battery Center and in that capacity had been entrusted to receive the property described above and in that capacity the defendant did receive and take into her care and possession that property.

The defendant argued that the indictment failed to allege that she acted with fraudulent intent. The court determined that “the concept of fraudulent intent is already contained within the ordinary meaning of the term ‘embezzle,’” as used in the indictment. The court noted that the defendant did not argue that she was prejudiced in her ability to prepare a defense because of this issue. It further noted that to convict the defendant of embezzlement, the State must prove that she fraudulently or knowingly and willfully misapplied or converted the property. Here, the indictment can fairly be read to allege that the defendant “knowingly and willfully” embezzled from her employer.

            The court also rejected the argument that the indictment was defective for failing to specify the acts constituting embezzlement. The indictment alleges that the defendant embezzled a specific sum of money entrusted to her in a fiduciary capacity as an employee of the company. The court “fail[ed] to see how these allegations would not adequately apprise Defendant as to the charges facing her or prejudice her ability to prepare a defense.”

There was no fatal variance in a larceny by employee indictment where the indictment alleged that the defendant’s employer was “Precision Auto Care, Inc. (PACI), a corporation” but the evidence at trial showed the actual name of the corporation to be “Precision Franchising, Inc.” doing business as “Precision Tune Auto Care.” The court noted in part: “Our courts have repeatedly held that minor variations between the name of the corporate entity alleged in the indictment and the evidence presented at trial are immaterial, so long as [t]he defendant was adequately informed of the corporation which was the accuser and victim. A variance will not be deemed fatal where there is no controversy as to who in fact was the true owner of the property.” The court noted that the variation in names did not impair the defendant’s ability to defend against the charges.

The trial court did not err by allowing the State to amend an embezzlement indictment. The indictment originally alleged that “the defendant . . . was the employee of MBM Moving Systems, LLC . . . .” The amendment added the words “or agent” after the word “employee.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the nature of his relationship to the victim was critical to the charge and thus that the amendment substantially altered the charge. The court held that the terms “employee” and “agent” “are essentially interchangeable” for purposes of this offense. The court noted that the defendant was not misled or surprised as to the charges against him.

In an embezzlement case, no fatal variance occurred where the indictment alleged that Smokey Park Hospitality, Inc., d/b/a Comfort Inn had an interest in the property. Although the evidence showed that Smokey Park Hospitality never owned the hotel, it acted as a management company and ran the business. Smokey Park Hospitality thus had a special property interest in the embezzled money.

(1) In a larceny by employee case, the trial court erred by allowing the State to amend the bill of indictment. The indictment stated that the defendant was an employee of “Cape Fear Carved Signs, Incorporated.” The State moved to amend by striking the word “Incorporated,” explaining that the business was a sole proprietorship of Mr. Neil Schulman. The amendment was a substantial alteration in the charge. (2) The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant waived his ability to contest the indictment by failing to move to dismiss it at trial, reiterating that jurisdictional issues may be raised at any time.

State v. Murrell, 370 N.C. 187 (Sept. 29, 2017)

Affirming an unpublished opinion of the Court of Appeals, the court held that a robbery indictment was fatally defective. The indictment alleged, in relevant part, that the defendant committed the bank robbery “by way of reasonably appearing to the [named] victim . . . that a dangerous weapon was in the defendant’s possession, being used and threatened to be used by communicating that he was armed to her in a note.” The Court of Appeals had held that the indictment was defective because it failed to name any dangerous weapon that the defendant allegedly employed. The Supreme Court noted that an essential element of armed robbery is that the defendant possessed, used, or threatened use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon. Here, the indictment does not adequately allege this element. The court instructed: an armed robbery indictment “must allege the presence of a firearm or dangerous weapon used to threaten or endanger the life of a person.” 

The defendant was indicted in 2013 for first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit murder for crimes committed in 1996. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the defendant pled guilty in June 2014 to a reduced charge of second-degree murder, attempted armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery, for which he received a consolidated sentence of 120 to 153 months. In June 2015, the defendant filed a motion for appropriate relief claiming that the indictment for attempted armed robbery was fatally defective by failing to name any victim. The trial judge denied the motion, and the defendant petitioned for a writ of certiorari. (1) A majority of the Court of Appeals ruled that the indictment was fatally defective and did not provide the trial court with jurisdiction to enter judgment on the defendant’s guilty plea to attempted armed robbery. The Court recognized that armed robbery is a crime against the person. Like common law robbery, it involves the taking of money or goods from the person or presence of another by violence or intimidation. The only difference is the use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon. Indictments for such crimes must specifically name the victim. The Court held that attempted armed robbery is indistinguishable from the completed crime in terms of the subject matter and the victim must be specifically named in the indictment. The indictment in this case alleged the victims as employees of the Huddle House. Relying on prior decisions, including the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Scott, 237 N.C. 432 (1953), the Court ruled that this allegation was not sufficient to satisfy the requirement that the victim be specifically named. A dissenting judge would have found the indictment sufficient because the allegation that the defendant was attempting to steal property from the employees of Huddle House was sufficient to show that the defendant was taking others’ property and the allegation that the lives of the employees were threatened or endangered by the defendant’s possession of a firearm was sufficient to put him on notice of the manner and means by which the crime was perpetrated. (2) The Court of Appeals rejected the requested remedy of vacating his conviction for attempted armed robbery. The Court held that by successfully moving to vacate the judgment for armed robbery, the Court was obliged to vacate the whole plea agreement. The Court observed that the parties may enter into a new plea agreement or the State may proceed to trial on the charges, including attempted armed robbery pursuant to a new indictment.

In an appeal from a conviction obtained in the Eve Carson murder case, the court held that a robbery indictment was not fatally defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant:

unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did steal, take, and carry away and attempt to steal, take and carry away another’s personal property, A 2005 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER AUTOMOBILE (VIN: JTEDP21A250047971) APPROXIMATE VALUE OF $18,000.00; AND AN LP FLIP PHONE, HAVING AN APPROXIMATE VALUE OF $100.00: AND A BANK OF AMERICA ATM CARD, HAVING AN APPROXIMATE VALUE OF $1.00; AND APPROXIMATELY $700.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY of the value of $18,801.00 dollars, from the presence, person, place of business, and residence of ______________________________. The defendant committed this act having in possession and with the use and threatened use of firearms and other dangerous weapons, implements, and means, A SAWED OFF HARRINGTON & RICHARDSON TOPPER MODEL 158, 12 GAUGE SHOTGUN (SERIAL # L246386) AND AN EXCAM GT-27 .25 CALIBER SEMI-AUTOMATIC PISTOL (SERIAL # M11062) whereby the life of EVE MARIE CARSON was endangered and threatened.

The defendant argued that the indictment was defective because it failed to name the person from whose presence property was taken. The court reasoned that Carson’s life could not have been endangered and threatened unless she was the person in the presence of the property.

On appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 802 S.E.2d 508 (2017), the court reversed, holding that the obtaining property by false pretenses indictment was not defective and that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction on that charge.

(1) The obtaining property by false pretenses indictment, that described the property obtained as “United States Currency” was not fatally defective. The indictment charged the defendant with two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, alleging that the defendant, through false pretenses, knowingly and designedly obtained “United States Currency from Cash Now Pawn” by conveying specifically referenced personal property, which he represented as his own. The indictment described the personal property used to obtain the money as an Acer laptop, a Vizio television, a computer monitor, and jewelry. An indictment for obtaining property by false pretenses must describe the property obtained in sufficient detail to identify the transaction by which the defendant obtained money. Here, the indictment sufficiently identifies the crime charged because it describes the property obtained as “United States Currency” and names the items conveyed to obtain the money. As such, the indictment is facially valid; it gave the defendant reasonable notice of the charges against him and enabled him to prepare his defense. The transcript makes clear that the defendant was not confused at trial regarding the property conveyed. Had the defendant needed more detail to prepare his defense, he could have requested a bill of particulars. In so holding the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was fatally defective for failing to allege the amount of money obtained by conveying the items.

(2) The State presented sufficient evidence of the defendant’s false representation that he owned the stolen property to support his conviction for obtaining property by false pretenses. The pawnshop employee who completed the transaction verified the pawn tickets, which described the conveyed items and contained the defendant’s name, address, driver’s license number, and date of birth. The tickets included language explicitly stating that the defendant was “giving a security interest in the . . . described goods.” On these facts, the State presented sufficient evidence of the defendant’s false representation that he owned the stolen property that he conveyed.

(per curiam). Because the participating Justices were equally divided, the decision below, State v. Pendergraft, 238 N.C. App. 516 (Dec. 31, 2014), was left undisturbed and without precedential value. In the decision below the court of appeals had held, over a dissent, that an indictment alleging obtaining property by false pretenses was not fatally defective. After the defendant filed false documents purporting to give him a property interest in a home, he was found to be occupying the premises and arrested. The court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was deficient because it failed to allege that he made a false representation. The indictment alleged that the false pretense consisted of the following: “The defendant moved into the house … with the intent to fraudulently convert the property to his own, when in fact the defendant knew that his actions to convert the property to his own were fraudulent.” Acknowledging that the indictment did not explicitly charge the defendant with having made any particular false representation, the court of appeals found that it “sufficiently apprise[d] the defendant about the nature of the false representation that he allegedly made,” namely that he falsely represented that he owned the property as part of an attempt to fraudulently obtain ownership or possession of it. The court of appeals also rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective in that it failed to allege the existence of a causal connection between any false representation by him and the attempt to obtain property, finding the charging language sufficient to imply causation.

State v. Jones, 367 N.C. 299 (Mar. 7, 2014)

(1) Affirming the decision below in State v. Jones, 223 N.C. App. 487 (Nov. 20, 2012), the court held that an indictment charging obtaining property by false pretenses was defective where it failed to specify with particularity the property obtained. The indictment alleged that the defendant obtained “services” from two businesses but did not describe the services. (2) The court also held that an indictment charging trafficking in stolen identities was defective because it did not allege the recipient of the identifying information or that the recipient’s name was unknown.

An indictment charging obtaining property by false pretenses was defective where it charged the defendant with obtaining an unspecified amount of “credit” secured through the issuance of an unidentified “loan” or “credit card.” This vague language failed to describe what was obtained with sufficient particularity to enable the defendant to adequately prepare a defense. A grand jury indicted the defendant on three counts of obtaining property by false pretenses. The indictment for the first count charged that the defendant “obtain[ed] credit, from Weyco.” The indictments for the second and third counts charged that the defendant “obtain[ed] credit, from Weyco” and that “this property was obtained by means of giving false information on an application for a loan so as to qualify for said loan which loan was made to defendant.” The court concluded:

[I]ndictments charging a defendant with obtaining “credit” of an unspecified amount, secured through two unidentified “loan[s]” and a “credit card” are too vague and uncertain to describe with reasonable certainty what was allegedly obtained, and thus are insufficient to charge the crime of obtaining property by false pretenses. “Credit” is a term less specific than money, and the principle that monetary value must at a minimum be described in an obtaining-property-by-false-pretenses indictment extends logically to our conclusion that credit value must also be described to provide more reasonable certainty of the thing allegedly obtained in order to enable a defendant adequately to mount a defense. Moreover, although the indictments alleged defendant obtained that credit through “loan[s]” and a “credit card,” they lacked basic identifying information, such as the particular loans, their value, or what was loaned; the particular credit card, its value, or what was obtained using that credit card.

It continued:

Because the State sought to prove that defendant obtained by false pretenses a $14,399 secured vehicle loan for the purchase of a Suzuki motorcycle and a $56,736 secured vehicle loan for the purchase of a Dodge truck, the indictments should have, at a minimum, identified these particular loans, described what was loaned, and specified what actual value defendant obtained from those loans. Because the State sought also to prove that defendant obtained the Credit Card by false pretenses, that indictment should have, at a minimum, identified the particular credit card and its account number, its value, and described what defendant obtained using that credit.

Over a dissent, the court held that an obtaining property by false pretenses indictment was not defective where it alleged that the defendant obtained “a quantity of U.S currency” from the defendant. The court found that G.S. 15-149 (allegations regarding larceny of money) supported its holding. 

(1) In a case involving charges of obtaining property by false pretenses arising out of alleged insurance fraud, the defendant waived the issue of fatal variance by failing to raise it at trial. (2) Counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to move to dismiss on grounds of fatal variance. The indictment alleged that the defendant submitted fraudulent invoices for pet boarding services by Meadowsweet Pet Boarding which caused the insurance company to issue payment to her in the amount of $11,395.00. The evidence at trial, however, showed that the document at issue was a valid estimate for future services, not an invoice. Additionally, the document was sent to the insurance company three days after the company issued a check to the defendant. Therefore the insurance company’s payment could not have been triggered by the defendant’s submission of the document. Additionally, the State’s evidence showed that it was not the written estimate that falsely led the insurance company to believe that the defendant’s pets remained at Meadowsweet long after they had been removed from that facility, but rather the defendant’s oral representations made later. (3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that false pretenses indictments pertaining to moving expenses were fatally defective because they did not allege the exact misrepresentation with sufficient precision. The indictments were legally sufficient: each alleged both the essential elements of the offense and the ultimate facts constituting those elements by stating that the defendant obtained money from the insurance company through a false representation made by submitting a fraudulent invoice which was intended to, and did, deceive the insurance company.

 

Indictments charging obtaining property by false pretenses were not defective. The charges arose out of the defendant’s acts of approaching two individuals (Ms. Hoenig and Ms. Harward), falsely telling them their roofs needed repair, taking payment for the work and then performing shoddy work or not completing the job. At trial, three other witnesses testified to similar incidents. On appeal, the defendant argued that the indictments failed to “intelligibly articulate” his misrepresentations. The court disagreed:

The indictments clearly state that defendant, on separate occasions, obtained property (money) from Ms. Hoenig and Ms. Harward by convincing each victim to believe that their roofs needed extensive repairs when in fact their roofs were not in need of repair at all. In each indictment, the State gave the name of the victim, the monetary sum defendant took from each victim, and the false representation used by defendant to obtain the money: by defendant “approaching [Ms. Hoenig] and claiming that her roof needed repair, and then overcharging [Ms. Hoenig] for either work that did not need to be done, or damage that was caused by the defendant[.]” As to Ms. Harward, the false representation used by defendant to obtain the money was “by . . . claiming that her shed roof needed repair, [with defendant knowing] at the time [that he] intended to use substandard materials and construction to overcharge [Ms. Harward].” Each indictment charging defendant with obtaining property by false pretenses was facially valid, as each properly gave notice to defendant of all of the elements comprising the charge, including the element defendant primarily challenges: the alleged misrepresentation (i.e., that defendant sought to defraud his victims of money by claiming their roofs needed repair when in fact no repairs were needed, and that defendant initiated these repairs but either failed to complete them or used substandard materials in performing whatever work was done). 

(1) Indictments charging the defendant with obtaining property by false pretenses were not defective. The indictments alleged in part that “[t]he defendant sold bread products to the victim that were advertised and represented as Gluten Free when in fact the defendant knew at the time that the products contained Gluten.” The court rejected the argument that the indictments were defective because they failed to sufficiently allege that he himself made a false representation. (2) There was no fatal variance between an indictment alleging that the defendant obtained value from the victim and the evidence, which showed that he obtained value from the victim’s husband. Citing G.S. 14-100(a), the court concluded that because an indictment for obtaining property by false pretenses need not allege any person's ownership of the thing of value obtained, the allegation was surplusage.

State v. Moore, 209 N.C. App. 551 (Feb. 15, 2011) rev’d in part on other grounds, 365 N.C. 283 (Aug 24 2017)

Stating in dicta that an indictment alleging obtaining property by false pretenses need not identify a specific victim.

State v. Jones, 367 N.C. 299 (Mar. 7, 2014)

An indictment charging trafficking in stolen identities was defective because it did not allege the recipient of the identifying information or that the recipient’s name was unknown.

State v. Jones, 223 N.C. App. 487 (Nov. 20, 2012) aff'd on other grounds, 367 N.C. 299 (Mar 7 2014)

No fatal variance occurred in an identity theft case. The defendant argued that there was a fatal variance between the indictment, which alleged that he possessed credit card numbers belonging to four natural persons and the evidence, which showed that three of the credit cards were actually business credit cards issued in the names of the natural persons. The court explained: “[N]o fatal variance exists when the indictment names an owner of the stolen property and the evidence discloses that that person, though not the owner, was in lawful possession of the property at the time.” Here the victims were the only authorized users of the credit cards and no evidence suggested they were not in lawful possession of them. 

There was no fatal variance between a forgery indictment and the evidence presented at trial. The indictment charged the defendant with forgery of “an order drawn on a government unit, STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA, which is described as follows: NORTH CAROLINA UNIFORM CITATION.” The evidence showed that the defendant, who was not a law enforcement officer, issued citations to several individuals. The court rejected the defendant’s arguments that the citations were not “orders” and were not “drawn on a government unit” because he worked for a private police entity.

There was no fatal variance in a possession of burglar’s tools indictment. The indictment identified the tools as a prybar and bolt cutters. The trial court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant guilty if he possessed either a prybar, bolt cutters, or work gloves. The court held that the indictment’s identification of the specific tools was mere surplusage. 

Although the trial court erred when instructing the jury on first-degree burglary, no plain error occurred. The first-degree burglary indictment alleged that the defendant entered the dwelling with intent to commit larceny. The trial court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant guilty if at the time of the breaking and entering he intended to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. Citing State v. Farrar, 361 N.C. 675 (2007) (burglary indictment alleged larceny as underlying felony but jury instructions stated that underlying felony was armed robbery; reviewing for plain error, the court held that the defendant had not been prejudiced by the instruction; because larceny is a lesser-included of armed robbery, the jury instructions benefitted defendant by adding an additional element for the State to prove), the court found that the defendant was not prejudiced by the error. 

A burglary indictment alleging that the defendant intended to commit “unlawful sex acts” was not defective.

(1) An indictment for breaking or entering a motor vehicle alleging that the vehicle was the personal property of “D.L. Peterson Trust” was not defective for failing to allege that the victim was a legal entity capable of owning property. The indictment alleged ownership in a trust, a legal entity capable of owning property. (2) Because the State indicted the defendant for breaking or entering a motor vehicle with intent to commit larceny therein, it was bound by that allegation and had to prove that the defendant intended to commit larceny.

(1) Although the State is not required to allege the felony or larceny intended in an indictment charging breaking or entering a vehicle, if it does so, it will be bound by that allegation. (2) An indictment properly alleges the fifth element of breaking and entering a motor vehicle—with intent to commit a felony or larceny therein—by alleging that the defendant intended to steal the same motor vehicle.

A burglary indictment does not need to identify the felony that the defendant intended to commit inside the dwelling. 

No fatal variance existed when a burglary indictment alleged that defendant broke and entered “the dwelling house of Lisa McCormick located at 407 Ward’s Branch Road, Sugar Grove Watauga County” but the evidence at trial indicated that the house number was 317, not 407. On this point, the court followed State v. Davis, 282 N.C. 107 (1972) (no fatal variance where indictment alleged that the defendant broke and entered “the dwelling house of Nina Ruth Baker located at 840Washington Drive, Fayetteville, North Carolina,” but the evidence showed that Ruth Baker lived at 830 Washington Drive). The court also held that the burglary indictment was not defective on grounds that it failed to allege that the breaking and entering occurred without consent. Following, State v. Pennell, 54 N.C. App. 252 (1981), the court held that the indictment language alleging that the defendant “unlawfully and willfully did feloniously break and enter” implied a lack of consent. 

The trial court committed plain error in this safecracking case by instructing the jury that it could convict the defendant if it determined that he obtained the safe combination “by surreptitious means” when the indictment charged that he committed the offense by means of “a fraudulently acquired combination.” One essential element of the crime is the means by which the defendant attempts to open a safe. Here, there was no evidence that the defendant attempted to open the safe by the means alleged in the indictment.

State v. Spivey, 368 N.C. 739 (Mar. 16, 2016)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, 240 N.C. App. 264 (2015), the court reversed, holding that an indictment charging the defendant with injury to real property “of Katy’s Great Eats” was not fatally defective. The court rejected the argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to specifically identify “Katy’s Great Eats” as a corporation or an entity capable of owning property, explaining: “An indictment for injury to real property must describe the property in sufficient detail to identify the parcel of real property the defendant allegedly injured. The indictment needs to identify the real property itself, not the owner or ownership interest.” The court noted that by describing the injured real property as “the restaurant, the property of Katy’s Great Eats,” the indictment gave the defendant reasonable notice of the charge against him and enabled him to prepare his defense and protect against double jeopardy. The court also rejected the argument that it should treat indictments charging injury to real property the same as indictments charging crimes involving personal property, such as larceny, embezzlement, or injury to personal property, stating:

Unlike personal property, real property is inherently unique; it cannot be duplicated, as no two parcels of real estate are the same. Thus, in an indictment alleging injury to real property, identification of the property itself, not the owner or ownership interest, is vital to differentiate between two parcels of property, thereby enabling a defendant to prepare his defense and protect against further prosecution for the same crime. While the owner or lawful possessor’s name may, as here, be used to identify the specific parcel of real estate, it is not an essential element of the offense that must be alleged in the indictment, so long as the indictment gives defendant reasonable notice of the specific parcel of real estate he is accused of injuring.

The court further held that to the extent State v. Lilly, 195 N.C. App. 697 (2009), is inconsistent with its opinion, it is overruled. Finally, the court noted that although “[i]deally, an indictment for injury to real property should include the street address or other clear designation, when possible, of the real property alleged to have been injured,” if the defendant had been confused as to the property in question, he could have requested a bill of particulars. 

In a case where a juvenile was found to be delinquent based on the offense of injury to personal property with respect to a school printer, the trial court did not err by denying the juvenile’s motion to dismiss. The petition alleged that the juvenile damaged a printer owned by the “Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education[.]” The juvenile argued that the trial court erred by denying the motion to dismiss because the petition failed to allege that the school was an entity capable of owning property and that the evidence at trial did not prove who owned the printer. The court held that because the juvenile conceded the fact that the school was an entity capable of owning property and the State presented evidence that the school owned the printer, the trial court did not err by denying the motion. The court noted that the juvenile’s counsel expressly acknowledged to the trial court that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education is an entity capable of owning property. The court also noted that because the juvenile did not contest this issue at trial, it could not be raised for the first time on appeal. As to the evidence, the State presented a witness who testified to ownership of the printer. A concurring judge recognized that with respect to the petition’s failure to plead that the owner was an entity capable of owning property, had the pleading been an indictment, the issue could be raised for the first time on appeal. However, the concurring judge concluded that the owner’s capability of owning property does not need have been pleaded in a petition with the same specificity as in an indictment.

(1) There was no fatal defect in an indictment charging the defendant with injury to personal property. The defendant asserted that the indictment was invalid because it failed to allege that the owner, a church, as an entity capable of owning property. In State v. Campbell, 368 N.C. 83 (2015), the Supreme Court held that alleging ownership of property in an entity identified as a church or other place of religious worship is sufficient to allege an entity capable of owning property. Here, count one of the indictment alleged breaking or entering a place of religious worship and identified the church expressly as “a place of religious worship.” The count alleging injury to personal property simply referred to the church by name. The court found that identifying the church as a place of religious worship in the first count and subsequently listing the church as the owner of the personal property in a later count was sufficient. A contrary ruling, requiring the church to be identified as a place of worship in each portion of the indictment, “would constitute a hypertechnical interpretation of the requirements for indictments.” (2) By failing to assert a claim of fatal variance between the indictment and the evidence with respect to a charge of injury to personal property, the defendant failed to preserve the issue for appellate review. Nevertheless, the court considered the issue and rejected the defendant’s claim. The indictment alleged that the defendant injured the personal property of the church, specifically a lock on a door. The defendant asserted that the evidence showed that the damaged device was owned not by the church but rather by the lessor of the property. The court concluded however that the evidence was sufficient to allow the jury to find that the church owned the lock and that it was damaged.

The court rejected the defendant’s fatal variance argument regarding injury to real property charges, noting that the North Carolina Supreme Court recently held that an indictment charging this crime need only identify the real property, not its owner.

In this burning of personal property case where the indictment charged that the defendant set fire to the victim’s bed, jewelry, and clothing and the evidence showed only that he set fire to her bedding, no fatal variance occurred. The State was not required to show that the defendant also set fire to her jewelry and clothing. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was a fatal variance between the indictment’s allegation that he set fire to her bed and the evidence, which showed he set fire to her bedding. Any variance in this regard was not material, given that there was no evidence that the “bedding” was found anywhere other than on the bed. It concluded: “we are unable to discern how Defendant was unfairly surprised, misled, or otherwise prejudiced in the preparation of his defense by the indictment’s failure to identify the ‘bedding’ rather than the ‘bed.’” 

No fatal variance between an indictment charging injury to real property and the evidence at trial. The indictment incorrectly described the lessee of the real property as its owner. The indictment was sufficient because it identified the lawful possessor of the property.

A confidential informant called the local police department, describing the defendant’s appearance and stating that the defendant would be at a certain location with a significant amount of methamphetamine in his bookbag. When the officers arrived at the scene, they found the defendant, matching the description, and sitting down with a bag and a knife. The officers asked the defendant if he had anything on him, to which the defendant responded he had marijuana in his pocket. After the officers retrieved the marijuana, the bag, and the knife, the defendant ran and was quickly apprehended by the officers.

At trial, the defendant stipulated that his book bag contained methamphetamine and heroin. The defendant moved to dismiss at the close of the State’s evidence and again at the close of all evidence, both of which were denied. The defendant was found guilty of possession with intent to sell and deliver methamphetamine, possession of heroin, misdemeanor possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting a public officer, and attaining habitual felon status.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss the charge for resisting a public officer because there was a fatal variance between the indictment allegation and the evidence. Specifically, the indictment alleged that at the time of the defendant’s resistance, the detective was “attempting to take the defendant into custody for processing narcotics” but the evidence at trial only showed that the defendant ran from officers, including the detective, after a small amount of marijuana was seized from his person. Slip op. at ¶ 14. In rejecting the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals held that that an essential element of the charge of resisting a public officer is the identification of the official duty an officer was discharging or attempting to discharge at the time of a defendant’s resistance, rather than the specific basis for arrest. Thus, the Court concluded that the actual basis of arrest is not necessary to properly charge the offense of resisting a public officer.

The indictment properly charged resisting a public officer. On appeal the defendant argued that the indictment was invalid because it failed to sufficiently allege the officer’s public office. The indictment alleged that the defendant “did resist, delay and obstruct Agent B.L. Wall, a public officer holding the office of North Carolina State Law Enforcement Agent, by refusing commands to leave the premises, assaulting the officer, refusing verbal commands during the course of arrest for trespassing and assault, and continuing to resist arrest.” Count I of the indictment which charged the separate offense of assault on a government officer, identified the officer as “Agent B.L. Wall, a state law enforcement officer employed by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.” Both counts, taken together, provided the defendant sufficient information to identify the office in question.

     The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to fully and clearly articulate a duty that the officer was discharging. After noting the language in Count II, the court noted that Count III, alleging trespass, asserted that the defendant remained on the premises of the specified DMV office “after having been notified not to remain there by a person in charge of the premises.” The court held that “the charges” specifically state the duties the officer was attempting to discharge, namely: commanding the defendant to leave the premises and arresting or attempting to rest her when she failed to comply.

     The court went on to hold that the officer was acting within the scope of his duties at the time. It noted that G.S. 20-49.1(a) “contains an expansive grant of power,” vesting DMV inspectors with the same powers vested in law enforcement officers by statute or common law. Thus, the officer was acting under the authority given to him under the statute at the time and was acting within the scope of his duties. The court concluded: “Even though the indictment could have been be more specific, we decline to require that it be hyper-technical.”

Over a dissent, the court held that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of resisting a public officer on grounds of fatal variance. The indictment specified that the defendant resisted by running away from the officer on foot. The evidence showed that although the defendant initially was on a moped, he continued to elude the officer on foot after the moped overturned.

There was no fatal variance in a resisting an officer case where the indictment alleged that the defendant refused to drop what was in his hands (plural) and the evidence showed that he refused to drop what was in his hand (singular). The variance was not material. 

An indictment for resisting an officer was not defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant resisted “by not obeying [the officer’s] command [to stop]." The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment failed to state with sufficient particularity the manner in which the defendant resisted.

In this intimidating a witness case, the indictment alleged that the defendant told one person, Derstine, to tell another, Ramos, that the defendant would have Ramos deported if he testified against the defendant.  Evidence at trial tended to show that Ramos did not actually receive this message.  The court explained that while this was a variance between the indictment and the proof at trial, the variance did not relate to “the gist” of the offense of intimidating a witness, an offense concerned with “the obstruction of justice.”  The court cited North Carolina case law establishing that whether a witness actually receives the threatening communication at issue is “irrelevant” to the crime of intimidating a witness, and, thus, the language of the indictment was mere surplusage.  The court went on to determine that even if there was error in the trial court’s jury instruction on intimidating a witness, which did not deviate from the pattern jury instruction or from the instruction agreed upon by the parties, any such error was harmless as there was no reasonable likelihood that the alleged deviation misled the jury.

The State conceded that restitution ordered by the trial court lacked an evidentiary basis and the court remanded for a rehearing on the issue.

State v. Barnett, 245 N.C. App. 101 (Jan. 19, 2016) rev’d in part on other grounds, 369 N.C. 298 (Dec 21 2016)

The State was not required to prove a specific case number alleged in an indictment charging deterring an appearance by a State witness in violation of G.S. 14-226(a). The case number was not an element of the offense and the allegation was mere surplusage. 

This Harnett County case involved a husband and wife who indemnified a bond on behalf of an employee. The employee was roommates with the couple’s son. When the employee disappeared, the family members forcibly apprehended him, causing a traffic accident and apparently discharging a gun. The three defendants were charged with various offenses, including acting as unlicensed bail bondsmen or runners. (1) Two of the defendants failed to preserve their argument that the evidence was insufficient to support conviction for acting as an unlicensed bail bondsman or runner. Trial counsel for the defendants moved to dismiss some of the offenses but failed to make any motion as to all charges generally, or as to the charge of acting as an unlicensed bondsman specifically. While a motion to dismiss a charge preserves all sufficiency issues pursuant to State v. Golder, 374 N.C. 238 (2020) (discussed here), where there is no motion to dismiss as to a specific charge, appellate review of the sufficiency of evidence for that offense is waived under Rule 10(a)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure. For the same reason, one of the defendant’s arguments regarding an alleged fatal variance between the indictment and the jury instructions was waived on appeal.

[A]ny fatal variance argument is, essentially, an argument regarding the sufficiency of the State’s evidence. . .[A]s [the defendant’s] argument fundamentally presents an issue ‘related to the sufficiency of the evidence’ that he did not ‘mov[e] to dismiss at the proper time’, he has waived appellate review of this issue. Slip op. at 17.

The court declined to suspend the Rules of Appellate Procedure under Rule 2 to consider the merits of the arguments.

(2) The trial court admitted into evidence a recording of a 911 call where the caller stated that a defendant hit the victim’s truck with his vehicle “on purpose.” On appeal, the defendant argued this evidence amounted to improper lay opinion testimony. Trial counsel objected to this evidence at the time on hearsay and confrontation grounds but did not argue improper lay opinion. This argument was therefore waived on appeal. This defendant also failed to “specifically and distinctly” raise this argument for plain error review on appeal, and the court declined to review it. The court observed that purported violations of Rule 701 are reviewed for abuse of discretion and that plain error has not previously been applied to discretionary decisions of the trial court.

(3) Several other issues turned on whether the defendants could be considered sureties or accommodation bondsmen. Two of the defendants claimed error in the trial court’s refusal to instruct on a defense of lawful action by a surety; one defendant claimed a fatal defect in the indictment for failure to charge a crime; and one defendant claimed that a motion to dismiss for insufficiency as to a kidnapping conviction should have been granted based on the lawful authority of a surety to confine or restrain the subject of the bond. Article 71 of Chapter 58 of the General Statutes of North Carolina regulates the bail bond industry. The husband and wife argued that they met the definition of a surety in G.S. 58-71-1(10) as ones liable on the bail bond in the event of bail forfeiture. As a result, they argued that the common law right of sureties to arrest a principal on the bond who fail to appear justified their actions. The court rejected this argument, finding that the definition of surety in Chapter 15A of the General Statutes controls when the two definitions conflict, pursuant to G.S. 58-71-195 (so stating). Under that definition, the professional bondsman who posted the bond was the surety, but the defendants were not. While the husband-and-wife-defendants were liable to the professional bondsman if the bond were to be forfeited as indemnitors, they would not be liable to the State. “Simply put, agreeing to indemnify a bond does not a surety make.” Gettleman Slip op. at 26. The court also rejected the alternative argument by one of the defendants that she qualified as an accommodation bondman for the same reason—the defendant did not qualify as a surety on the bond. “We conclude that Defendants did not act lawfully, either as sureties or as accommodation bondsmen. Accordingly, we overrule Defendants’ issues brought on this basis.” Id. at 27. The unanimous court therefore affirmed all of the convictions.

State v. Golder, ___ N.C. App. ___, 809 S.E.2d 502 (Feb. 6, 2018) modified and affirmed on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Apr 3 2020)

There was no fatal defect in an indictment charging the defendant with misdemeanor unlicensed bail bonding in violation of G.S. 58-71-40. The indictment alleged that the defendant “did act in the capacity of, and performed the duties, functions, and powers of a surety bondsman and runner, without being qualified and licensed to do so. This act was done in violation of N.C.G.S. 58-71-40.” Where, as here, the language of the indictment is couched in the language of the statute it is sufficient to charge the offense. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it failed to specify the exact manner in which he allegedly violated the statute.

Because misdemeanor larceny and simple assault are lesser included offenses of common law robbery, the trial court erred by sentencing the defendant for all three offenses. The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant was not prejudiced by this error because all three convictions were consolidated for judgment and the defendant received the lowest possible sentence in the mitigated range. The court noted that the State’s argument ignores the collateral consequences of the judgment. The court thus arrested judgment on the convictions for misdemeanor larceny and simple assault.

State v. Dale, 245 N.C. App. 497 (Feb. 16, 2016)

A statement of charges, alleging that the defendant engaged in disorderly conduct in or near a public building or facility sufficiently charged the offense. Although the statute uses the term “rude or riotous noise,” the charging instrument alleged that the defendant did “curse and shout” at police officers in a jail lobby. The court found that the charging document was sufficient, concluding that “[t]here is no practical difference between ‘curse and shout’ and ‘rude or riotous noise.’” 

The superior court lacked jurisdiction to try the defendant for possession of lottery tickets in violation of G.S. 14-290. An officer issued the defendant a citation for violating G.S. 14-291 (acting as an agent for or on behalf of a lottery). The district court allowed the charging document to be amended to charge a violation of G.S. 14-290. The defendant was convicted in district court, appealed, and was again convicted in superior court. The court held that the district court improperly allowed the charging document to be amended to charge a different crime.

The indictment properly charged the defendant with burning of a building in violation of G.S. 14-62. The indictment alleged that the “defendant . . . unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did set fire to, burn, cause to be burned and aid the burning” of a specified building. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was defective because it did not allege that the defendant acted “wantonly,” noting that North Carolina courts have held that the terms “willfully” and “wantonly” are essentially the same.

No fatal variance between indictment and the evidence in a carrying a concealed weapon case. After an officer discovered that the defendant was carrying knives and metallic knuckles, the defendant was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. The indictment identified the weapon as “a Metallic set of Knuckles.” The trial court instructed the jury concerning “one or more knives.” The court, per curiam and without an opinion, summarily affirmed the ruling of the North Carolina Court of Appeals that the charging language, “a Metallic set of Knuckles,” was unnecessary surplusage, and even assuming the trial court erred in instructing on a weapon not alleged in the charge, no prejudicial error required a reversal where there was evidence that the defendant possessed knives.

When charging carrying a concealed gun under G.S. 14-269, the exception in G.S. 14-269(a1)(2) (having a permit) is a defense not an essential element and need not be alleged in the indictment.

An indictment charging the defendant with discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling was not fatally defective. The defendant argued that the indictment was defective because it charged him with discharging a weapon into occupied property causing serious bodily injury, but failed to allege that any injury resulted from the act. The court noted that the defendant’s argument was based on the indictment’s reference to G.S. 14-34.1(c) as the statute violated. However, a statutory reference in an indictment is surplusage and can be disregarded. Moreover, the body of the indictment charges the defendant with the version of the offense for which he was convicted, which does not require serious injury.

The State conceded, and the court held, that the indictment was insufficient to support a conviction for discharging a firearm within an enclosure to incite fear. The indictment improperly alleged that the defendant discharged a firearm “into” an occupied structure; the statute, G.S. 14-34.10, requires that the defendant discharge a firearm “within” an occupied building.

An indictment charging discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling was not defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant “discharge[d] a firearm to wit: a pistol into an apartment 1727 Clemson Court, Kannapolis, NC at the time the apartment was occupied by Michael Fezza” and that the defendant violated G.S. 14-34. The defendant was convicted of discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling in violation of G.S. 14-34.1. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the term “apartment,” as used in the indictment, was not synonymous with the term “dwelling,” the term used in the statute. On this issue the court stated: “We refuse to subject defendant’s … indictment to hyper technical scrutiny with respect to form.” Next, the court held that although the indictment incorrectly referenced G.S. 14-34 instead of G.S. 14-34.1(b), the error was not a fatal defect.

The trial court erred by instructing the jury on the offense of discharging a firearm into a vehicle that is in operation under G.S. 14-34.1(b) where the indictment failed to allege that the vehicle was in operation. However, because the indictment properly charged discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle under G.S. 14-34.1(a), the court vacated the conviction under G.S. 14-34.1(b) and remanded for entry of judgment under G.S. 14-34.1(a). 

Fact that indictment charging discharging a barreled weapon into an occupied dwelling used the term “residence” instead of the statutory term “dwelling” did not result in a lack of notice to the defendant as to the relevant charge.

In this case involving possession of a firearm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon, (1) binding caselaw required that the defendant’s conviction for felon in possession be vacated because the indictment was fatally defective; and (2) the trial court’s ruling on the defendant’s motion to suppress was based on improper findings of fact.

(1) G.S. 14-415.1(c) dictates that an indictment charging a defendant with possession of a firearm by a felon must be separate from any indictment charging other offenses related to or giving rise to the felon in possession charge.  Here, a single indictment charged the defendant with felon in possession, possession of a firearm with an altered/removed serial number, and carrying a concealed weapon.  Finding itself bound by State v. Wilkins, 225 N.C. App. 492 (2013), the court determined that the State’s failure to obtain a separate indictment for the felon in possession offense rendered the indictment fatally defective and invalid as to that offense.

(2) The court determined that the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s Fourth Amendment motion to suppress a firearm seized from the center console of his vehicle did not contain adequate findings of fact pertaining to a material conflict in the evidence of the accessibility of the firearm and consequently the trial court plainly erred in denying the motion. 

An officer initiated a valid traffic stop of the defendant and searched the vehicle for marijuana based on an emanating odor.  During the search, the officer felt and saw the handgrip of a pistol around the center console, arrested the defendant for carrying a concealed weapon, and then removed a plastic panel from the console to retrieve the pistol.  The defendant challenged the trial court’s finding of fact that “no tools were needed” to remove the panel, a finding bearing upon the accessibility of the pistol for purposes of determining whether the officer had probable cause for the independent search of the console premised on the offense of carrying a concealed weapon.  Reviewing the testimony, the court of appeals found that the finding that “no tools were needed” was not supported by the testimony at the suppression hearing and that the trial court otherwise failed to make necessary findings as to the accessibility of the pistol.  Because the accessibility issue was not resolved by adequate findings, the trial court’s conclusion of law regarding probable cause was not supported and it could not properly rule on the defendant’s motion to suppress.  The court remanded the case for the trial court to make further findings on the issue.

An indictment for felon in possession of a firearm was fatally defective because the charge was included as a separate count in a single indictment also charging the defendant with assault with a deadly weapon. G.S. 14-415.1(c) requires that possession of a firearm by a felon be charged in a separate indictment from other related charges.

Felon in possession indictment that listed the wrong date for the prior felony conviction was not defective, nor was there a fatal variance on this basis (indictment alleged prior conviction date of December 8, 1992 but judgment for the prior conviction that was introduced at trial was dated December 18, 1992).

State v. Huckelba, 240 N.C. App. 544 (Apr. 21, 2015) rev’d on other grounds, 368 N.C. 569 (Dec 18 2015)

In a carrying a weapon on educational property case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was a fatal variance between the indictment, which alleged that the defendant possessed weapons at “High Point University, located at 833 Montlieu Avenue” and the evidence, which showed that the conduct occurred at “1911 North Centennial Street.” The court concluded: “The indictment charged all of the essential elements of the crime: that Defendant knowingly possessed a Ruger pistol on educational property—High Point University. We agree with the State that the physical address for High Point University listed in the indictment is surplusage because the indictment already described the ‘educational property’ element as ‘High Point University.’” 

In Re J.C., 205 N.C. App. 301 (July 6, 2010)

A juvenile petition sufficiently alleged that the juvenile was delinquent for possession of a weapon on school grounds in violation of G.S. 14-269.2(d). The petition alleged that the juvenile possessed an “other weapon,” specified as a “steel link from chain.” The evidence showed that the juvenile possessed a 3/8-inch thick steel bar forming a C-shaped “link” about 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. The link closed with a ½-inch thick bolt and the object weighed at least 1 pound. The juvenile could slide his fingers through the link so that 3-4 inches of the bar could be held securely across his knuckles and used as a weapon. Finding the petition sufficient the court stated: “the item . . . is sufficiently equivalent to what the General Assembly intended to be recognized as ‘metallic knuckles’ under [the statute].”

State v. Stith, 369 N.C. 516 (Mar. 17, 2017)

The court per curiam affirmed the decision below, State v. Stith, ___ N.C. App. ___, 787 S.E.2d 40 (April 5, 2016). In that decision, the court of appeals held, over a dissent, that an indictment charging the defendant with possessing hydrocodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, was sufficient to allow the jury to convict the defendant of possessing hydrocodone under Schedule III, based on its determination that the hydrocodone pills were under a certain weight and combined with acetaminophen within a certain ratio to bring them within Schedule III. The original indictment alleged that the defendant possessed “acetaminophen and hydrocodone bitartrate,” a substance included in Schedule II. Hydrocodone is listed in Schedule II. However, by the start of the trial, the State realized that its evidence would show that the hydrocodone possessed was combined with a non-narcotic such that the hydrocodone is considered to be a Schedule III substance. Accordingly, the trial court allowed the State to amend the indictment, striking through the phrase “Schedule II.” At trial the evidence showed that the defendant possessed pills containing hydrocodone bitartrate combined with acetaminophen, but that the pills were of such weight and combination to bring the hydrocodone within Schedule III. The court concluded that the jury did not convict the defendant of possessing an entirely different controlled substance than what was charged in the original indictment, stating: “the original indictment identified the controlled substance … as hydrocodone, and the jury ultimately convicted Defendant of possessing hydrocodone.” It also held that the trial court did not commit reversible error when it allowed the State to amend the indictment. The court distinguished prior cases, noting that here the indictment was not changed “such that the identity of the controlled substance was changed. Rather, it was changed to reflect that the controlled substance was below a certain weight and mixed with a non-narcotic (the identity of which was also contained in the indictment) to lower the punishment from a Class H to a Class I felony.” Moreover, the court concluded, the indictment adequately apprised the defendant of the controlled substance at issue. The court of appeals applied the same holding with respect to an indictment charging the defendant with trafficking in an opium derivative, for selling the hydrocodone pills.

The defendant was convicted at trial of trafficking heroin, possession with intent to sell or deliver synthetic cannabinoids, and other various drug offenses in in Brunswick County. (1) During its instructions to the jury, the trial court stated that the jury should determine the guilt or innocence of this defendant and should not be influenced by evidence that other people were also charged in connection with the underlying events (who would get their own days in court). The defendant argued that this was an impermissible expression of judicial opinion on the evidence. Specifically, she argued that this instruction conveyed to the jury that the crime had occurred; that the jury should disregard all evidence that others present in the car may have been responsible; and that the defendant’s defense should be discounted. The Court of Appeals disagreed. First, the trial court expressed no opinion that the crime occurred. There was no argument denying the presence of drugs in the car, and the role of the jury in the case was to determine whether the defendant possessed them. The trial court’s acknowledgement that a crime had occurred was therefore not improper opinion. The instruction also did not command the jury to disregard evidence that others present may have been responsible. “Read in context, the trial court’s statement did not touch on Defendant’s evidence . . . [and] did not refer to the credibility of any evidence.” Hills Slip op. at 9. Finally, the instruction did not denigrate the defendant’s defense. Unlike other cases where a trial court’s statement was found to be improper, the instruction here did not disclaim the involvement of other people. Instead, the instruction specifically informed the jury that others who were charged in the case would have their own days in court. “The trial court’s instruction, therefore, did not reflect an opinion on the credibility of Defendant’s evidence but, instead, reminded the jury it must only consider the evidence presented during the course of the hearing.” Id. at 11. Further, the instruction at issue came after the close of evidence, not during evidence, lessening the risk that the jury would have taken it as an expression of opinion. Finally, the jury was instructed not to assume any opinion based on the trial court’s statements or expressions during trial immediately before receiving the contested instruction. Under the circumstances, the trial court’s instruction did not amount to an improper expression of opinion on the case.

(2) G.S. 90-89(7) lists 18 specific synthetic cannabinoids, but the substance charged in the indictment here—”methyl(2S)-2-{{1-(5-fluoropentyl)-1H-indazol-3-yl]formamido}-3,3-dimethylbutanoate (5F-ADB)”—is not listed there or elsewhere within Chapter 90 as a Schedule I substance. Wikipedia provides that the substance named in the indictment is a synthetic cannabinoid, and the State argued on appeal that this was sufficient to establish that the identity of the substance as a Schedule I drug. The court rejected this argument, pointing out that “[a] court may not look to extrinsic evidence to supplement a missing or deficient allegation in an indictment.” Hills Slip op. at 16. It found that the indictment failed to allege a necessary element of the offense (the controlled substance) and was therefore fatally flawed. The conviction was consequently vacated. Judges Dietz and Zachary concurred.

In this Pasquotank County case, the defendant was convicted of trafficking Fentanyl by possession and possession of Fentanyl with intent to sell or deliver, among other drug crimes. (1) The defendant argued on appeal that the indictment for these offenses was fatally defective because Fentanyl was not covered by the version of G.S. 90-95(h)(4) that was in effect at the time of her offense on December 31, 2006. The Court of Appeals determined that Fentanyl was an “opiate” within the meaning of the statute, which made it unlawful to possess or transport certain quantities of “opium or opiates.” The Court reasoned that though the term “opiate” typically refers to natural drugs derived from opium, like heroin, morphine and codeine, rather than synthetic drugs like Fentanyl, that definition was not universal. It agreed with the State that the General Assembly intended for the term “opiate” to include any drug that produces an opium-like effect by binding to opium receptors in the brain, regardless of whether the drug is naturally derived from opium or is synthetic or semi-synthetic. The Court noted that the common dictionary definition of the term opiate supported this broader reading as did the statutory definition of opiate. The Court rejected the defendant’s contention that the legislature’s 2018 amendment of the statute to replace the terms “opium or opiate” with “opium, opiate, or opioid” indicated that the term opiate did not include opioids, which are partially or wholly synthetic drugs produced in a lab to mimic the effects of opium. The Court held that the amendment was intended to clarify that opium, opiates, and opioids were all prohibited substances rather than to alter the applicability of the statute. 

(2) The defendant also argued on appeal that the trial court’s instructions to the jury, which reported that it was deadlocked on the second day of deliberations, were improper as they did not recite the language from G.S. 15A-1235(b) (the statute that describes how a judge should instruct a deadlocked jury). The defendant did not object to the instruction at trial, so the Court of Appeals reviewed the issue for plain error. The Court compared the instructions given by the trial court to the statutory instruction, and determined that the instructions provided contained “all of the key elements and ideas from § 15A-1235(b).” Slip op. at § 39. Thus, the Court determined that jurors was properly instructed about their duty to deliberate and the defendant did not demonstrate plain error.

The trial court erred by allowing the State, at the beginning of trial, to amend the indictment charging the defendant with trafficking in heroin to allege trafficking in opiates. In connection with a drug investigation, an officer and informant waited in a hotel room for the defendant. The defendant arrived in a vehicle and, carrying a child in his arms, approached the room. Events ensued and the defendant admitted having placed a packet of heroin in the child’s pants. The defendant was arrested and the car was searched. A search of the car produced: two digital scales; a partially smoked marijuana “blunt;” $800 in cash; a key box under the hood containing balloons of heroin, a pill bottle containing marijuana, crack cocaine and 17 hydrocodone pills; and a revolver wrapped in a sock. The hydrocodone weighed 4.62 grams; the heroin recovered from the child’s pants weighed .84 grams; and the heroin found in the car weighed 3.77 grams. The minimum amount for trafficking in heroin is 4 grams; thus, the only way for the State to prove that minimum was to prove that the defendant possessed both the heroin found in the car and the smaller quality of heroin found in the child’s pants. At a pretrial hearing, the State dismissed several charges leaving the following charges in place: possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of marijuana, possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine, trafficking in heroin by transportation, and trafficking in heroin by possession. At this point, defense counsel informed the court that the defendant would admit to the heroin found in the child’s pants. The prosecutor then asked to amend the trafficking indictments from trafficking in heroin to trafficking in opiates. The trial court granted the State’s motion to amend, over the defendant’s objection. The defendant was convicted on the trafficking charges. The court noted that here, the amendment broadened the scope of the original indictment to allege trafficking in “opiates,” a category of controlled substances, rather than “heroin,” a specific controlled substance. It did so, the court reasoned, for the purpose of bringing an additional controlled substance—hydrocodone—within the ambit of the indictment. Although heroin is an opiate, not all opiates are heroin. Therefore, when the original indictment was amended to include hydrocodone, a new substance was effectively alleged in the indictment. The court found its holding consistent with the proposition that a critical purpose of the indictment is to enable the accused to prepare for trial. Here, the State moved to amend on the morning of trial. Until then, the defendant had justifiably relied on the original indictment in preparing his defense. In fact this concern was expressed by defense counsel in his objection to the motion to amend, specifically arguing that the defendant had no knowledge that the hydrocodone would be included in the trafficking amount. Additionally, the State sought to amend the indictment only after the defendant informed the trial court of his intention to admit possessing some, but not all, of the heroin. The logical inference of the sequence is that upon learning of the defendant’s trial strategy on the morning of trial, the State sought to thwart that strategy by broadening the scope of the indictment. The court stated: “In essence, the State was permitted to change the rules of the game just as the players were taking the field.” 

(1) Count 1 of an indictment charging the defendant with possessing a Schedule I controlled substance, “Methylethcathinone,” with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver was fatally defective. Although 4-methylethcathinone falls within the Schedule I catch-all provision in G.S. 90-89(5)(j), “Methylethcathinone” does not. Therefore, even though 4-methylethcathinone is not specifically named in Schedule I, the trial court erred by allowing the State to amend the indictment to allege “4-Methylethcathinone” and the original indictment was fatally defective. (2) Noting that the indictment defect was a jurisdictional issue, the court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant waived the previous issue by failing to object to the amendment. (3) Count two of the indictment charging the defendant with possessing a Schedule I controlled substance, “Methylone,” with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver was not fatally defective. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was required to allege that methylone, while not expressly mentioned by name in G.S. 90-89, falls within the “catch-all” provision subsection (5)(j).

Indictments charging the defendant with drug crimes were fatally defective where they did not name controlled substances listed in Schedule III. The possession with intent and sale and delivery indictments alleged the substances at issue to be “UNI-OXIDROL,” "UNIOXIDROL 50” and “SUSTANON” and alleged that those substances were “included in Schedule III of the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act.” Neither Uni-Oxidrol, Oxidrol 50, nor Sustanon are included in Schedule III and none of these names are trade names for substances so included. 

Indictments charging the defendant with drug crimes and identifying the controlled substance as “BENZODIAZEPINES, which is included in Schedule IV of the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act[.]” were defective. Benzodiazepines is not listed in Schedule IV. Additionally, benzodiazepine describes a category of drugs, some of which are listed in Schedule IV and some of which are not. 

In a felony possession of cocaine case, the defendant waived the issue of fatal variance by failing to raise it at trial. The court however went on summarily reject the defendant’s argument on them merits. The defendant had argued that there was a fatal variance between the indictment, which alleged possession of .1 grams of cocaine and the evidence, which showed possession of 0.03 grams of cocaine.

As conceded by the State, indictments charging the defendant with possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana and heroin within 1000 feet of a park under G.S. 90-95(e)(10) were fatally defective where they failed to allege that he was over the age of 21 at the time of the offenses.

State v. Land, 366 N.C. 550 (June 13, 2013)

The court, per curiam, affirmed the decision below in State v. Land, 223 N.C. App. 305 (2012), holding that a drug indictment was not fatally defective. Over a dissent, the court of appeals had held that when a defendant is charged with delivering marijuana and the amount involved is less than five grams, the indictment need not allege that the delivery was for no remuneration. Relying on G.S. 90-95(b)(2) (transfer of less than five grams of marijuana for no remuneration does not constitute a delivery in violation of G.S. 90-95(a)(1)), the defendant argued that the statute “creates an additional element for the offense of delivering less than five grams of marijuana -- that the defendant receive remuneration -- and that this additional element must be alleged.” Relying on State v. Pevia, 56 N.C. App. 384, 387 (1982), the court of appeals held that an indictment is valid under G.S. 90-95 even without that allegation.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was a fatal variance between a sale and delivery indictment which alleged that the defendant sold the controlled substance to “A. Simpson” and the evidence. Although Mr. Simpson testified at trial that his name was “Cedrick Simpson,” not “A. Simpson,” the court rejected the defendant’s argument, stating:

[N]either during trial nor on appeal did defendant argue that he was confused as to Mr. Simpson’s identity or prejudiced by the fact that the indictment identified “A. Simpson” as the purchaser instead of “Cedric Simpson” or “C. Simpson.” In fact, defendant testified that he had seen Cedric Simpson daily for fifteen years at the gym. The evidence suggests that defendant had no question as to Mr. Simpson’s identity. The mere fact that the indictment named “A. Simpson” as the purchaser of the controlled substances is insufficient to require that defendant’s convictions be vacated when there is no evidence of prejudice, fraud, or misrepresentation. 

No fatal variance where an indictment charging sale and delivery of a controlled substance alleged that the sale was made to “Detective Dunabro.” The evidence at trial showed that the detective had since gotten married and was known by the name Amy Gaulden. Because Detective Dunabro and Amy Gaulden were the same person, known by both married and maiden name, the indictment sufficiently identified the purchaser. The court noted that “[w]here different names are alleged to relate to the same person, the question is one of identity and is exclusively for the jury to decide.”

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 816 S.E.2d 207 (2018), the court held that a manufacturing marijuana indictment was not fatally defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant “did manufacture [marijuana] . . . by producing, preparing, propagating and processing a controlled substance.” The defendant was found guilty of attempting to manufacture marijuana and other charges, and he appealed. The offense of manufacturing a controlled substance does not require an intent to distribute unless the activity constituting manufacture is preparation or compounding. Here, the indictment alleged that the defendant manufactured marijuana in four different ways, only one of which required a showing of an intent to distribute. After acknowledging that certain ways in which the defendant allegedly manufactured did not require proof that he acted with an intent to distribute, the Court of Appeals concluded that it was necessary that all four of those bases were alleged with sufficiency to confer jurisdiction on the trial court. The Supreme Court found that conclusion to be inconsistent with prior case law establishing that the use of the conjunctive in an indictment does not require the State to prove the various alternative matters alleged. Assuming without deciding that a valid indictment charging manufacturing by preparing or compounding must allege that the defendant acted with an intent to distribute, the indictment gave the trial court jurisdiction to enter judgment for manufacturing given that it also alleged that he did so by producing, propagating, and processing.

State v. Hinson, 364 N.C. 414 (Oct. 8, 2010)

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, the court reversed State v. Hinson, 203 N.C. App. 172 (Apr. 6, 2010). The defendant was indicted for manufacturing methamphetamine by “chemically combining and synthesizing precursor chemicals to create methamphetamine.” However, the trial judge instructed the jury that it could find the defendant guilty if it found that he produced, prepared, propagated, compounded, converted or processed methamphetamine, either by extraction from substances of natural origin or by chemical synthesis. The court of appeals held, over a dissent, that this was plain error as it allowed the jury to convict on theories not charged in the indictment. The dissenting judge concluded that while the trial court’s instructions used slightly different words than the indictment, the import of both the indictment and the charge were the same. The dissent reasoned that the manufacture of methamphetamine is accomplished by the chemical combination of precursor elements to create methamphetamine and that the charge to the jury, construed contextually as a whole, was correct.

An indictment charging manufacturing of methamphetamine was sufficient. The indictment alleged that the defendant “did knowingly manufacture methamphetamine.” It went on to state that the manufacturing consisted of possessing certain precursor items. The latter language was surplusage; an indictment need not allege how the manufacturing occurred.

An indictment charging trafficking by manufacturing was not defective. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the indictment was fatally defective because it did not adequately describe the manner in which the defendant allegedly manufactured cocaine. It reasoned: “Although Defendant is correct in noting that the indictment does not explicitly delineate the manner in which he manufactured cocaine or a cocaine-related mixture, the relevant statutory language creates a single offense consisting of the manufacturing of a controlled substance rather than multiple offenses depending on the exact manufacturing activity in which Defendant allegedly engaged.”

Theories included in the trial judge’s jury instructions were supported by the indictment. The indictment charged the defendant with maintaining a dwelling “for keeping and selling a controlled substance.” The trial court instructed the jury on maintaining a dwelling “for keeping or selling marijuana.” The use of the conjunctive “and” in the indictment did not require the State to prove both theories alleged. 

The trial court erred by allowing the State, at the beginning of trial, to amend the indictment charging the defendant with trafficking in heroin to allege trafficking in opiates. In connection with a drug investigation, an officer and informant waited in a hotel room for the defendant. The defendant arrived in a vehicle and, carrying a child in his arms, approached the room. Events ensued and the defendant admitted having placed a packet of heroin in the child’s pants. The defendant was arrested and the car was searched. A search of the car produced: two digital scales; a partially smoked marijuana “blunt;” $800 in cash; a key box under the hood containing balloons of heroin, a pill bottle containing marijuana, crack cocaine and 17 hydrocodone pills; and a revolver wrapped in a sock. The hydrocodone weighed 4.62 grams; the heroin recovered from the child’s pants weighed .84 grams; and the heroin found in the car weighed 3.77 grams. The minimum amount for trafficking in heroin is 4 grams; thus, the only way for the State to prove that minimum was to prove that the defendant possessed both the heroin found in the car and the smaller quality of heroin found in the child’s pants. At a pretrial hearing, the State dismissed several charges leaving the following charges in place: possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of marijuana, possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine, trafficking in heroin by transportation, and trafficking in heroin by possession. At this point, defense counsel informed the court that the defendant would admit to the heroin found in the child’s pants. The prosecutor then asked to amend the trafficking indictments from trafficking in heroin to trafficking in opiates. The trial court granted the State’s motion to amend, over the defendant’s objection. The defendant was convicted on the trafficking charges. The court noted that here, the amendment broadened the scope of the original indictment to allege trafficking in “opiates,” a category of controlled substances, rather than “heroin,” a specific controlled substance. It did so, the court reasoned, for the purpose of bringing an additional controlled substance—hydrocodone—within the ambit of the indictment. Although heroin is an opiate, not all opiates are heroin. Therefore, when the original indictment was amended to include hydrocodone, a new substance was effectively alleged in the indictment. The court found its holding consistent with the proposition that a critical purpose of the indictment is to enable the accused to prepare for trial. Here, the State moved to amend on the morning of trial. Until then, the defendant had justifiably relied on the original indictment in preparing his defense. In fact this concern was expressed by defense counsel in his objection to the motion to amend, specifically arguing that the defendant had no knowledge that the hydrocodone would be included in the trafficking amount. Additionally, the State sought to amend the indictment only after the defendant informed the trial court of his intention to admit possessing some, but not all, of the heroin. The logical inference of the sequence is that upon learning of the defendant’s trial strategy on the morning of trial, the State sought to thwart that strategy by broadening the scope of the indictment. The court stated: “In essence, the State was permitted to change the rules of the game just as the players were taking the field.” 

In a trafficking case, there was no fatal variance between the indictment, alleging that the defendant trafficked in opium, and the evidence at trial, showing that the substance was an opium derivative. G.S. 90-95(h)(4) “does not create a separate crime of possession or transportation of an opium derivative, but rather specifies that possession or transportation of an opium derivative is trafficking in opium,” as alleged in the indictment.

State v. Whittington, 221 N.C. App. 403 (June 19, 2012) rev’d in part on other grounds, 367 N.C. 186 (Jan 24 2014)

(1) The State conceded and the court held that an indictment for trafficking in opium by sale was fatally defective because it failed to name the person to whom the defendant allegedly sold or delivered the controlled substance. The indictment stated that the sale was "to a confidential informant[.]" It was undisputed that the name of the confidential informant was known. (2) An indictment for trafficking by delivery was defective for the same reason.

The trial court committed reversible error by allowing the State to amend an indictment charging conspiracy to engage in “trafficking to deliver Cocaine” to add the following language: “to deliver 28 grams or more but less than 200 grams of cocaine.” To allege all of the essential elements, an indictment for conspiracy to traffic in cocaine must allege that the defendant facilitated the transfer of 28 grams or more of cocaine. Here, the indictment failed to specify the amount of cocaine. The court also concluded that a defendant cannot consent to an amendment that cures a fatal defect; the issue is jurisdictional and a party cannot consent to subject matter jurisdiction.

An indictment charging the defendant with possession of methamphetamine precursors was fatally defective and the defect could not be cured by amendment. Specifically, the indictment failed to allege that the defendant possessed the precursors knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that they would be used to manufacture methamphetamine. The trial court allowed the State to amend the indictment to add this allegation at trial. The amendment was improper and the indictment was fatally defective.

Over a dissent, the court held that an indictment charging possession of methamphetamine precursors was defective because it failed to allege either the defendant’s intent to use the precursors to manufacture methamphetamine or his knowledge that they would be used to do so. The indictment alleged only that the defendant processed the precursors in question; as such it failed to allege the necessary specific intent or knowledge. 

In an impaired driving case, citation language alleging that the defendant acted “willfully” was surplusage.

An indictment charging felonious speeding to elude arrest and alleging an aggravating factor of reckless driving was not required to specify the manner in which the defendant drove recklessly.

The trial court did not err by allowing the State to amend a habitual impairing driving indictment that mistakenly alleged a seven-year look-back period (instead of the current ten-year look-back), where all of the prior convictions alleged in the indictment fell within the ten-year period. The language regarding the seven-year look-back was surplusage.

An obstruction of justice indictment properly charged a felony when it alleged that the act was done “with deceit and intent to interfere with justice.” G.S. 14-3(b) provides that a misdemeanor receives elevated punishment when done with “deceit and intent to defraud.” The language “deceit and intent to interfere with justice” adequately put the defendant on notice that the State intended to seek a felony conviction. Additionally, the indictment alleged that the defendant acted “feloniously.”

State v. Langley, 371 N.C. 389 (Aug. 17, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 166 (2017), the court reversed, holding that a habitual felon indictment was not fatally defective. The statute requires that a habitual felon indictment set forth “the date that prior felony offenses were committed;” “the name of the state or other sovereign against whom said felony offenses were committed;” “the dates that pleas of guilty were entered to or convictions returned in said felony offenses;” and “the identity of the court wherein said pleas or convictions took place.” Here, the indictment alleged that the three prior felony offenses were committed on 11 September 2006, 8 October 2009, and 24 August 2011; that the offenses that led to defendant’s felony convictions were committed against the State of North Carolina; that defendant was convicted of committing these offenses, the identity of which was specified in the body of the habitual felon indictment, on 15 February 2007, 21 September 2010, and 5 May 2014; and that each of these convictions occurred in the Superior Court, Pitt County. As a result, the habitual felon indictment contains all of the information required by G.S. 14-7.3 and provides defendant with adequate notice of the bases for the State’s contention that defendant had attained habitual felon status. The court noted that the indictment alleged that the defendant had committed the offenses of armed robbery and had been convicted of the lesser included offenses of common-law robbery. Because an indictment for an offense includes all lesser offenses, when the defendant allegedly committed the offense of armed robbery 8 October 2009 and 24 August 2011, he also committed the lesser included offense of common law robbery. Thus, the Court of Appeals was incorrect to state that “[i]t would be an impermissible inference to read into the indictment that common law robbery took place on 8 October 2009 or 24 August 2011 because that is not what the grand jury found when it returned its bill of indictment.”

The defendant was charged with three counts of breaking and entering, three counts of larceny after breaking and entering, two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, and one count of felonious possession of stolen goods. The State ostensibly indicted the defendant as an habitual felon, for which the defendant waived arraignment, but the grand jury had returned the indictment marked as “NOT A TRUE BILL.” At the close of the State’s evidence at the trial of the underlying felonies, the trial judge granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the breaking and entering charges, the related larceny charges, and one of the false pretenses counts. The jury convicted the defendant of one false pretense count and of the lesser offense of misdemeanor possession of stolen goods. Those convictions rested on the defendant’s possession of five stolen videogames and the sale of those videogames to a pawn shop for $12. After the jury’s verdict, the trial judge granted the State’s request to continue sentencing to obtain a new habitual felon indictment. The defendant was thereafter tried on the new habitual felon indictment and sentenced to 115 to 150 months in prison.

The defendant argued at trial and on appeal that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to try and sentence the defendant as an habitual felon. A majority of the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument, relying on State v. Oakes, 113 N.C. App. 332 (1994). Quoting from a portion of the Oakes opinion, the majority stated that an habitual felon indictment must be part of a prosecution “for which no judgment” has yet been entered. Oakes, 113 N.C. App. at 340. Accordingly, because judgment had not yet been entered, the State could obtain and prosecute a new habitual felon indictment. The majority also held that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in granting a continuance to allow the State to obtain a new habitual felon indictment, rejecting the defendant’s argument that the continuance was improper because it resulted in an exponential increase in his sentence. The dissenting judge distinguished the current case from Oakes. The dissent observed that Oakes found that the defect in the habitual felon indictment was “technical” and “[a]t the time defendant entered his plea to the underlying substantive felony and proceeded to trial, there was pending against him an habitual felon indictment presumed valid by virtue of its ‘return by the grand jury as a true bill.’” Id., 113 N.C. App. at 339. Here, there was not a true bill of indictment, and allowing the State to obtain a new habitual felon indictment after the defendant entered his plea to the underlying felony was, in the dissent’s view, “beyond the boundaries of due process.” [Note: For a further discussion of case law on when the State may obtain a superseding habitual felon indictment, see Jeff Welty, North Carolina’s Habitual Felon, Violent Habitual Felon, Habitual Breaking and Entering Laws, ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE BULLETIN No. 2013/07, at 14–16 (Aug. 2013) (discussing cases allowing superseding habitual felon indictment for technical defects after trial of underlying felony but not for substantive changes).]

State v. Forte, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 764 (July 3, 2018) review granted, 371 N.C. 779 (Dec 5 2018)

A habitual felon indictment was fatally defective. Citing precedent, the court noted that a habitual felon indictment must state two dates for each prior felony conviction: the date that the defendant committed the felony and the date that the defendant was convicted of the felony. These dates are essential elements. Here, the indictment failed to allege an offense date for one of the defendant’s prior felony convictions.

The trial court erred by instructing the jury that it could find that the defendant attained habitual felon status based on a prior conviction for selling cocaine where the indictment did not allege that conviction. The indictment alleged three predicate felonies to establish habitual felon status. However, the trial court instructed the jury on four felonies, the three identified in the indictment as well as sale of cocaine, which was not alleged in the indictment. Because it was impossible for the court to determine whether the jurors relied on the fourth felony not alleged in the indictment, a new hearing on habitual felon was required.

The trial court lacked jurisdiction over a habitual felon charge where the habitual felon indictment was returned before the principal felonies occurred.

A habitual felon indictment was not defective where it described one of the prior felony convictions as “Possess Stolen Motor Vehicle” instead of Possession of Stolen Motor Vehicle. The defendant’s argument was “hypertechnical;” the indictment sufficiently notified the defendant of the elements of the offense. Moreover, it referenced the case number, date, and county of the prior conviction.

State v. Flint, 199 N.C. App. 709 (Sept. 15, 2009)

Although a habitual felon indictment may be returned before, after, or simultaneously with a substantive felony indictment, it is improper where it is issued before the substantive felony even occurred.

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