State v. Arnett, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-42 (Mar. 2, 2021)

The defendant’s wife, Mrs. Arnett, came home from work on November 21 and found the defendant drinking. They got in the defendant’s car and drove to grocery store, during which the defendant struck her, threatened her, and took her cellphone. Mrs. Arnett went inside the store and asked the manager to call law enforcement. The defendant was charged, and a court date was set for January 23.

On January 21, Mrs. Arnett again came home from work and found the defendant drinking. The defendant had ingested three beers prior to his wife arriving home and had consumed another after the couple returned from a trip to the grocery store. During dinner, the defendant drank another beer and started another. The defendant went to a neighbor’s house for marijuana and received eight Xanax bars instead, two of which he ingested. After returning home to finish his dinner, the defendant assaulted his wife, slamming her face into the wall, busting her eyes, and cutting her arms and chin. The defendant also kicked her legs, cut her head, stabbed her in the side, and repeatedly punched her in the face. Mrs. Arnett went to the hospital the next morning and remained hospitalized until January 24.

The defendant was indicted on charges of AWDWISI, and the defendant’s trial counsel filed a notice of voluntary intoxication defense, stating he would show that the defendant could not form the specific intent necessary for the crime charged. The trial court ruled AWDWISI was a general intent crime and that the defense of voluntary intoxication was not available to the defendant. At trial, the defendant’s attorney stated he would admit an element of the physical act of the assault, but not the defendant’s guilt because he lacked intent. The defendant told the court, on two separate occasions, that he understood his attorney would admit an element of the offense and that he had discussed the strategy with his attorney and agreed with the argument. The defendant was convicted of AWDWISI with two aggravating factors.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in ruling that the voluntary intoxication defense was not available. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, reasoning that voluntary intoxication is a defense only to a crime that requires a showing of specific intent, and AWDWISI is not a specific intent crime.

The defendant next argued that the trial court’s Harbison inquiry was inadequate to confirm that he understood he was agreeing for counsel to admit the charged offense and present an invalid defense. The Court rejected this argument, noting that the defendant was present for two separate Harbison inquiries, the defendant was addressed personally by the trial court both times, the defendant confirmed he understood and consented to his counsel’s actions prior to any admission by his counsel, and the defendant heard the trial court’s ruling that voluntary intoxication would not be allowed as a defense to his general intent crime. The Court held that the Harbison inquiries as well as the conversations leading up to them were adequate to show that the defendant was thoroughly advised and knowingly consented to his attorney’s admission to the jury.

The defendant contended that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The Court rejected this argument, reasoning that the defendant testified, was cross examined, and clearly consented to trial counsel’s acknowledgement of the defendant’s actions against his wife to the jury during closing argument. The Court concluded that the record showed a deliberate, knowing, and consented-to trial strategy in the face of overwhelming and uncontradicted evidence of the defendant’s guilt.