State v. Baker, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 907 (Jul. 3, 2018)

(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court considered inadmissible hearsay in finding him in criminal contempt, reasoning that the evidence was admitted not for the truth of the matter asserted but rather for corroboration. At the show cause hearing the trial court found that the defendant was seen by a testifying State’s witness to have made a hand gesture indicating a gun to his head and shaking his head. This interaction interrupted the State’s direct examination of the witness. At the hearing, the State introduced two transcripts into evidence. The first was a one-page excerpt of the witness’s trial testimony. The second reflected an additional interview with the witness taken after the witness’s trial testimony was completed. Over the defendant’s hearsay objection, the trial court admitted the transcripts. The State further called three witnesses to testify to the events in question, one of whom was the ADA who testified that he saw the defendant make the gesture. The trial court found the defendant to be in willful contempt of court and entered a civil judgment for attorney’s fees and costs. The defendant gave oral notice of appeal. He later filed a petition for a writ of certiorari seeking a belated appeal of the civil judgment. On appeal the defendant argued that he was found in criminal contempt based on inadmissible hearsay. The court rejected this argument, noting that the first transcript was used to illustrate the context in which the incident arose and to corroborate other testimony that the witness seemed agitated and distracted on the stand. The second transcript was used to corroborate the ADA’s testimony. The court concluded: “Because [the transcripts] were used to corroborate the testimony of the State’s witnesses, and were not offered into evidence to prove that Defendant was speaking and making a gun gesture, the trial court did not err when admitting them into evidence.”

(2) The trial court’s findings of fact support its conclusion that the defendant’s conduct was willful. The trial court found, in part, that the defendant’s willful behavior committed during court was intended to interrupt the proceedings and resulted in the witness ceasing testimony and challenging the defendant’s action on the stand in front of the jury. The court held that this finding of fact supported the trial court’s conclusion that the defendant willfully interrupted the proceedings.

(3) The court granted the defendant’s petition for certiorari with respect to review of the civil judgment and held that the trial court erred by entering the civil judgment against the defendant for attorney’s fees without first affording the defendant an opportunity to be heard. Before entering a civil judgment under G.S. 7A-455(b) the defendant must be given notice and an opportunity to be heard. Here, after the defendant was convicted of criminal contempt, the trial court asked defense counsel how much time she spent on the case. After counsel responded that she spent about 9½ hours, the court set a civil judgment in the amount of $570. Because the defendant was present in the courtroom when attorney’s fees were imposed, the defendant received notice. However he was not given an opportunity to be heard. The court vacated the judgment and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

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