State v. Bethea, COA22-932, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Dec. 19, 2023)

In this Scotland County case, defendant appealed his convictions for attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, assault with a firearm on an officer, and carrying a concealed gun, arguing abuse of discretion in finding him competent to stand trial. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no error. 

In May of 2018, defendant walked up to a crime scene and passed under the police tape into the secured area. Two officers on the scene moved to arrest defendant, and in the ensuing confrontation, defendant drew his firearm and shot at one of the officers. Defendant attempted to flee but was struck by shots from one of the officers. At the hospital, defendant was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Before trial, defendant’s counsel filed a motion for capacity hearing due to his alleged memory loss from the brain injury. The trial court held a competency hearing, where a doctor provided by the defense testified that defendant could not remember the days leading up to the confrontation with police or the events of the day in question, but that defendant had a “rational understanding” of the legal proceedings against him. Slip Op. at 3. The trial court ruled defendant was competent to stand trial, and he was subsequently convicted. 

Taking up defendant’s appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that “our Supreme Court has explained that even when a defendant’s ability to participate in his defense is limited by amnesia, it does not per se render him incapable of standing trial.” Id. at 6. Although defendant argued his memory loss made him unable to participate in his defense, the court disagreed, explaining “he was able to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him and able to comprehend his own situation in reference to the proceedings.” Id. The court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court when weighing the testimony and concluding that defendant was competent to stand trial.