State v. Borlase, COA22-985, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Jan. 2, 2024)

In this Watauga County case, defendant appealed his convictions for first-degree murder for killing his parents one month before he turned eighteen years old, arguing error in sentencing him to two consecutive life sentences without parole. The Court of Appeals majority found no error.

On one day in April of 2019, defendant attacked and killed both of his parents in separate attacks, using a large knife to stab both of them to death. He then spent several hours cleaning the crime scene and attempting to conceal his crimes. Then defendant picked up his younger brother from his grandmother’s house, dropped him off in the home, and stayed with a friend that night. The next day defendant attempted to flee but was caught after crossing into Tennessee. Defendant was found guilty of both counts of first-degree murder by a jury, and the judge sentenced him to consecutive life sentences without parole. 

The Court of Appeals explained that defendant’s argument rested upon G.S. 15A-1340.19B, the statute providing appropriate procedure for sentencing a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole, and that his sentencing violated the Eighth Amendment of the federal constitution and Article 1, Section 27 of the state constitution. The court first looked at the Eighth Amendment issue and applicable U.S. Supreme Court precedent, concluding “[t]he procedure employed by the sentencing judge met the requirements of the Eighth Amendment as articulated by the United States Supreme Court in [Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S. Ct. 1307 (2021)] and was at least as robust as the procedure employed by the Mississippi judge in Jones.” Slip Op. at 7. 

Moving to the North Carolina statute and constitutional concerns, the court noted that G.S. 15A-134019B provides the defendant with the opportunity to offer evidence towards eight specific, non-exclusive mitigating factors. Here the court reviewed six factors provided by defendant in his brief and concluded “the sentencing judge considered the evidence presented concerning mitigating factors, including those enumerated in the sentencing statute” and complied with G.S. 15A-1340.19B. Id. at 13. Finally, looking at the North Carolina constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and applicable caselaw, applying State v. Kelliher, 381 N.C. 558, (2022), for the concept that the North Carolina constitution offers broader protection of juvenile offenders than the federal constitution. 14. Despite this broader protection, defendant was not entitled to reversal, as “the trial court expressly found that ‘it did not believe that there is a likelihood of rehabilitation in confinement’ and that Defendant’s crimes ‘demonstrate a condition of irreparable corruption and permanent incorrigibility.’” Id

Judge Arrowood provided a lengthy dissent discussing the applicable constitutional requirements and caselaw precedent, and would have vacated and remanded for resentencing because the trial court violated G.S. 15A-1340.19B, the Eighth Amendment, and Article 1, Section 27.