State v. Burwell, ___ N.C. App. ___, 808 S.E.2d 583 (Dec. 5, 2017)

(1) The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of assault on a law enforcement officer inflicting serious bodily injury. The defendant asserted that he only used the amount of force reasonably necessary to resist an unlawful arrest. In the case, the officer responded to a 911 call reporting a suspicious person who refused to leave a public housing complex. The person was described as a male in his 30s wearing all black and near or around an older model, a black truck. The police department had an agency agreement with the complex giving officers the authority to remove trespassers from the property. Upon arrival the officer saw the male defendant wearing all black clothing and standing in front of an older model, black truck with a beer can in his hand. When the two spoke, the officer could smell a strong odor of alcohol emitting from the defendant. After further interaction, the officer explained to the defendant that he was trespassing. In part because of his impairment, the officer asked the defendant how he was going to get home. The defendant gave no clear answer. The officer informed the defendant that he was being “trespassed” and although not under arrest he would be taken for a “detox.” The officer attempted to handcuff the defendant in accordance with department policy to handcuff people transported by the police. When the officer reached for his handcuff pouch, the defendant became aggressive and used foul language, tensed up and tried to pull away from the officer. Trying to get control of the defendant, the officer pushed the defendant towards his vehicle. The officer informed the defendant that he was under arrest for resisting delaying and obstructing an officer. The defendant tried to turn around, raising his fist as if to “throw a punch.” The officer pointed his Taser at the defendant giving commands and advising him that he was under arrest. The defendant fled and the officer pursued. When the defendant fell to the ground on his back, the officer commanded him to roll over and put his hands behind his back. The defendant refused to comply and raised his feet and hands towards the officer “taking a combat stance.” The officer fired his Taser. However, the defendant was able to remove one of the Taser leads and took flight again. After the officer tackled the defendant, a struggle ensued. Backup arrived and assisted in securing the defendant. The officer sustained injuries from the struggle. There was sufficient evidence of the first element of the offense, an assault on the officer. Specifically, the officer testified that the defendant hit and bit him. There also was sufficient evidence with respect to serious bodily injury. Specifically, the officer testified that the bites caused extreme pain, skin removal, permanent scarring, and hospitalization. Photographs of the injuries were shown to the jury, as were the officer’s scars. The evidence also was sufficient to establish the third element, that the victim was a law enforcement officer performing his official duties at the time of the assault. The evidence showed that the officer was attempting to discharge his official duties as a routine patrol officer by responding to a report about a trespasser, conducting investigative work and acting on the results of his investigation. Finally, the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant knew or had reasonable grounds to know that the victim was a law enforcement officer. Here, the officer arrived in a marked patrol vehicle, was in uniform and told the defendant that he was a law enforcement officer.

(2) The trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on the right to resist an unlawful arrest. Here, an arrest occurred when under G.S. 122C-303, the officer attempted, against the defendant’s will, to take the publicly intoxicated defendant to jail to assist him. However, probable cause to arrest the defendant for second-degree trespass existed at this time. It does not matter that the officer did not arrest the defendant for that offense. The arrest was lawful because there was probable cause that the defendant had committed the trespass offense in the officer’s presence. Throughout the officer’s investigation, the defendant remained at the complex without authorization, even after he had been notified not to enter or remain there by the officer, a person authorized to so notify him. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that second-degree trespass does not create probable cause to arrest because that offense is a misdemeanor.

(3) The trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on the right to defend oneself from excessive force by a law enforcement officer where the evidence did not show that the officer’s use of force was excessive.