State v. Carey, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Oct. 6, 2020)

The defendant was convicted at trial of impersonating an officer and possession of a weapon of mass destruction (flashbang grenades) in Onslow County. On appeal, the Court of Appeals determined that flashbang grenades did not qualify as a weapon of mass destruction and vacated that conviction. The N.C. Supreme Court reversed on that point and remanded for the Court of Appeals to consider the defendant’s other arguments. The defendant filed a new brief with the court, arguing the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury about the exception for lawful possession of weapons of mass destruction. See G.S. § 14-288.8(b)(3). The defendant contended that he presented evidence that he qualified for the exception as a person “under contract with the United States” and it was error to fail to instruct the jury on the exception. While the defendant challenged jury instructions in his original brief to the Court of Appeals, he did not raise this issue. He therefore asked the court to invoke Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to review this argument, and the court granted that request.

At trial, the defendant presented evidence that he was an active-duty U.S. Marine serving as a weapons technician, and that he came into possession of the grenades as part of his duties in that capacity. The State did not contest this evidence at trial, but argued on appeal that the defendant failed to promptly return the weapons to the Marine Corps and that the defendant was “on a detour” (and not acting in his capacity as a solider) at the time of the offense. “Even if the State’s argument is true, this would not overcome Defendant’s properly admitted testimony and his right for the jury to resolve this issue.” Carey Slip op. at 8. The trial court had a duty to instruct the jury on all substantial features of the case, including the defense of lawful possession raised by the defendant’s evidence, and its failure to do so was plain error. The judgment of conviction for possession of a weapon of mass destruction was therefore vacated and the matter remanded for a new trial on that offense.

Judge Young dissented. According to his opinion, the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision remanding the case was limited to “the defendant’s remaining challenges” – those that were raised but not decided in the defendant’s original appeal to the Court of Appeals. The mandate therefore did not include new arguments that had not previously been raised at all, and Judge Young would not have considered the lawful possession argument.