State v. Chambers, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-348 (Jul. 20, 2021)

The child victim in this case, “David,” died primarily as a result of blunt force abdominal injuries, with a number of other external and internal injuries as contributing factors. The state’s evidence indicated that the defendant abused David on several occasions during a two-month period, ultimately leading to the child’s death. The defendant was charged with first-degree murder based on causing the victim’s death in the course of committing felonious child abuse under G.S. 14-318.4(a), and was convicted at trial.

On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence he was a “person providing care to or supervision of” the minor victim, as required for a conviction under G.S. 14-318.4(a), and therefore he could not be guilty of the underlying offense that supported the felony murder conviction. After the reviewing the state’s evidence, the appellate court disagreed. The defendant was romantically involved with “R.W.,” the victim’s mother, and he had recently moved in with R.W. and her children and slept at their house every weeknight. The defendant also helped potty train the children, played with them, put them to bed, cooked meals, and did yardwork around the home. The court acknowledged that the child abuse statute does not define what constitutes “care and supervision,” but prior cases such as State v. Carilo, 149 N.C. App. 543 (2002) have “found guidance in our State’s juvenile code under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(3) defining a ‘caretaker.’” To determine whether an adult qualifies under the abuse statute, the court looks at the totality of the circumstances including the duration and frequency of care provided by the adult, the location where it occurs, and the amount of decision-making authority held by the adult. Finding that the state’s evidence in this case “mirrors the evidence we found sufficient in Carrilo,” the defendant’s conviction was unanimously affirmed.