State v. Chavis, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-349 (Jul. 20, 2021)

The defendant and her boyfriend robbed the victim at his home. During the robbery the two pinned the victim down, hit him with a stick, and stunned him several times with a taser. The victim’s wallet was stolen, and he was left with blood coming out of his ears, a knot on his head, and a taser burn. The defendant was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. After being convicted at trial, the defendant raised several claims on appeal. The appellate court found no error as to the criminal convictions, but did reverse a related judgment of contempt. 

First, the defendant argued that her motion to dismiss at trial should have been granted, because there was insufficient evidence that a taser was a deadly weapon. The appellate court disagreed, citing precedent including State v. Gay, 151 N.C. App. 530 (2002) in which a stun gun previously has been deemed a dangerous or deadly weapon. Moreover, noting that any implement can be a deadly weapon based on the manner in which it is used, in this case the taser was used to stun the victim in the course of beating him and causing injury, providing a sufficient factual basis from which the jury could find that the taser was a deadly weapon.

Second, the defendant argued that the trial judge improperly expressed an opinion during the jury instructions that the taser was a deadly weapon. This issue was not raised at trial level, but as an alleged statutory violation it was nevertheless reviewable de novo on appeal. However, the appellate court held there was no error. During one portion of the instructions, the trial judge identified the taser as the alleged deadly weapon, but the remainder of the instructions made it clear that it was left up to the jury to decide whether the taser was a deadly weapon in this case or not.

Third, the defendant sought plain error review on an unpreserved argument that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on serious bodily injury. This argument was likewise rejected, since serious bodily injury is not an element of armed robbery. The trial court’s instructions on the deadly weapon element of armed robbery correctly explained that it means a weapon “capable of” causing death or serious bodily injury, and as noted above there was a sufficient showing of that capability here since it was used to incapacitate the victim. But the state was not required to prove, nor was the jury required to find, that the victim actually suffered serious bodily injury in this case.

Fourth, the appellate court denied the defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, alleging that her attorney conceded her guilt to common law robbery without her knowledge or consent in violation of State v. Harbison, 315 N.C. 175 (1985). The court found that “[t]his assertion is simply not true,” as shown by the transcript. The trial judge engaged in a Harbison inquiry with the defendant immediately after her attorney’s closing arguments, and the defendant stated that she had discussed the admissions with her attorney beforehand and they were made with her consent.

Finally, the defendant appealed the trial court’s order holding her in direct criminal contempt for failing to put on the clothes provided for her. Based on a “plain reading” of G.S. 5A-14(b) and citing to more recent precedent, the appellate court held that the contempt order failed to clearly indicate that the trial judge had applied a reasonable doubt standard when making the factual findings, so the contempt order and judgment were reversed.