State v. Clawson, COA22-787, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Nov. 7, 2023)

In this Haywood County case, three defendants appealed their judgments for various drug-related offenses, arguing error in (1) joining their cases for trial, (2) admission of certain testimony, (3) denying their motions to dismiss. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In October of 2018, the Haywood County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant on three apartments, finding heroin and cocaine along with drug paraphernalia. The three defendants were found together in one of the apartments, along with drugs and a large amount of cash. The defendants came to trial in August of 2021, and the State moved to join the cases for trial; the trial court allowed this motion over their objections. 

For (1), the court noted that G.S. 15A-926 permits joinder in the discretion of the trial court, with the primary consideration being the fair trial for each defendant. Here, no confessions or affirmative defenses were offered by any defendant, and “[b]ecause there were no antagonistic or conflicting defenses that would deprive Defendants of a fair trial,” the court found no error in joining the cases. Slip Op. at 8. 

Looking to (2), the court explained that one defendant objected to the testimony by an officer referencing several complaints about a black car driven by the defendant. The court noted that the officer’s testimony was not hearsay under Rule of Evidence 801, as it was not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Instead, the officer’s testimony explained his subsequent actions in observing the black car, which led to conducting surveillance on the apartments. 

Finally, in (3), the court found that two of the defendants had constructive possession of the drugs sufficient to support their convictions for possession despite not having exclusive possession of the apartments, as sufficient evidence of incriminating circumstances linked the defendants to the drugs and paraphernalia. The court noted this constructive possession, along with a rental application for one of the apartments, supported the finding of a conspiracy between the defendants to traffic the drugs. As a result, the trial court did commit error by denying the defendants’ motions to dismiss.