State v. Cooper, 229 N.C. App. 442 (Sept. 3, 2013)

(1) In this murder case, the trial court abused its discretion by excluding, as a discovery sanction, testimony by defense expert Masucci. The defendant offered Masucci after the trial court precluded the original defense expert, Ward, from testifying that incriminating computer files had been planted on the defendant’s computer. The State made no pretrial indication that it planned to challenge Ward’s testimony. At trial, the defendant called Ward to testify that based upon his analysis of the data recovered from the defendant's laptop, tampering had occurred with respect to the incriminating computer files. The State successfully moved to exclude this testimony on the basis that Ward was not an expert in computer forensic analysis. The defendant then quickly located Masucci, an expert in computer forensic analysis, to provide the testimony Ward was prevented from giving. The State then successfully moved to exclude Masucci as a sanction for violation of discovery rules. The only evidence directly linking the defendant to the murder was the computer files. Even if the defendant violated the discovery rules, the trial court abused its discretion with respect to the sanction imposed and violated the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense. (2) The trial court erred by failing to conduct an in camera inspection of discovery sought by the defense regarding information related to FBI analysis of the computer files. The trial court found that the FBI information was used in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations and that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. The court held that the trial court’s failure to do an in camera review constituted a violation of due process. It instructed that on remand, the trial court “must determine with a reasonable degree of specificity how national security or some other legitimate interest would be compromised by discovery of particular data or materials, and memorialize its ruling in some form allowing for informed appellate review.”

Error | UNC School of Government


The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.