State v. Corpening, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Feb. 16, 2021)

The defendant pled guilty to possession of cocaine and possession of methamphetamine pursuant to a plea agreement that required the State to dismiss other charges and to refrain from indicting him as a habitual felon. At the plea hearing, the trial court conducted a plea colloquy and asked defense counsel, “‘How much time do you have in this?’” Counsel replied “‘9.5 hours.’” Slip op. at ¶ 2. The trial court accepted the plea and sentenced the defendant to two consecutive active terms of seven to 18 months. The trial court also entered a civil judgment ordering the defendant to pay $570 in attorney’s fees and a $60 appointment fee.

The defendant appealed the civil judgment for attorney’s fees and petitioned for certiorari review. The Court dismissed the defendant’s pro se appeal based on his failure to specify the judgment from which he was appealing, but granted certiorari review. 

The Court noted that while a trial court may enter a civil judgment against a convicted defendant for the amount of fees incurred by his or her court-appointed attorney, the defendant must be provided notice and an opportunity to heard before such a judgment may be entered. Trial courts must ask defendants personally (not through counsel) whether they wish to be heard on the issue before imposing judgment. The record in the case below demonstrated that the defendant was not provided notice or an opportunity to be heard. Thus, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by imposing the civil judgment for attorney’s fees, vacated the judgment, and remanded for further proceedings.