State v. Dail, ___ N.C. App. ___, 805 S.E.2d 737 (Sept. 19, 2017)

Because the trial court failed to consider evidence of the defendant’s eligibility for conditional discharge pursuant to G.S. 90-96, the court vacated the judgment and remanded for resentencing. The defendant pleaded guilty to driving while impaired and possession of LSD. According to the plea agreement, the defendant stipulated to his prior record level for each offense, and that he would be placed on probation. In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss additional drug possession charges against the defendant. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the defendant received suspended sentences. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by granting a suspended sentence rather than a conditional discharge. The trial court had denied this request, concluding that the defendant was asking for something beyond the scope of his plea agreement. The Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant, noting that defense counsel asked for such a discharge during the plea hearing and that the conditional discharge statute was mandatory for eligible defendants. The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant failed to present evidence that he was qualified for conditional discharge, concluding instead that the burden is on the State to establish that the defendant is not eligible for conditional discharge by proving the defendant’s prior record. Here, the trial court did not afford either party the opportunity to establish whether or not the defendant was eligible for conditional discharge. The court therefore vacated the judgment and remanded for a new sentencing hearing, directing the trial court to follow the procedure for the consideration of eligibility for conditional discharge.