State v. Daniels, COA23-22, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Oct. 17, 2023)

In this Mecklenburg County case, defendant appealed his convictions for attempted first-degree murder and various assault and firearms charges, arguing error in the determination of his prior record level by finding his federal carjacking conviction was substantially similar to common law robbery. The Court of Appeals found no error.

In 2018, defendant fired multiple shots during an altercation, one of which struck a child waiting at a bus stop, attracting the attention of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy. Defendant jumped into a vehicle, and as the driver sped away from the deputy, defendant fired multiple shots at the deputy’s vehicle. Defendant was eventually caught, and was convicted of all charges against him at trial. During the sentencing phase, the trial court considered whether defendant’s conviction for carjacking under 18 U.S.C. § 2119 was substantially similar to the North Carolina common law offense of robbery. After hearing from the parties, the trial court concluded that the State had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the two offenses were substantially similar, increasing defendant’s prior record level by four sentencing points. 

The Court of Appeals began by noting the similarities between the two offenses, as “[b]oth the federal carjacking statute and North Carolina’s common law robbery require the forceful and violent taking of property.” Slip Op. at 9. Defendant raised four arguments on appeal. First, defendant argued that the similarity between the two offenses failed the test from State v. Sanders, 367 N.C. 716 (2014). The Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining “[h]ere, unlike in Sanders, the elements of carjacking and common law robbery require similar conduct, and no elements are mutually exclusive.” Slip Op. at 11. In defendant’s second argument, he pointed to the connection to interstate commerce requirement for the federal offense, an element not present in common law robbery. The court dismissed this argument, pointing to a similar determination in State v. Riley, 253 N.C. App. 819 (2017), and explaining that the additional federal element of “interstate commerce” did not distinguish the two crimes. Slip Op. at 13.  

Defendant pointed to the sentencing enhancements of the federal statute not present in the North Carolina offense for his third argument. The court again disagreed, noting the N.C. Supreme Court has explained “the test in Sanders does not ‘require identicalness between compared statutes from different states and mandate identical outcomes between cases which originate both in North Carolina and in the foreign state.’” Id. at 15, quoting State v. Graham, 379 N.C. 75, 84 (2021). Finally, defendant argued that the North Carolina offense was broader than the federal offense, as the federal offense is limited to theft of motor vehicles. This final argument also failed, as the court referenced State v. Key, 180 N.C. App. 286 (2006), and concluded that the two offenses were substantially similar as “both the federal carjacking statute and North Carolina common law robbery require a non-consensual taking of property under threat, force, or intimidation.” Slip Op. at 17.