State v. Earls, 234 N.C. App. 186 (Jun. 3, 2014)

Although the trial court erred by referencing the Bible or divine judgment in sentencing, given the sentence imposed, the defendant failed to show prejudice or that his sentence was based on the trial court’s religious invocation. Before pronouncing its sentence on the defendant, who was found guilty of sexually abusing his children, the trial court addressed the defendant as follows:

Well, let me say this: I think children are a gift of God and I think God expects when he gives us these gifts that we will treat them as more precious than gold, that we will keep them safe from harm the best as we’re able and nurture them and the child holds a special place in this world. In the 19th chapter of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples, suffer the little children, to come unto me, forbid them not: for such is the kingdom of heaven. And the law in North Carolina, and as it is in most states, treats sexual abuse of children as one of the most serious crimes a person can commit, and rightfully so, because the damage that’s inflicted in these cases is incalculable. It’s murder of the human spirit in a lot of ways. I’m going to enter a judgment in just a moment. But some day you’re going to stand before another judge far greater than me and you’re going to have to answer to him why you violated his law and I hope you’re ready when that day comes.

Although finding no basis for a new sentencing hearing, the court “remind[ed] trial courts that judges must take care to avoid using language that could give rise to an appearance that improper factors have played a role in the judge’s decision-making process even when they have not.” Slip Op. at 18 (quotation omitted).