State v. Friend, ___ N.C. App. ___, 809 S.E.2d 902 (Jan. 16, 2018)

The trial court erred by entering a civil judgment against the defendant for the attorneys’ fees incurred by his court-appointed counsel under G.S. 7A-455 without providing the defendant with notice and an opportunity to be heard. The court explained, in part:

With respect to counsel fees incurred under § 7A-455, the interests of defendants and their counsel may not always align. Because indigent defendants may feel that the fees charged by counsel were unreasonable in light of the time, effort, or responsibility involved in the case, and because those defendants might reasonably believe—as is the case at various stages of the criminal trial and sentencing—that they may speak only through their counsel, we hold that trial courts must provide criminal defendants, personally and not through their appointed counsel, with an opportunity to be heard before entering a money judgment under § 7A-455. Because [the defendant] was not informed of his right to be heard before the court entered the money judgment in this case, we vacate that judgment and remand for further proceedings.

The court instructed: “[B]efore entering money judgments against indigent defendants for fees imposed by their court-appointed counsel . . . trial courts should ask defendants—personally, not through counsel—whether they wish to be heard on the issue.” It added:

Absent a colloquy directly with the defendant on this issue, the requirements of notice and opportunity to be heard will be satisfied only if there is other evidence in the record demonstrating that the defendant received notice, was aware of the opportunity to be heard on the issue, and chose not to be heard.