State v. Godfrey, ___ N.C. App. ___, 822 S.E.2d 894 (Dec. 18, 2018)

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not err by admitting 404(b) evidence. In 2016, the victim reported to law enforcement that the defendant sexually assaulted her many times when she was a child, including a final incident on or about May 2004 when she was 12 years old. During the ensuing investigation, the victim recorded the defendant making incriminating statements. The defendant was indicted for first-degree sex offense with a child for the 2004 incident. At trial, the victim testified to the May 2004 incident, describing digital penetration. The victim also testified to an incident of digital penetration by the defendant that occurred a month or two prior to the May 2004 incident (“the bed incident”), and to another incident of digital penetration about two years earlier (the “Lick Mountain incident”). The victim also testified about watching pornography with the defendant on multiple occasions prior to the May 2004 incident during which the defendant would put her hand on his penis. Additionally the recorded conversation between the victim and the defendant was introduced at trial. In that recording the defendant asked the victim if she remembered “[t]he first hand [ride] you ever took” and admitted remembering watching pornography with the victim. The defendant was found guilty and he appealed.

          The court found that evidence of the bed incident and the Lick Mountain incident were properly admitted under Rule 404(b). All three incidents involved the same victim, the same type of penetration, and all occurred while the victim was under the defendant’s supervision. Thus the incidents were sufficiently similar to the one in question to show a common scheme or plan to take advantage of the victim by digitally penetrating her while she was under his control.

          The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the Lick Mountain incident was too remote in time to the May 2004 incident. Although that incident occurred 2 or 3 years prior, that period of time did not eliminate the probative value of the incident, particularly in light of its striking similarity to the May 2004 incident.

         The court also rejected the argument that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing evidence of the bed incident and Lick Mountain incidents over a Rule 403 objection.

         With respect to the portion of the recording regarding the “hand ride,” the defendant argued that this evidence was inadmissible because the date of the incident was not provided. The court concluded however that because of the similarity of this incident to the other events, the trial court did not err by admitting the statement on grounds of temporal proximity.

         With respect to the evidence regarding watching pornography together, the court held that even assuming this evidence was erroneously admitted, the defendant failed to establish prejudice in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt.