State v. Goins, 244 N.C. App. 499 (Dec. 15, 2015)

(1) In this sexual assault case involving allegations that the defendant, a high school wrestling coach, sexually assaulted wrestlers, the trial court did not err by admitting, under Rule 404(b), evidence that the defendant engaged in hazing techniques against his wrestlers. The evidence involved testimony from wrestlers that the defendant choked-out and gave extreme wedgies to his wrestlers, and engaged in a variety of hazing activity, including instructing upperclassmen to apply muscle cream to younger wrestlers’ genitals and buttocks. The evidence was properly admitted to show that the defendant engaged in “grooming behavior” to prepare his victims for sexual activity. The court so concluded even though the hazing techniques were not overtly sexual or pornographic, noting: “when a defendant is charged with a sex crime, 404(b) evidence … does not necessarily need to be limited to other instances of sexual misconduct.” It concluded: “the hazing testimony tended to show that Defendant exerted great physical and psychological power over his students, singled out smaller and younger wrestlers for particularly harsh treatment, and subjected them to degrading and often quasi-sexual situations. Whether sexual in nature or not, and regardless of whether some wrestlers allegedly were not victimized to the same extent as the complainants, the hazing testimony had probative value beyond the question of whether Defendant had a propensity for aberrant behavior (quotations and citations omitted).” (2) The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the hazing testimony under Rule 403, given that the evidence was “highly probative” of the defendant’s intent, plan, or scheme to carry out the charged offenses. The court noted however “that the State eventually could have run afoul of Rule 403 had it continued to spend more time at trial on the hazing testimony or had it elicited a similar amount of 404(b) testimony on ancillary, prejudicial matters that had little or no probative value regarding the Defendant’s guilt” (citing State v. Hembree, 367 N.C. 2 (2015) (new trial where in part because the trial court “allow[ed] the admission of an excessive amount” of 404(b) evidence regarding “a victim for whose murder the accused was not currently being tried”)). However, the court concluded that did not occur here.