State v. Grappo, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (May. 19, 2020)

The defendant’s sole argument on appeal was that the trial judge violated the statutory mandates of G.S 15A-1231 and 15A-1232 by allowing the clerk to read some of the jury instructions to the jury. The judge had the clerk read the instructions on “(1) the function of the jury; (2) the presumption of innocence; (3) the State’s burden of proof and the definition of reasonable doubt; (4) the jury’s duty in evaluating the credibility of witnesses; (5) the weight of the evidence; (6) the definitions of direct and circumstantial evidence; and (7) the effect of Defendant’s decision not to testify.” The judge read the remainder of the instructions about the specific charges and factual findings required by the jury to convict the defendant. The defendant argued that this procedure gave the jury the impression that the first instructions were less important than those read aloud by the judge herself. The Court of Appeals held that the trial judge violated the statutory mandate that the judge give all instructions to the jury. The Court urged the trial bench not to avoid its statutory duty and emphasized its importance. The Court also recognized the possibility of prejudice by the failure to do so but found the error harmless in this case. The trial judge instructed the jury to listen closely to the clerk; the judge interjected several times to correct misstatements by the clerk; the jury reached its verdict without seeking clarification from the judge; and when asked by the judge for any additions or corrections to the instructions, counsel for the defendant said no.