State v. Gregory, COA22-1034, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Dec. 19, 2023)

In this Wake County case, defendant appealed his convictions for first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, and associated crimes, arguing error in (1) the limitation of his cross-examination of the State’s psychiatry expert, and (2) denial of his request for a special jury instruction on insanity. The Court of Appeals majority found no error.  

During a violent period in August of 2015, defendant stole two vehicles, robbed and shot a man at a motel, robbed and shot another man at a pawn shop, kidnapped and raped a fifteen-year-old girl, and robbed a food store. Defendant was ultimately arrested in New York driving one of the stolen vehicles, and extradited back to North Carolina, where he was committed to Central Regional Hospital for an examination on his capacity to proceed to trial. Initially defendant was found incapable of proceeding, and he was involuntarily committed in February of 2018. In February of 2020, the State moved to have defendant forcibly medicated, and the trial court held a hearing under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003). At the Sell hearing, the State’s expert testified about defendant’s mental illness and whether he should be forcibly medicated, but the hearing was continued, and defendant began voluntarily taking his medication again before the hearing was concluded. Defendant came to trial in July 2020 and presented the defense of insanity. Defense counsel sought to cross-examine the State’s expert on her testimony during the Sell hearing. The State objected under Rule of Evidence 403, and the trial court directed defense counsel to avoid any questions related to the Sell hearing or forcible medication. When the parties met for the charge conference, defense counsel requested an addition to N.C.P.I. – Crim. 304.10 (regarding insanity), referring to commitment procedure if he was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity. The State objected to this addition, and agreed to avoid misrepresenting how quickly defendant might be released during closing argument. Defense counsel went on to provide the same argument requested in the special jury instruction during closing argument. Defendant was found guilty of all charges, and appealed. 

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals noted that defendant’s argument was focused on “[the expert’s] testimony that defendant needed to be forcibly medicated to regain his capacity to proceed.” Slip Op. at 13. The State used this expert’s testimony to rebut defendant’s defense of insanity, and defense counsel had attempted to impeach the expert with her testimony from the Sell hearing that defendant needed forcible medication. The court rejected defendant’s argument that excluding this line of questioning violated defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights, pointing out the jury was aware of defendant’s mental illness and the expert’s history of evaluating defendant, and “defendant was not limited in attacking [the expert’s] credibility or asking about the differences between her previous testimony at the hearing and her subsequent testimony at trial.” Id. at 16. The court went further, explaining that even if the Sell hearing and forcible medication were relevant, the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighed its probative value.  

Reviewing (2) defendant’s special jury instruction request, the court again disagreed, noting “[h]ere, the pattern jury instruction on commitment procedures, N.C.P.I. – Crim. 304.10, sufficiently encompasses the substance of the law.” Id. at 18. Holding that defendant’s situation did not justify altering the instruction, the court explained “[d]efendant’s case is neither so exceptional nor extraordinary such that the pattern jury instruction on commitment procedures fails to adequately encompass the law or risks misleading the jury.” Id.

Judge Hampson dissented and would have allowed cross-examination on the Sell hearing.