State v. Hair, COA22-987, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Feb. 20, 2024)

In this Cumberland County case, defendant appealed his convictions for first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and intimidating a witness, arguing error in (1) denying a jury request to review the trial transcript, (2) joining the witness intimidation charge with his other two offenses, and (3) admitting cell phone and geo-tracking data evidence without proper authentication. The Court of Appeals found no error.  

In August of 2019, defendant was indicted for murdering the victim while robbing her of marijuana. Prior to trial, defendant and an accomplice were being transported while in custody, and defendant punched the accomplice in the jaw. When asked why he punched the accomplice, defendant said the other man was “trying to testify on me and give me life in prison.” Slip Op. at 2. This led the State to issue a superseding indictment combining the murder and robbery charges with the witness intimidation charge, and the trial court granted a motion to combine the charges over defendant’s objection. While the jury was deliberating, they requested to review transcripts of testimony, a request that the trial court denied. Defendant was subsequently convicted of all three charges, and appealed. 

In (1), defendant argued that the trial court did not have the necessary knowledge about what circumstances prompted the jury’s request before denying it. The Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining that defendant supplied no case law to support this argument. Instead, the request was governed by G.S. 15A-1233(a), and the trial court satisfied the statutory requirements by bringing the jury to the courtroom and explaining the reasoning for denying the request. 

Moving to (2), defendant argued that the witness intimidation charge “not transactionally related to the robbery or murder charges.” Id. at 6. Again, the court disagreed, applying the four factors from State v. Montford, 137 N.C. App. 495 (2000), and concluding “the charges were transactionally related as the intimidating a witness charge is predicated on Defendant’s beliefs about his robbery and murder trial.” Slip Op. at 8. The court also dispensed with defendant’s argument that the intimidation charge caused the jury to presume his guilt, explaining “the evidence of Defendant’s intimidation of [the witness] would have been admissible in the murder and robbery trial even if the charges had been separately tried.” Id. at 9.  

Arriving at (3), the court noted defendant did not object at trial, so the review of admitting the alleged hearsay evidence was under the plain error standard. Due to the ample evidence that defendant was at the scene and fired the weapon that killed the victim, the court concluded it was not plain error to admit the cell phone and geo-tracking evidence.