State v. Harper, 2022-NCCOA-630, 285 N.C. App. 507 (Sept. 20, 2022)

In this Pitt County case, defendant appealed his conviction for willingly resisting, delaying, or obstructing a public officer; the Court of Appeals found no error by the trial court.

In September of 2019, two officers from the Winterville Police Department responded to a disturbance at a gas station. Defendant was allegedly arguing with another customer about police practices and race relations in the United States. When police arrived, defendant initially refused to provide identification, then produced a card with his name and a quotation from City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451 (1987). After an extended exchange regarding the card and defendant’s refusal to produce identification, officers arrested defendant for resisting, delaying, or obstructing a public officer. Later in 2019, defendant appeared at two traffic stops conducted by one of the arresting officers, once telling the officer he was watching him, and the second time driving by while making a hand gesture resembling a gun pointed at the officer. Defendant was subsequently charged for communicating threats, and both charges went to trial, where defendant was convicted of resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer but acquitted of communicating threats.

Defendant first argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer charge. The Court of Appeals reviewed the denial and the evidence in the record to determine if each element of the charge was present. In this case only three elements were at issue, specifically if: (1) the officer was lawfully discharging a duty, (2) the defendant resisted, delayed, or obstructed the officer in discharge of that duty, and (3) the defendant acted willfully and unlawfully. Examining (1), the court walked through the reasonable suspicion the officer formed while approaching defendant, and explained that responding to the disturbance and attempting to identify defendant was well within the officer’s duties. Turning to (2), the court made the distinction between mere criticism of the police and the actions of defendant, who was at that time a reasonable suspect in the disturbance that the officers were investigating, and applied precent that “failure by an individual to provide personal identifying information during a lawful stop constitutes resistance, delay, or obstruction within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223.” Slip Op. at ¶31. Finally, considering (3), the court explained that since the stop was lawful and the officers were reasonably investigating defendant as the subject of the disturbance, his actions refusing to provide identification and cooperate were willful and intended to hinder the duty of the officer. Id. at ¶40.

The court then turned to defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by allowing defendant to waive counsel and represent himself in superior court after signing a waiver of counsel in district court. The Court of Appeals explained that G.S. 15A-1242 contains the required colloquy for wavier of counsel and the appropriate procedure for the court to follow. Here defendant executed a waiver during district court proceedings, and the record contains no objection or request to withdraw the waiver. The court explained that “[o]nce the initial waiver of counsel was executed, it was not necessary for successive written waivers to be executed, nor for additional inquiries to be made by the district or superior court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1242.” Id. at ¶49. The waiver created a “rebuttable presumption” and no further inquiries were necessary. Since defendant did not identify any issue or deficiency in the initial waiver, there was no error.

Reviewing defendant’s final argument that the trial court erred by failing to provide a jury instruction on justification or excuse for the offense, the court noted that defendant did not object to the jury instructions even when given opportunity to do so. Defendant also had agreed to the jury instructions as presented to him. This led to the court’s conclusion that “[b]y failing to object at trial and expressly agreeing to the jury instructions as given, [d]efendant waived any right to appeal this issue.” Id. at ¶57.

Judge Inman concurred in the result.