State v. High, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Jun. 2, 2020)

The trial court erred in calculating the defendant’s prior record level, which was proved by stipulation, by using a joinable offense as a prior conviction for sentencing purposes.  In 2004 the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery based on an incident where he killed his father and took money from his father’s bedroom.  The defendant was 15 years old at the time of the offenses but was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  In 2014 post-conviction proceedings based on Miller v. Alabama, the first-degree murder conviction was vacated and the defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.  As part of that plea agreement, the State and the defendant stipulated that the defendant had a prior record level of III, a record level that was the result of six prior record points arising from the 2004 armed robbery conviction.  Noting that a defendant’s stipulation regarding his or her prior record level does not preclude the court’s review where calculation of the record level requires answering a legal question, the court found that use of the 2004 armed robbery conviction violated the rule from State v. West, 180 N.C. App. 664 (2006) that a joinable offense may not be used in calculating a defendant’s prior record level.