State v. Hill, 235 N.C. App. 166 (Jul. 15, 2014)

Remanding for a new sentencing hearing, the court held that the trial court erred when it failed to hold a charge conference before instructing the jury during the sentencing phase of the trial, as required by G.S. 15A-1231(b). The court concluded that holding a charge conference is mandatory, and a trial court's failure to do so is reviewable on appeal even in the absence of an objection at trial. The court rejected the State’s argument that the statute should not apply to sentencing proceedings in non-capital cases. It concluded:

If, as occurred in this case, the trial court decides to hold a separate sentencing proceeding on aggravating factors as permitted by [G.S.] 15A-1340.16(a1), and the parties did not address aggravating factors at the charge conference for the guilt-innocence phase of the trial, [G.S.] 15A-1231 requires that the trial court hold a separate charge conference before instructing the jury as to the aggravating factor issues.

Although G.S. 15A-1231(b) provides that "[t]he failure of the judge to comply fully with the provisions of this subsection does not constitute grounds for appeal unless his failure, not corrected prior to the end of the trial, materially prejudiced the case of the defendant," in this case, the court noted, the trial court did not comply with the statute at all.