State v. Howard, 247 N.C. App. 193 (Apr. 19, 2016)

The trial court erred by failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing before granting the MAR. An evidentiary hearing “is not automatically required before a trial court grants a defendant’s MAR, but such a hearing is the general procedure rather than the exception.” Prior case law “dictates that an evidentiary hearing is mandatory unless summary denial of an MAR is proper, or the motion presents a pure question of law.” Here, the State denied factual allegations asserted by the defendant. The trial court granted the MAR based on what it characterized as “undisputed facts,” faulting the State for failing to present evidence to rebut the defendant’s allegations. However, where the trial court sits as “the post-conviction trier of fact,” it is “obligated to ascertain the truth by testing the supporting and opposing information at an evidentiary hearing where the adversarial process could take place. But instead of doing so, the court wove its findings together based, in part, on conjecture and, as a whole, on the cold, written record.” It continued, noting that given the nature of the defendant’s claims (as discussed in the court’s opinion), the trial court was required to resolve conflicting questions of fact at an evidentiary hearing.