State v. Lancaster, 2022-NCCOA-495, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Jul. 19, 2022)

In this Craven County case, defendant was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon, resisting a public officer, injury to personal property, and going armed to the terror of the public for defendant’s actions in an apartment complex parking lot. On appeal, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court lacked jurisdiction for the charge of going armed to the terror of the public because the indictment did not allege the acts supporting the conviction occurred on a public highway.

The court first established the four essential elements of going armed to the terror of the public, which are “(1) armed with unusual and dangerous weapons, (2) for the unlawful purpose of terrorizing the people of the named county, (3) by going about the public highways of the county, (4) in a manner to cause terror to the people.” Slip Op. at ¶ 7 (quoting State v. Staten, 32 N.C. App. 495, 497 (1977)). The court then examined the common law history of going armed to the terror of the public, explaining that historically “a defendant could commit the crime of ‘going armed to the terror of the public’ in any location that the public is likely to be exposed to his acts, even if committed on privately-owned property.” Slip Op at ¶ 8.

Despite the common law interpretation of the crime, the court determined that the Staten requirement of an act on a “public highway” represented controlling precedent, and no North Carolina Supreme Court case had examined the public highway issue since Staten. After confirming that an act on a public highway was an essential element of the crime, the court found that the parking lot of a private apartment complex was not a “public highway” for purposes of going armed to the terror of the public.

Judge Griffin concurred in part and dissented in part with a separate opinion.