State v. Lawrence, 365 N.C. 506, 723 S.E.2d 326 (Apr. 13, 2012)

Reaffirming its decision in State v. Odom, 307 N.C. 655, 660 (1983), the court clarified “how the plain error standard of review applies on appeal to unpreserved instructional or evidentiary error.” It stated:

For error to constitute plain error, a defendant must demonstrate that a fundamental error occurred at trial. To show that an error was fundamental, a defendant must establish prejudice—that, after examination of the entire record, the error “had a probable impact on the jury’s finding that the defendant was guilty.” Moreover, because plain error is to be “applied cautiously and only in the exceptional case,” the error will often be one that “seriously affect[s] the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”

(citations omitted). Applying that rule to the case at hand, the court held that the court of appeals applied the incorrect formulation of the plain error standard in State v. Lawrence, 210N.C. App. 73 (Mar. 1, 2011) (holding that the trial judge committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury on all elements of conspiracy to commit armed robbery). Although the trial judge erred (the judge instructed the jury that armed robbery involved a taking from the person or presence of another while using or in the possession of a firearm but failed to instruct on the element of use of the weapon to threaten or endanger the life of the victim), the error did not rise to the level of plain error.