State v. Loftis, ___ N.C. App. ___, 830 S.E.2d 648 (Mar. 26, 2019)

In this drug case, the trial court did not err by admitting a forensic laboratory report after the defendant stipulated to its admission. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to engage in a colloquy with her to ensure that she personally waived her sixth amendment right to confront the analyst whose testimony otherwise would be necessary to admit the report. State v. Perez, __ N.C. App. __, __, 817 S.E.2d 612, 615 (2018), establishes that a waiver of Confrontation Clause rights does not require the type of colloquy required to waive the right to counsel or to enter a guilty plea. In that case, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by allowing him to stipulate to the admission of forensic laboratory reports without engaging in a colloquy to ensure that he understood the consequences of that decision. The court rejected that argument, declining the defendant’s request to impose on trial courts an obligation to personally address a defendant whose attorney seeks to waive any of his constitutional rights through a stipulation. In Perez, the court noted that if the defendant did not understand the implications of the stipulation, his recourse is a motion for appropriate relief asserting ineffective assistance of counsel. The court rejected the defendant’s attempt to distinguish Perez on grounds that it involved a written stipulation personally signed by the defendant, while this case involves defense counsel’s oral stipulation made in the defendant’s presence. The court found this a “distinction without a difference.” Here, the stipulation did not amount to an admission of guilt and thus was not the equivalent of a guilty plea. The court continued:

[W]e . . . decline to impose on the trial courts a categorical obligation “to personally address a defendant” whose counsel stipulates to admission of a forensic report and corresponding waiver of Confrontation Clause rights. That advice is part of the role of the defendant’s counsel. The trial court’s obligation to engage in a separate, on-the-record colloquy is triggered only when the stipulation “has the same practical effect as a guilty plea.”