State v. Lovette, 233 N.C. App. 706 (May. 6, 2014)

In this case, arising from the defendant’s conviction for first-degree murder of UNC student Eve Carson, the court upheld the constitutionality of the State’s “Miller fix” statute and determined that the trial court’s findings supported a sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The defendant—who was 17 years old at the time of the murder—was originally sentenced to life in prison without parole. In his first appeal the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing under G.S. 15A-1340.19A et. seq., the new sentencing statute enacted by the N.C. General Assembly in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___, ___, 183 L.Ed. 2d 407, 421-24 (2012). On remand, the trial court held a new sentencing hearing and resentenced the defendant under the new sentencing statute to life imprisonment without parole after making extensive findings of fact as to any potential mitigating factors revealed by the evidence. Among other things, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the Miller fix statute was constitutionally infirm because it “vests the sentencing judge with unbridled discretion providing no standards.” It also rejected the defendant’s arguments that the evidence was insufficient to support the trial court’s findings of fact in connection with the resentencing and that without findings of irretrievable corruption and no possibility of rehabilitation the trial court should not have imposed a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. It concluded:

As noted by Miller, the “harshest penalty will be uncommon[,]” but this case is uncommon. Miller, 567 U.S. at ___, 183 L.E. 2d at 424. The trial court’s findings support its conclusion. The trial court considered the circumstances of the crime and defendant’s active planning and participation in a particularly senseless murder. Despite having a stable, middleclass home, defendant chose to take the life of another for a small amount of money. Defendant was 17 years old, of a typical maturity level for his age, and had no psychiatric disorders or intellectual disabilities that would prevent him from understanding risks and consequences as others his age would. Despite these advantages, defendant also had an extensive juvenile record, and thus had already had the advantage of any rehabilitative programs offered by the juvenile court, to no avail, as his criminal activity had continued to escalate. Defendant was neither abused nor neglected, but rather the evidence indicates for most of his life he had two parents who cared deeply for his well-being in all regards.