State v. Lynch, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (May. 19, 2020)

The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill inflicting serious injury. He was sentenced to life without parole for the murder conviction and to shorter terms for the other convictions. The case arose out of the robbery of a bar by two masked individuals, during which the owner of the bar was shot and killed and the perpetrators fled with the cash register. The 18-year-old defendant was arrested and waived his Miranda rights. The defendant adamantly denied his involvement throughout much of the three-hour, recorded interrogation but toward the end confessed his involvement. The defendant’s motion to suppress his confession was denied by the trial judge, and at trial the State introduced his confession and the testimony of others involved in the robbery implicating the defendant. The defendant argued on appeal that his confession was not voluntary because it was induced by hope of a sentence of life imprisonment instilled by the statements and actions of the officers who interrogated him. The Court of Appeals reviewed the transcript of the confession and concluded that in the totality of the circumstances the defendant’s confession was involuntary. The Court found that the defendant was predisposed to deny involvement and believed he would receive a life sentence whether he confessed or not. The Court also found that without being prompted by the defendant, the interrogators introduced the idea that they had ample evidence against the defendant, that they knew he was lying, that the judge could be influenced to show leniency if he confessed, and that they would be willing to testify on his behalf. The Court further found that the State failed to meet its burden to show that admission of the confession, which was constitutional error, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court observed that there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant without the confession in light of testimony from others involved in the robbery and video surveillance footage showing the masked perpetrators; however, no physical evidence linked the defendant to the crime and no one at the bar could identify the defendant as one of the perpetrators. The Court stated that it could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that all twelve jurors would have voted to convict without the confession.