State v. Martinez, ___ N.C. App. ___, 795 S.E.2d 386 (Dec. 20, 2016)

(1) During closing statements to the jury, the prosecutor did not impermissibly comment on the defendant’s failure to take the stand. In context, the prosecutor’s statements summarized the evidence before the jury and asserted that no evidence was presented to support defense counsel’s assertions in his opening statement. Even if the prosecutor’s statements constituted an impermissible comment on the defendant’s right to remain silent, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the prosecutor improperly misled the jury during closing argument by asserting facts not in evidence. The defendant failed to show any gross impropriety that was likely to influence the verdict. (3) The defendant failed to show gross impropriety warranting intervention ex mero motu to when the prosecutor handled a rifle in evidence by pointing it at himself. The defendant argued that the prosecutor’s actions inflamed the jurors’ emotions and causing them to make a decision based on fear (4) Notwithstanding these conclusions, the court noted that it found the prosecutor’s words and actions “troublesome,” stating: “the prosecutor flew exceedingly close to the sun during his closing argument. Only because of the unique circumstances of this case has he returned with wings intact.” It went on to emphasize that a prosecutor “has the responsibility of the Minister of Justice and not simply that of an advocate; the prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict” (quotation omitted).