State v. McCorey, COA23-592, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Dec. 19, 2023)

In this Cabarrus County case, defendant appealed his death by distribution conviction, arguing error in (1) denial of his motion to dismiss, and (2) improperly admitting Rule of Evidence 404(b) evidence. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In March of 2020, defendant sold drugs, purportedly heroin and cocaine, to two women. After taking the drugs, one of the women died, and toxicology determined she had both cocaine and fentanyl in her bloodstream. The level of metabolites for both cocaine and fentanyl were determined to be in the fatal range. When defendant came to trial on charges of death by distribution, the trial court allowed the surviving woman to testify about defendant’s prior sales of drugs to her as Rule 404(b) evidence to show defendant’s “intent, identity, and common scheme or plan.” Slip Op. at 5. 

Considering (1) defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court of Appeals addressed defendant’s arguments in relation to the elements of G.S. 14-18.4(b), the death by distribution statute. The court explained that circumstantial evidence supported the conclusion that defendant sold fentanyl instead of heroin to the victim. The court also noted “[w]hile the evidence does not foreclose the possibility that fentanyl may not have been the sole cause of [the victim’s] death, there is ample evidence to support a conclusion that it was, in fact, fentanyl that killed [the victim].” Id. at 9. Rejecting defendant’s argument that he could not foresee that the victim would consume all the drugs at once, the court found sufficient evidence to submit the question of proximate cause to the jury.   

Moving to (2) the Rule 404(b) evidence, the court noted that the trial court engaged in a lengthy analysis of whether to admit the testimony related to previous drug sales. Here, the testimony “demonstrate[d] not only the common plan or scheme of Defendant’s drug sales, but also his intent when transacting with [the woman],” and also served to confirm his identity. Id. at 13. Because the court could not establish a danger of unfair prejudice outweighing the probative value of the testimony, it found no error.