State v. Miller, 371 N.C. 273 (Jun. 8, 2018)

On discretionary of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 801 S.E.2d 696 (2017), in this murder case the court reversed, holding that the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that certain evidence was admitted in violation of the defendant’s confrontation rights. The defendant was charged with murdering his estranged wife. Approximately 9 months before the murder, an officer responded to a call at the victim’s apartment regarding a domestic dispute. The officer made initial contact with the victim at a location outside of her apartment. The victim told the officer that the defendant entered her apartment through an unlocked door and kept her there against her will for two hours. The victim said that during this period she and the defendant argued and that a physical struggle occurred. Although the officer did not recall seeing any signs that the victim had sustained physical injury, he noticed a tear and stress marks on her shirt. The officer accompanied the victim to her apartment to check the premises to make sure the defendant was not still there. The defendant was later charged and convicted of domestic criminal trespass. At the defendant’s murder trial the trial court admitted, over the defendant’s confrontation clause objection, the officer’s testimony about the statements the victim made to him in the incident 9 months before the murder. The Court of Appeals found, among other things, that the victim’s statements were testimonial. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the victim’s statements were nontestimonial. The victim made the statements during an ongoing emergency caused by the defendant’s entry into her apartment and decision to both detain and physically assault her. The information she provided to the officer caused him to enter the apartment to ensure that the defendant, whose location was unknown, had departed and no longer posed a threat to the victim’s safety. The victim’s statements to the officer “served more than an information-gathering purpose.” Additionally, the conversation was informal and took place in an environment that cannot be described as tranquil.