State v. Mitchell, COA23-270, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Dec. 5, 2023)

In this Guilford County case, defendant appealed his convictions for breaking and entering, larceny, possession of a firearm by a felon, and resisting a public officer, arguing error in (1) denying his request for a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication, and (2) not specifically identifying the firearm during the jury instruction for possession of a firearm by a felon. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no error. 

In May of 2021, defendant and an accomplice broke into a pharmacy; after police responded, the men fled the pharmacy, and defendant dropped a gun in the parking lot while running from the officers. After searching the vehicle left at the scene, police found two more firearms and other stolen goods. After defendant was indicted, he filed a notice of defense asserting that he was too intoxicated to form the necessary specific intent for the offenses. During the charge conference, the trial court denied defendant’s request for a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication. Defendant was subsequently convicted, and appealed.

Taking up (1), the Court of Appeals noted “[t]o obtain a voluntary intoxication instruction, a defendant ‘must produce substantial evidence which would support a conclusion by the judge that he was so intoxicated that he could not form’ the specific intent to commit the underlying offenses.” Slip Op. at 5, quoting State v. Mash, 323 N.C. 339, 346 (1988). However, the court pointed out that “mere intoxication” was not sufficient, and that evidence had to show the defendant had lost his ability to think and plan due to the overconsumption of intoxicants. Id. Here, although defendant testified to consuming a large amount of cocaine over several days, the court highlighted instances of defendant recalling the events of the pursuit and arrest, as well as his interview at the police station. The court concluded defendant failed to produce evidence sufficient to justify the voluntary intoxication instruction. 

Turning to (2), the court noted that plain error was the applicable standard as defendant did not object to the jury instruction on possession of a firearm at trial. While the trial court did not specify which firearm defendant possessed in the instruction, the series of events where defendant fled the pharmacy and dropped a gun in the parking lot allowed for only one specific gun to be relevant. The other two firearms found at the scene were inside the vehicle and could not have been possessed by defendant. As a result, defendant could not demonstrate plain error. 

Judge Murphy concurred in the result only as to (1), and concurred as to (2).