State v. Money, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Apr. 21, 2020)

The defendant was charged with driving while license revoked, operating a motor vehicle without displaying a current approved inspection certificate (G.S. 20-183.8(a)(1)), and displaying an expired registration plate (G.S. 20-111(2)) after being pulled over for driving his truck without a license plate. He was convicted of all three offenses, first in district court and then by a jury in superior court. (1) On appeal, the State conceded and the Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of displaying an expired registration plate. The defendant’s truck had no plate whatsoever, and so he was not displaying an expired one. (The court noted that the evidence would have supported a conviction under G.S. 20-111(1), driving without a current registration plate.) (2) As to the inspection certificate infraction, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction when the jury was instructed on a theory of guilt—here, display of an expired inspection certificate—that did not apply in his case when, again, he did not display any certificate. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that display of an expired inspection is not one of multiple theories of guilt for this offense. As such, the jury instruction referencing display was erroneous, but the defendant did not object on that basis, and the issue was therefore not properly before the appellate court. (3) Finally, the State conceded and the Court of Appeals agreed that the defendant’s sentence was erroneous. Despite being Prior Conviction Level I with no prior convictions, the defendant received a 10-day suspended sentence with probation for this Class 3 misdemeanor. Under G.S. 15A-1340.23(d), unless otherwise provided for a specific offense, a Class 3 misdemeanor sentence for a defendant with no more than three prior convictions may consist of a fine only. The appellate court remanded for resentencing.