State v. Patterson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 831 S.E.2d 619 (Aug. 6, 2019)

Over a dissent, the court held in this failure to register as a sex offender case that there was insufficient evidence that the defendant willfully failed to timely return an address verification form, deciding as a matter of first impression that the federal holiday Columbus Day is not a “business day” for purposes of G.S. 14-208.9A.  G.S. 14-208.9A requires registrants to return verification forms to the sheriff within “three business days after the receipt of the form.”  The defendant received the address verification form on Thursday, October 9, 2014.  The defendant brought the form to the sheriff’s office on Wednesday, October 15, 2014.  The intervening Monday, October 13, 2014 was Columbus Day.  The defendant was arrested for failing to timely return the form while he was at the sheriff’s office.

Noting that some statutory definitions of the term “business day” exclude Columbus Day while others include it, the court found the term as used in G.S. 14-208.9A ambiguous.  The court looked to the legislative history of the statute and the circumstances surrounding its adoption but was unable to discern a clear meaning of the term in that effort.  Operating under the rule of lenity, the court held that “the term ‘business day,’ as used in Chapter 27A, means any calendar day except Saturday, Sunday, or legal holidays declared in [G.S. 103-4].”  Because Columbus Day is among the legal holidays declared in G.S. 103-4, there was insufficient evidence that the defendant violated G.S. 14-208.9A.  A dissenting judge would have held that Columbus Day is a “business day,” in part because the sheriff’s office actually was open for business on that day and in part because G.S. 103-4 lists as “public holidays” various days “which no one would reasonably expect the Sheriff’s Office to be closed for regular business to the public.”  The dissenting judge identified several such days, including Robert E. Lee’s Birthday and Greek Independence Day.