State v. Patterson, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Feb. 4, 2020)

The defendant was convicted of financial card theft and sentenced to a suspended sentence of 8 to 19 months imprisonment and 24 months supervised probation. Defendant’s sentence was based on the aggravating factor in G.S. 15A-1340.16(d)(12a), which requires the State to prove that within 10 years before the instant offense, the defendant had been found by a North Carolina court to have been in willful violation of the conditions of probation. G.S. 15A-1340.16(d)(12a).

Outside of Defendant’s presence, the trial court later entered a civil judgment of $2,250.00 against him as recoupment for fees for the attorney appointed to represent him.

The Court of Appeals granted certiorari review to consider the lawfulness of the sentence and the civil judgment entered against the defendant. As to the sentence, the State admitted on appeal that the prosecutor did not present evidence that the defendant violated conditions of probation at any time before he committed the offense of conviction. The court agreed there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to support this aggravating factor, vacated the sentence, and remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.

As to the civil judgment, the State admitted there was no evidence that the defendant was afforded an opportunity to be heard regarding the total amount of hours and fees claimed by his court-appointed attorney. It conceded that if the petition for certiorari was granted, the civil judgment for attorney fees had to be vacated, and the case had to be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. The court agreed with the State’s concession, noting that the trial court never directly asked the defendant whether he wished to be heard on the issue and that there was no other evidence that the defendant received notice, was aware of the opportunity to be heard on this issue, and chose not to be heard. The trial court’s request that defendant’s counsel “guesstimate [the number of hours worked] so [Defendant] will have an idea as to what the legal fees will be” was insufficient to provide the requisite notice and opportunity to be heard. The court vacated the civil judgment for attorney fees and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Jamie Markham wrote about the case here.