State v. Perez, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 612 (Jul. 3, 2018)

In this drug case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court violated his Confrontation Clause rights when it permitted him to stipulate to the admission of forensic laboratory reports without first addressing him personally and ensuring that he understood the stipulation would waive those rights. At trial the prosecutor informed the trial court that the defendant intended to stipulate to the admission of forensic laboratory reports confirming that the substance seized was cocaine. Both defense counsel and the defendant signed the stipulations and the trial court admitted the stipulated evidence. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by permitting him to stipulate to the admission of the reports without engaging in a colloquy to ensure he understood the consequences of that decision. The court rejected this argument. It began by acknowledging that the stipulation acted as a waiver of the defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights. The court held however that “the waiver of Confrontation Clause rights does not require the sort of extensive colloquy needed to waive the right to counsel or enter a guilty plea.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that State v. English, 171 N.C. App. 277 (2005), requires such a colloquy. Here, both the defendant and counsel signed the stipulations, and there may have been strategic reasons to do so. The court found it notable that the defendant did not argue that his lawyer failed to discuss those strategic issues with him, or that defense counsel failed to explain that stipulating to admission of the lab reports would waive his Confrontation Clause rights. Instead, he argued that the trial court should have discussed these issues with him in open court. The court declined the defendant’s request to impose on trial courts an obligation to personally address a defendant whose attorney seeks to waive any of his constitutional rights via stipulation with the State. If the defendant did not understand the implications of stipulating, his recourse is to pursue an MAR asserting ineffective assistance of counsel.