State v. Perez, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Dec. 31, 2020)

The defendant appealed from judgments entered upon his guilty pleas to second-degree rape and forcible sex offenses, second-degree kidnapping, assault on female, assault by strangulation, obstruction of justice, and intimidating a witness. The defendant appealed by writ of certiorari both the trial court’s imposition of lifetime SBM and the trial court’s imposition of duplicative court costs.

First, the Court of Appeals had to decide whether the defendant’s writs of certiorari properly conferred jurisdiction to the court. The defendant gave oral notice of appeal at his sex offender registration hearing, however he did not specifically raise the issue of court costs or later file a written notice of appeal. The court exercised its discretion to allow the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari to review the lifetime SBM order because they are “authorized to issue a writ of certiorari ‘to permit review of the judgments and orders of trial tribunals when the right to prosecute an appeal has been lost by failure to take timely action[.]’ N.C. R. App. P. 21(a)(1).” Slip op. at 8. Next, the court dismissed the defendant’s oral notice of appeal and instead used its discretion under Rule 21(a)(1) to grant the defendant’s writ of certiorari because it was not the defendant’s fault because it was defendant’s trial counsel who failed to give proper notice of appeal.

(1) The defendant’s first argument on appeal was that the trial court erred in ordering the defendant to enroll in lifetime satellite-based monitoring (SBM) upon his release from prison and contends the state did not meet its burden of proving the imposition of lifetime SBM is a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Slip op. at 7.

The Court of Appeals used Gordon and Griffin II as instructive in addressing Grady III’s application to defendants convicted of an aggravated offense and outside the recidivist context. The court stated that “as this Court did in Griffin II, we employ Grady III as a roadmap, ‘reviewing [d]efendant’s privacy interests and the nature of SBM’s intrusion into them before balancing those factors against the State’s interests in monitoring [d]efendant and the effectiveness of SBM in addressing those concerns.’ Griffin II, ___ N.C. App. at ___, 840 S.E.2d at 273.” Slip op. at 10-11.

In evaluating the defendant’s privacy interests, the court determined the defendant has a diminished expectation of privacy in some respects, such as the privacy of his address or matters material to his voluntary participation in certain activities, because the defendant must submit to lifetime sex offender registration and post-release supervision upon release from prison. However, the court found that the defendant’s expectation of privacy would not always be so severely diminished and following the termination of post-release supervision, the defendant’s constitutional privacy rights will be restored and that will occur at some point before the end of the lifetime SBM order. Therefore, the court found that the “[d]efendant will enjoy ‘appreciable, recognizable privacy interests that weigh against the imposition of SBM for the remainder of’ [d]efendant’s lifetime. Griffin II, ___ N.C. App. at ___, 840 S.E.2d at 274.”

The court next evaluated the intrusive nature of SBM and found that “SBM’s ability to track Defendant’s location is ‘uniquely intrusive’, and thus weighs against the imposition of SBM.” Slip op. at 12 (citation omitted).

In considering the state’s interest, the court determined that the state failed to produce evidence that the lifetime SBM, in this case, effectively served legitimate interests such as preventing recidivism. The court explained that the state did not put forth any evidence showing that SBM served those interests and only provided legal conclusions. Therefore, the court determined “the state’s interest in monitoring [d]efendant by SBM during post-release supervision is already accomplished by a mandatory condition of post-release supervision imposing that very thing.” Slip op. 14.

Finally, the court considered the reasonableness of SBM under the totality of the circumstances and balancing the previously mentioned factors. The court decided that in this case, a lifetime SBM order is an unreasonable warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment and therefore unconstitutional. The court determined that the defendant’s privacy rights, although diminished during post-release supervision, were substantially infringed upon by the lifetime SBM order and the defendant’s interests were not outweighed by a legitimate state interest because the state failed to provide evidence that a legitimate interest would be served by requiring the defendant be subject to lifetime SBM. 

(2) The defendant next argued that the trial court erred by entering duplicative court costs. The court determined the duplicative costs were error because, following Rieger, “when multiple criminal charges arise from the same underlying event or transaction and are adjudicated together in the same hearing or trial, they are part of a single ‘criminal case’ for the purposes of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-304(a).” Slip op. at 15.

Judge Tyson dissented because he did not think the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari concerning the lifetime SBM order should have been granted because it was meritless. Judge Tyson also dissented from the writ of certiorari concerning the imposition of duplicative court costs because the judgements were not part of a “single criminal case.”