State v. Reid, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Oct. 20, 2020)

The defendant, who was 14 years old at the time of the offense, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997. In 2018, the trial court granted a motion for appropriate relief and vacated his conviction based on newly discovered evidence in the form of an affidavit from William McCormick indicating that other young men committed the crime. The Court of Appeals agreed with the State’s arguments that the trial court abused its discretion when it granted the defendant a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, and erred when it determined that the defendant’s due process rights would be violated if he were not allowed to present the evidence at a new trial. (1) As to the first argument, the Court held that the defendant failed to prove the purported newly discovered evidence as required under seven-factor analysis set out in State v. Beaver, 291 N.C. 137 (1976). Based on inconsistencies between McCormick’s testimony and his affidavit and internal inconsistencies in the affidavit itself, the Court could not agree with the trial court’s conclusion that the purported new evidence in it was “probably true.” Moreover, the information in McCormick’s testimony did not meet the requirement in G.S. 15A-1415(c) that newly discovered evidence “must be unknown or unavailable to the defendant at the time of trial in order to justify relief.” To the contrary, the defendant’s trial attorney had indications that McCormick may have had information about the crime but failed to use a subpoena or material witness order to secure his testimony for trial. Furthermore, despite McCormick’s known presence at the defendant’s trial, the defendant’s attorney never alerted the trial court, asked for a continuance or recess, or otherwise took steps to get information from him. As such, the evidence was not unknown or unavailable at the time of trial. The Court also concluded that McCormick’s testimony was not “competent, material, and relevant” as to the statements made by Robert Shaw about the purported true killers because that testimony was inadmissible hearsay. The Court held that the trial court abused its discretion by concluding that the evidence was admissible under the residual exception in Rule 803(24), as there was no indication in the record that the defendant satisfied the requirement to give the State notice of its intent to offer evidence pursuant to the rule. (2) As to the State’s second argument, the Court agreed that the trial court erred in concluding as an independent ground for decision that the defendant’s due process rights would be violated if he were not allowed to present McCormick’s testimony at a new trial. The Court concluded that the Beaver factors set out the test for determining whether the defendant is entitled to a new trial, and the defendant did not satisfy them. A concurring judge noted that the Court’s holding did not bar the defendant from seeking post-conviction relief through a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel.