State v. Ricks, ___ N.C. ___, 2021-NCSC-116 (Sept. 24, 2021)

In this case involving the trial court’s imposition of lifetime satellite-based monitoring (SBM) following the defendant’s conviction for statutory rape of a child by an adult and other sex offenses, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred by allowing the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari and invoking Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to review the defendant’s unpreserved challenge to the SBM orders.

The defendant was convicted of three counts of statutory rape of a child by an adult, two counts of statutory sex offense with a child, and three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. The trial court held an SBM hearing and determined that all of the defendant’s offenses were sexually violent and involved the physical, mental, or sexual abuse of a minor. The trial court also found that the statutory rape and statutory sex offense convictions were aggravated offenses. For these convictions, the trial court ordered lifetime SBM pursuant to G.S. 14-208.40A(c). The defendant did not object to the imposition of SBM or file a written notice of appeal from the SBM orders; nevertheless, he later petitioned the Court of Appeals for certiorari review. A divided Court of Appeals granted certiorari and invoked Rule 2. It then held that the trial court failed to conduct a reasonableness hearing pursuant to State v. Grady, 372 N.C. 509 (2019), and vacated the SBM orders. 

The State appealed, and the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the Court of Appeals abused its discretion in granting review as the defendant’s petition failed to demonstrate the merit required for certiorari review and the defendant failed to demonstrate manifest injustice sufficient to invoke Rule 2. As to the merits, the Court reasoned that the trial court appropriately followed G.S. 14-208.40A(c) by imposing lifetime SBM because of the defendant’s status as an aggravated offender and that “[a]bsent an objection, the trial court was under no constitutional requirement to inquire into the reasonableness of imposing SBM.” The Court further concluded that the defendant was no different from other defendants who failed to preserve constitutional arguments and that the Court of Appeals therefore should have declined to invoke Rule 2. 

Justice Hudson, joined by Justices Ervin and Earls, dissented. Justice Hudson expressed her view that the Court of Appeals did not abuse its discretion in granting certiorari and invoking Rule 2, reasoning that at the time of the Court of Appeals’ decision the law arguably required that the State present evidence of reasonableness and that the trial court make findings of reasonableness to order lifetime SBM for defendants classified as aggravated offenders.