State v. Robinson, 2022-NCSC-138, ___ N.C. ___ (Dec. 16, 2022)

In this Guilford County case, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals majority that found no abuse of discretion by the trial court when declining to adjust defendant’s sentence downward for defendant’s substantial assistance to law enforcement.

Defendant was first arrested in 2016 after a search of his home, leading to charges of trafficking a controlled substance and possession of a firearm by a felon. In 2018, after defendant was released but before the charges reached trial, defendant was arrested and indicted with a second trafficking charge. Defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to two trafficking a controlled substance charges and a firearm possession charge. During sentencing, defense counsel argued that defendant had provided substantial assistance to law enforcement and deserved a downward deviation in the required minimum sentences. The trial court acknowledged that defendant had provided substantial assistance but declined to lower the sentences, instead choosing to consolidate the three offenses to one sentence of 90 to 120 months.

The Supreme Court agreed with the opinion of the Court of Appeals majority that the actions of the trial court did not represent abuse of discretion, explaining that G.S. 90-95(h)(5) granted complete discretion to the trial court. The court noted two decision points, (1) whether the defendant provided substantial assistance, and (2) whether this assistance justified a downward adjustment in the mandatory minimum sentencing. Further, the court noted that this assistance could come from any case, not just the case for which the defendant was being charged; this was the basis of the dissent in the Court of Appeals opinion, but the Supreme Court did not find any evidence that the trial court misinterpreted this discretion. Slip Op. at 15. Instead, the court found that the trial court appropriately exercised the discretion granted by the statute, as well as G.S. 15A-1340.15(b), to consolidate defendant’s offenses.

Justice Earls dissented and would have remanded for resentencing. Id. at 20.