State v. Robinson, 368 N.C. 596 (Dec. 18, 2015)

In this capital case, before the supreme court on certiorari from an order of the trial court granting the defendant relief on his Racial Justice Act (RJA) motion for appropriate relief (MAR), the court vacated and remanded to the trial court. The supreme court determined that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the State’s motion to continue, made after receiving the final version of the defendant’s statistical study supporting his MAR approximately one month before the hearing on the motion began. The court reasoned:

The breadth of respondent’s study placed petitioner in the position of defending the peremptory challenges that the State of North Carolina had exercised in capital prosecutions over a twenty-year period. Petitioner had very limited time, however, between the delivery of respondent’s study and the hearing date. Continuing this matter to give petitioner more time would have done no harm to respondent, whose remedy under the Act was a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

It concluded: “Without adequate time to gather evidence and address respondent’s study, petitioner did not have a full and fair opportunity to defend this proceeding.” The court continued:

On remand, the trial court should address petitioner’s constitutional and statutory challenges pertaining to the Act. In any new hearing on the merits, the trial court may, in the interest of justice, consider additional statistical studies presented by the parties. The trial court may also, in its discretion, appoint an expert under N.C. R. Evid. 706 to conduct a quantitative and qualitative study, unless such a study has already been commissioned pursuant to this Court’s Order in State v. Augustine, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (2015) (139PA13), in which case the trial court may consider that study. If the trial court appoints an expert under Rule 706, the Court hereby orders the Administrative Office of the Courts to make funds available for that purpose.