State v. Rollinson, 2022-NCSC-139, ___ N.C. ___ (Dec. 16, 2022)

In this Iredell County case, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision finding that the trial court complied with G.S. 15A-1201(d)(1) when consenting to defendant’s waiver of the right to a jury trial for habitual felon status.

After the 2014 amendment to the North Carolina constitution permitting defendants to waive their right to a jury trial in non-death penalty cases with the consent of the trial court, the General Assembly enacted G.S. 15A-1201(d), outlining the process for judicial consent to a defendant’s jury trial waiver. Defendant argued that trial court erred by permitting his counsel to respond on his behalf to the trial court’s inquiry as to whether he understood the consequences of waiving his right to a jury trial.

The Supreme Court considered the interpretation of G.S. 15A-1201(d) de novo, and noted that while the statute mandates who to address (defendant) and what must be determined (whether defendant understands the consequences of waiving a jury trial), the statute does not specify the procedure the trial court must follow. Because the statute is silent, the appropriate procedure is left to the discretion of the trial court. Here, the trial court asked defendant if he wished to waive the right to jury trial on the habitual felon issue; after asking the court for time and consulting with defendant, defense counsel responded that defendant wished to do so. After this exchange with the trial court, defendant signed a form confirming he understood the consequences and waived his right to a jury trial. The court found that these steps did not represent an abuse of the trial court’s discretion under the statute.

Justice Ervin, joined by Justices Hudson and Earls, dissented and would have granted a new trial for defendant’s habitual felon status. Slip Op. at 12.