State v. Singletary, 247 N.C. App. 368 (May. 3, 2016)

In this sexual offense with a child by adult offender case, the State conceded, and the court held, that the trial court violated the defendant’s sixth amendment right to a trial by jury by sentencing him under G.S. 14-27.4A(c) to a term above that normally provided for a Class B1 felony on the trial court’s own determination, and without notice, that egregious aggravation existed. G.S. 14-27.4A(c) provides that a defendant may be sentenced to an active term above that normally provided for a Class B1 felony if the judge finds egregious aggravation. The court held that the statutory sentencing scheme at issue was unconstitutional under the Apprendi/Blakely rule. See Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004) (holding that any factor, other than a prior conviction, that increases punishment beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt). Specifically, the statute fails to require notice that “egregious aggravation” factors may be used, does not require that such aggravation be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and does not provide any mechanism for submitting such factors to a jury. The court rejected the State’s argument that under G.S. 14-27.4A, the trial court may submit egregious aggravation factors to a jury in a special verdict, concluding, in part, that the statute explicitly gives only “the court,” and not the jury, the ability to determine whether the nature of the offense and the harm inflicted require a sentence in excess of what is otherwise permitted by law. Because the defendant did not challenge that portion of the statute setting a 300-month mandatory minimum sentence, the court did not address the constitutionality of that provision. The court remanded for resentencing.