State v. Singletary, COA22-1068, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Sept. 19, 2023)

In this Wilson County case, defendant appealed the revocation of her probation, arguing (1) insufficient evidence to support the finding she committed a new crime on probation and (2) violation of her right to confront the probation officer who filed the violation reports against her. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

Defendant’s probation officer “W” filed two probation violation reports against her from November and December 2021. The reports alleged defendant was committed new crimes while on probation as she was charged with obtaining property by false pretenses and uttering a forged instrument. When the matter came before the trial court in May 2022, probation officer W was replaced by probation officer “H,” who testified regarding the two 2021 reports, as well as a third report from February 2022 that officer H prepared alleging a second uttering a forged instrument offense. Defendant objected to the absence of officer W, as she wished to cross-examine the officer who filed the 2021 reports against her. The trial court noted the objection in the record but otherwise proceeded with the hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing the trial court revoked defendant’s probation and activated her prison sentences.  

For (1), defendant argued “the State needed to call law enforcement witnesses to present evidence about the investigations relating to the crimes, civilian victim witnesses, or [bank] employees” to support the alleged crimes committed by defendant. Slip Op. at 10. The Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining that the violation reports, arrest warrants, and testimony from Officer H supported the conclusion that defendant was the person on security camera footage committing the crimes. The court explained “[a] probation revocation hearing is not a trial, and the State need not present evidence sufficient to convict Defendant nor call as witnesses the investigating officers of the crimes alleged.” Id. at 12. 

Turning to (2), the court noted that the Sixth Amendment did not apply to a probation revocation hearing, and that G.S. 15A-1345(e) was the basis for confrontation rights in the proceeding. Because G.S. 15A-1345(e) controlled, the issue before the court was “whether the trial court committed prejudicial error by not making an explicit finding that good cause existed for not allowing Defendant to confront [officer W].” Id. at 14. The court referenced State v. Terry, 149 N.C. App. 434 (2002), explaining that failure to require an adverse witness to testify is not error if “(1) the adverse witness’s testimony would have been merely extraneous evidence in light of other competent evidence presented through the probation officer’s testimony and (2) defendant failed to request the professor be subpoenaed.” Slip Op. at 14. Here, the court found the testimony of Officer W would have been extraneous in light of the other evidence in the record supporting defendant’s commission of the crimes. Additionally, defendant did not subpoena Officer W. This led the court to conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the hearing to proceed without Officer W. Finally, the court noted that if any error occurred, it was not prejudicial, as sufficient competent evidence before the trial court supported the revocation of defendant’s probation without the testimony from Officer W.