State v. Smith, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Dec. 17, 2019)

The defendant was charged with solicitation to commit first-degree murder after he asked someone he met through a mutual acquaintance (“Edwards”) to murder his wife for money. After repeated requests from the defendant over the next few days, Edwards contacted law enforcement and assisted their investigation by wearing recording equipment at a subsequent meeting with the defendant to discuss details of the murder. The defendant was indicted for solicitation to commit first-degree murder, and after being convicted at a jury trial he was sentenced for a Class C offense. On appeal, the defendant argued that he was sentenced incorrectly because the jury was only instructed on solicitation to commit “murder.” The jury was not asked to make any special findings regarding the level of malice it found regarding the crime solicited. Therefore, the defendant argued that he should have been convicted of soliciting only the lowest possible level of any form that offense (second-degree murder punished as Class B2 offense). Pursuant to G.S. 14-2.6(a), a solicitation to commit a B2 offense would be punished as a Class D felony, rather than as Class C felony for soliciting a Class A or B1 offense. The appellate court disagreed, noting that “Defendant creatively sidesteps the fact that he was not charged with murder, but with solicitation to commit murder. The jury was not required to find any of the elements of murder. As previously explained, one may be guilty of solicitation regardless of whether the solicited crime—murder, in this case—actually occurs. […] The crime was in the asking.” Rather than alleging a sentencing error, the defendant’s appeal was really an argument against the sufficiency of the jury instructions. However, since the defendant did not object and raise that issue at trial, nor did he allege plain error on appeal, the issue was not properly before the court. “In that Defendant’s entire appeal was predicated on an unpreserved issue and he failed to request plain error review, his conviction and subsequent sentence shall remain undisturbed.”