State v. Spinks, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-218 (May. 18, 2021)

In this Guilford County case, the defendant was convicted by a jury of indecent liberties with a child in May 2019 for a 2011 incident involving his daughter’s 6-year-old friend. He was sentenced to 28-43 months in prison and ordered to enroll in satellite-based monitoring for life. (1) The defendant argued on appeal that his right to a speedy trial was violated by the seven-year delay between his arrest and trial. Applying the four-factor test from Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) (the length of delay; the reason for the delay; the defendant’s assertion of his right; and prejudice to the defendant), the Court of Appeals concluded that there was no speedy trial violation. The seven-year delay undoubtedly triggered the need to continue the Barker inquiry. As to the second factor, however, the record showed that the vast majority of the delay was attributable to the defendant’s motions to remove counsel—he had four lawyers before eventually proceeding pro se—or to a good faith delay on the part of the State resulting from the serious illness of the lead investigator. As to the third factor, the defendant did repeatedly, albeit improperly, assert his right to a speedy trial, but that alone, the Court of Appeals said, did not entitle him to relief. As to the fourth factor, the defendant asserted two ways he was prejudiced by the delay in his trial: that he hadn’t seen his daughter since his arrest, and that it was difficult to contact witnesses. The Court rejected the defendant’s assertion regarding his daughter, because the defendant was also incarcerated on other charges during the pendency of the charges at issue in this case, and he would therefore have been unable to see his daughter regardless. The Court likewise rejected the defendant’s assertion regarding witness availability, concluding that the defendant had merely asserted that the witnesses were “hard to get up with,” but not shown that they were actually unavailable. Weighing all the factors, the Court found no speedy trial violation.

(2) The defendant also argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a mistrial based on a juror’s contact with his mother during jury deliberations. The Court rejected that argument, concluding that the trial court properly determined through a thorough examination of the juror that the juror had not been improperly influenced by his conversation with his mother.

(3) Finally, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in imposing lifetime SBM because the State failed to establish that SBM was a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals declined to invoke Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure to consider the merits of the argument, which was not raised in the trial court. As to the defendant’s alternative argument that his lawyer provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to SBM in the trial court, the Court of Appeals concluded that a constitutional claim of ineffective assistance was unavailable under earlier precedent, but a statutory claim was available under G.S. 7A-451(a)(18), because the statutory right to counsel includes the right to effective counsel. Applying the requisite analytical framework, the Court held that the defendant’s lawyer’s performance was deficient, and that the deficiency prejudiced the defendant. The Court therefore reversed the SBM order and remanded the matter for a hearing on the reasonableness of SBM.