State v. Steele, 2022-NCCOA-686, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Oct. 18, 2022)

In this Forsyth County case, defendant appealed his convictions for intimidating or interfering with witnesses and obtaining habitual felon status, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting a recording of his phone call. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no error.

Defendant was indicted for calling a witness while he was being held at the Forsyth County Detention Center and attempting to convince her not to testify, even though she had been subpoenaed. The State offered a disc containing a recording made by the detention center’s PayTel system of a call from defendant to the witness, and authenticated the disc through the testimony of a sergeant familiar with the operation of the system who created the disc. The system automatically recorded calls and matched them with a number assigned to each detainee. The State then offered the testimony of two other officers who were familiar with the voice of defendant to support that it was his voice on the recording.

Reviewing defendant’s argument, the court noted that the exhibit was admitted after being authenticated by the sergeant familiar with its creation. Defendant argued that the State had offered insufficient testimony to identify his voice. This was a confused argument, the court explained, as the recording was admitted, along with PayTel spreadsheet information regarding defendant’s ID number, before the testimony of the officer in question. Because the recording was admitted by the trial court before the testimony attempting to identify defendant’s voice, defendant’s basis for challenging the admission of the recording was irrelevant and had no bearing on the propriety of the trial court’s decision to admit the exhibit. Slip Op. at 10. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion admitting the recording, and committed no error.

Judge Tyson concurred in the result by separate opinion, noting defendant did not show “any basis or prejudice to reverse the trial court’s judgment.” Id. at 12.