State v. Strudwick, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Oct. 6, 2020)

In this Mecklenburg County case, the defendant pled guilty to various sex offenses and was ordered to enroll in satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) for life, following a contested hearing on that issue. The defendant appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed the order in an unpublished opinion. The State sought review in the North Carolina Supreme Court. That court granted the state’s petition for discretionary review and remanded the matter back to the Court of Appeals in light of State v. Grady, 372 N.C. 509 (2019) (“Grady III”). On remand, the Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion and reversed the trial court’s SBM order.

The defendant was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison for his crimes in this case. While Grady III dealt with recidivists specifically (a category of potential SBM registrants not at issue in this case), the Court of Appeals nonetheless determined that the Grady III analysis was a guidepost. The facts of this case were parallel to those in State v. Gordon, 840 S.E.2d 907 (2020). There, the SBM enrollment and Fourth Amendment search would not take effect until the defendant was released from prison—at least 15 years later. Here, the SBM search would not begin for at least 30 years. As in Gordon, that the defendant will not enroll in SBM for a matter of decades reduced the ability of the State to demonstrate the search is reasonable. Citing Gordon, the court observed that the State “is hampered by a lack of knowledge concerning the unknown future circumstances relevant to that analysis.” Slip op. at 7 (citation omitted). A concurring judge in the original Court of Appeals opinion in Gordon noted that this created “an impossible burden” for the State to meet. The court noted that if the SBM statutes were amended to provide for SBM hearings at the time of a defendant’s release from prison, that burden would be alleviated. “But until we receive further guidance from the Supreme Court or new options for addressing the SBM procedure from the General Assembly, under existing law, we are required to reverse defendant’s SBM order.” Id. at 9.

Judge Tyson dissented. He would have found that Grady III did not require this result and that the majority improperly extended the reach of that case. He would have affirmed the trial court’s SBM order.