State v. Stubbs, 232 N.C. App. 274 (Feb. 4, 2014)

aff'd on other grounds, 368 N.C. 40 (Apr. 10, 2015)

The court held that the trial court erred by concluding that the defendant’s sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole violated of the Eighth Amendment. In 1973, the 17-year-old defendant was charged with first-degree burglary and other offenses. After he turned 18, he defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and another charge. On the second-degree burglary conviction, he was sentenced to an active term for “his natural life.” In 2011 the defendant filed a MAR challenging his life sentence, asserting, among other things, a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The trial court granted relief and the State appealed. The court began by noting that the defendant had properly asserted a claim in his MAR under G.S. 15A-1415(b)(8) (sentence invalid as a matter of law) and (b)(4) (unconstitutional sentence). On the substance of the Eighth Amendment claim, the court noted that under the statutes in effect at that time, prisoners with life sentences were eligible to have their cases considered for parole after serving 10 years. Although the record was not clear how often the defendant was considered for parole, it was clear that in 2008, after serving over 35 years, he was paroled. After he was convicted in 2010 of driving while impaired, his parole was revoked and his life sentence reinstated. Against this background, the court concluded that the “defendant’s outstanding sentence of life in prison with possibility of parole for second-degree burglary, though severe, is not cruel or unusual in the constitutional sense.” The dissenting judge believed that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the State’s appeal.