State v. Williams, 370 N.C. 526, 809 S.E.2d 581 (Mar. 2, 2018)

In this possession of a firearm by a felon case, the court reversed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 801 S.E.2d 169 (2017), for the reasons stated in the dissent. A divided panel of the court of appeals had held that the trial court erred by admitting 404(b) evidence. The current charges were filed after officers found an AK-47 rifle in the back seat of a vehicle and a Highpoint .380 pistol underneath the vehicle, next to the rear tire on the passenger side. At trial, the State offered, and the trial court admitted, evidence of a prior incident in which officers found a Glock 22 pistol in a different vehicle occupied by the defendant. The evidence was admitted to show the defendant’s knowledge and opportunity to commit the crime charged. The defendant offered evidence tending to show that he had no knowledge of the rifle or pistol recovered from the vehicle. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred by admitting the evidence as circumstantial proof of the defendant’s knowledge. It reasoned, in part, that “[a]bsent an immediate character inference, the fact that defendant, one year prior, was found to be in possession of a different firearm, in a different car, at a different location, during a different type of investigation, does not tend to establish that he was aware of the rifle and pistol in this case.” The court of appeals found that the relevance of this evidence was based on an improper character inference. It further held that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence as circumstantial proof of the defendant’s opportunity to commit the crime charged. The court of appeals noted, in part, that the State offered no explanation at trial or on appeal of the connection between the prior incident, opportunity, and possession. The court of appeals went on to hold that the trial court’s error in admitting the evidence for no proper purpose was prejudicial and warranted a new trial. The dissenting judge believed that because the defendant did not properly preserve his objection, the issue should be reviewed under the plain error standard, and that no plain error occurred. 

Error | UNC School of Government

Error

The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.