State v. Wilson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-340 (May. 17, 2022)

The defendant arranged a meeting with the victim through an app for the purchase of a phone. The victim left his home to go get the phone and was later found shot and killed. Communications found on the app led police officers to the defendant, who was 15 years old at the time.

Officers contacted the defendant’s mother and arranged to meet with the defendant as a witness in a larceny case. The officers met with and questioned the defendant in the presence of his parents. During the questioning, the defendant told the officers about the meeting that had been arranged for the purchase of the phone, and eventually disclosed that one of his companions wanted to rob the victim. Although the defendant carried a gun at the time of the incident, the defendant insisted that his own plan was not to rob the victim but rather sell him the phone.

The defendant was found guilty of attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree murder. The defendant was found not guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery with a firearm.

(1) On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s challenge for cause to dismiss a juror. The Court of Appeals held that the defendant failed to preserve the issue for appeal because he did not adhere to the procedures established by G.S. 15A-1214(i). Specifically, the defendant did not (1) previously peremptorily challenge the juror; or (2) state in his motion to renew his challenge for cause that he would have challenged that juror peremptorily had his challenges not been exhausted.

(2) The defendant’s next argument on appeal was that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress his confession. The defendant contended that detectives gained access to him, a fifteen-year-old boy, by deceiving his mother, repeatedly told the defendant that he was lying, and capitalized on the presence of his parents to extract the confessions from him. Based on the trial court’s findings of fact, the Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant was in a non-custodial setting in his grandmother’s home with his parents, was informed the discussion was voluntary, was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained, and was not coerced, deceived, or threatened. The defendant did not challenge any of the trail court’s findings of fact. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s findings of fact fully support its conclusions of law, and based upon the totality of the circumstances, held that the defendant’s statement was voluntary. The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress his non-custodial statement.

(3) The defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on second-degree murder as a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder because there was evidence that supported the instruction. In rejecting this argument, the Court of Appeals noted that there was no evidence that the victim was killed other than in the course of an attempted robbery. The Court concluded that there was no evidence in the record from which a rational juror could find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder and not guilty of felony murder.

(4) The defendant’s final argument was that the trial court erred by failing to order a discretionary transfer hearing as a matter of due process. The defendant argued that the juvenile petition did not contain facts indicating that he committed first-degree murder, so a discretionary transfer hearing should have occurred as required under G.S. 7B-2203. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, noting that the defendant already had a transfer hearing in district court, and the defendant did not appeal the district court’s order to superior court as required by G.S. 7B-2603.

The defendant also contended that the trial court violated his right to due process by allowing the State to prosecute him under felony murder because felony murder is based on deterrence, which is not effective for and should not apply to juveniles. However, the Court of Appeals considered the argument abandoned because the defendant failed to cite any law indicating a juvenile may not be convicted of felony murder.

Chief Judge Stroud dissented in part to say that because there was a conflict in the evidence regarding an element of felony murder, specifically whether or not the defendant planned to rob the victim, the evidence supported an instruction for the lesser included offense of second-degree murder.