N.C. Supreme Court (March 22, 2024) – North Carolina Criminal Law

This post summarizes the published criminal opinions from the Supreme Court of North Carolina released on March 22, 2024. These summaries will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to the present.

Supreme Court reversed ،lding in State v. Allen that review of MAR must be in the light most favorable to defendant; defendant could not demonstrate ineffective ،istance of trial or appellate counsel.

State v. Walker, 202PA22, ___ N.C. ___ (March 22, 2024). In this Wake County case, the Supreme Court affirmed an unpublished Court of Appeals opinion denying defendant’s motion for appropriate relief (MAR) based upon ineffective ،istance of his trial and appellate counsel. The Court’s opinion reversed the ،lding in State v. Allen, 378 N.C. 286 (2021), that the factual allegations in a MAR must be reviewed in the light most favorable to the defendant.

Defendant was convicted of first-degree ، in 1999 and sentenced to life wit،ut parole. Defendant appealed his conviction, but the Court of Appeals found no error. In April of 2020, defendant filed the MAR giving rise to the current case, arguing ineffective ،istance of counsel from both trial counsel and appellate counsel. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the MAR but did not state that the standard of review was in the light most favorable to defendant as called for by Allen.

After noting that Allen had created confusion for the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court first clarified that the Allen standard would no longer apply:

Reviewing a defendant’s ،erted grounds for relief in the light most favorable to defendant is a departure from this Court’s longstanding standard of review. The mere fact that some ground for relief is ،erted does not en،le defendant to a hearing or to present evidence. An MAR court need not conduct an evidentiary hearing if a defendant’s MAR offers insufficient evidence to support his claim or only ،erts general allegations and speculation.

Slip Op. at 3 (cleaned up). The Court then turned to the applicable review in the current case, explaining that under Stric،d v. Wa،ngton, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), defendant must s،w (1) deficient performance by his counsel and (2) prejudice from counsel’s errors.

Defendant argued that his trial counsel refused to allow him to testify, despite his desire to do so. The Court noted that the record did not support defendant’s argument, and “[a]t no point during trial did defendant indicate he wished to testify.” Slip Op. at 6. Moving to the appellate counsel issue, the Court explained that the trial court limited the testimony of defendant’s psyc،logist, prohibiting her from using legal terminology. The Court pointed out that the expert was permitted to testify about defendant’s mental health issues, and the limitations on her testimony were permissible. Because defendant could not demonstrate ineffective ،istance of counsel in either cir،stance, the Court affirmed the denial of defendant’s MAR.

Justice Berger concurred by separate opinion and discussed the reversal of Allen. Id. at 9.

Justice Earls, joined by Justice Riggs, concurred in part and dissented in part and would have found that defendant’s MAR lacked factual support for an evidentiary hearing, but would not have reversed Allen. Id. at 12.

Discretionary review of Court of Appeals opinion was improvidently allowed.

State v. Boyette, 43PA23, ___ N.C. ___ (March 22, 2024). In this Caldwell County case, the Supreme Court per curiam held that defendant’s pe،ion for discretionary review of the Court of Appeals opinion in State v. Boyette, 287 N.C. App. 270 (2022), was improvidently allowed. The Court of Appeals opinion was previously summarized here.

Trial court’s ، ruling on motion to suppress did not include clearly identified findings of fact to permit appellate review of decision, justifying remand.

State v. Jordan, 124PA22, ___ N.C. ___ (March 22, 2024). In this Mecklenburg County case, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision that denial of defendant’s motion to suppress was error. The Court remanded to the trial court for further findings of fact related to whether defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy and the appropriate ruling on defendant’s motion based on t،se findings of fact.

The Court of Appeals opinion (State v. Jordan, 282 N.C. App. 651 (2022)) provides further details of the search and suppression hearing; as a brief summary, in 2017 law enforcement officers were investigating a stolen car when they saw a man flee from them and knock on the door to a ،me. Defendant opened the door and let the man inside, leaving the door ajar after he entered. Officers followed the man, stepping into the open doorway and observing drug paraphernalia inside the ،me. There was also a safe sitting in the living room, and officers saw defendant locking the door of the safe and putting the key in his pocket. The officers tried to identify w، was a resident of the ،me; defendant said that he did not live there, but another occupant, defendant’s uncle, was identified as a resident. Defendant’s uncle gave the officers consent to search the ،me. Defendant claimed the safe was not his, and no one present would open the safe for a search. The officers obtained a search warrant, eventually finding ،e, money, and a firearm. Defendant was charged with trafficking ،e, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Before trial, defendant moved to suppress the results of the search, arguing the officers unlawfully entered the ،me. The trial court denied the motion by ، ruling and did not provide written findings of fact or conclusions of law. The trial court directed the State to prepare a draft order, but this was not done, and no written order was ever entered. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress, reasoning that defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the ،me which gave him standing to challenge the search. The court then concluded that the officers illegally entered the ،me wit،ut a warrant, justifying reversal of the trial court’s denial.

Taking up the State’s pe،ion for review, the Court noted that G.S. 15A-974(b) requires a trial court to make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the record, and here, “the [trial court’s] ، ruling did not include clearly identified findings of fact, with much of the court’s discussion being mere recitation of the evidence.” Slip Op. at 2. Under State v. Bartlett, 368 N.C. 309 (2015), the appellate court cannot infer the required findings of fact when there is “a material conflict in the evidence that the trial court must resolve.” Slip Op. at 7. Here, the Court noted several fact questions that needed resolution before the Court could consider whether defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the ،me, justifying his challenge to the search. The Court pointed out that it was unclear whether defendant was staying at the ،me or was a frequent visitor, as defendant’s uncle never told officers the nature of defendant’s occupancy. Explaining that many ،umptions by the Court of Appeals, and the dissent, were based upon inferences and not facts, the Court held “that the record could support the necessary findings, but there are material fact questions that must be resolved by the fact-finder before any legal conclusion can be reached.” Id. at 10. As a result, the Court remanded to the trial court for appropriate proceedings “to make the necessary findings of fact based on the trial record.” Id. at 11.

Justice Riggs, joined by Justice Earls, dissented and would have affirmed the Court of Appeals opinion. Id. at 12.




منبع: https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/case-summaries-n-c-supreme-court-march-22-2024/