Whenever a prior offense “raises an offense of lower grade to one of higher grade and thereby becomes an element” of the current offense (e.g., habitual larceny, habitual misdemeanor assault, habitual DWI, and second or subsequent charges for certain other offenses such as stalking, shoplifting, or carrying a concealed firearm), the state must plead and try the case in compliance with G.S. 15A-928. In short, this statute requires that: (i) an “improvised” name for the alleged offense must be used to avoid referring to any prior convictions; (ii) any prior offenses must be alleged in a separate indictment (or at least as a separate count within the indictment); (iii) the defendant must be separately arraigned on the alleged priors outside the presence of the jury; and (iv) if the defendant admits to the prior convictions, then that element has been proved and the state may not present evidence on it, nor will it be submitted to the jury.
When the state complies with these pleading rules, the result will be two separate indictments (or counts) pending in court, but of course there is really only one criminal offense being charged, and the defendant may only receive one punishment for it. What is the recommended procedure for how the charge(s?) and sentence(s?) should be reflected in the plea transcript or verdict form, and how should the court structure its judgment? This post offers a few thoughts and suggestions. Continue reading