This post summarizes the published criminal opinion from the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on July 5, 2022. This summary will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to the present.
(1) Trial court did not err in failing to require jury to be unanimous about which act constituted indecent liberties with a child; (2) Mistake of age is not a defense to indecent liberties with a child; thus, trial court did not err in failing to give such an instruction.
State v. Langley, 2022-NCCOA-457, ___ N.C. App. ___ (July 5, 2022). In this Pitt County case, defendant appealed his conviction for taking indecent liberties with a child.
Evidence at trial established that the 27-year-old defendant picked up the 15-year-old victim from her home in the evening, drove her to various locations, had her perform oral sex on him, digitally penetrated her, and touched her breasts. The victim did not remember all of the events that evening; after she awoke the next morning, the defendant dropped her off at the Department of Social Services. A subsequent sexual assault examination revealed the presence of the defendant’s DNA on a vaginal swab from the victim and the presence of sperm on the vaginal swab sample. The jury found defendant not guilty of kidnapping and statutory rape and statutory sex offense charges, but found the defendant guilty of taking indecent liberties with a child under N.C.G.S § 14-202.1.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by not requiring the jury to be unanimous as to what act constituted indecent liberties with a child. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument, citing State v. Hartness, 326 N.C. 561 (1990), for the proposition that “‘the crime of indecent liberties is a single offense which may be proved by evidence of the commission of any one of a number of acts.’” Slip op. at ¶ 16. The Court explained that even if each member of the jury considered a different act in concluding that the defendant committed the offense of taking indecent liberties with a child, the jury could still unanimously find that he committed the offense, thus satisfying the constitutional and statutory requirement for a unanimous jury verdict.
The defendant further argued that the trial court should have instructed the jury that mistake of age is a defense. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument, citing precedent that mistake of age is not a valid defense to taking indecent liberties with a child.