This post summarizes published criminal decisions from the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on May 17, 2022. These summaries will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to present.
The defendant was ineligible for termination from the sex-offender registry because he did not satisfy the requisite period of registration. North Carolina’s ten-year registry requirement under G.S. 14-208.12A(a) does not violate the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.
State v. Fritsche, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (May 17, 2022). In 2000, the defendant pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a child in violation of Colorado’s laws. The defendant served eight years in prison and registered with the Colorado Sex Offender Registry in 2008, as required by Colorado law. In February 2020, the defendant moved from Colorado to Florida and registered with the Florida Sex Offender Registry, as required by Florida law. The defendant moved to North Carolina in October 2020 and filed a petition requesting a judicial determination of his requirement to register in North Carolina as a sex offender. The trial court entered an order in 2021 requiring that the defendant register as a sex offender on the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry, and the defendant did so on the following business day.
The defendant then filed a petition pursuant to G.S. 14- 208.12A for termination of his requirement to register as a sex offender. The trial court denied the defendant’s petition on the ground that the defendant did not satisfy all of the conditions for early termination of his requirement to register as a sex offender, in that he had not been registered as a sex offender for ten years in North Carolina.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his petition to terminate his requirement to register as a sex offender because the Court’s holding in In re Borden, 216 N.C. App. 579 (2011), was incorrectly decided and should be overturned. In Borden, the Court of Appeals interpreted the statutory phrase “ten years from the date of initial county registration” as limiting eligibility for removal from the North Carolina sex-offender registry to offenders who have been registered for at least ten years from their initial date of registration in a North Carolina county, rather than ten years from the offender’s initial date of registration in any jurisdiction. Slip op. at ¶ 12. Here, the Court determined that although the defendant initially registered as a sex offender in Colorado in 2008, he initially registered as a sex offender in North Carolina in 2021. The Court held that because the defendant did not satisfy the statute’s requisite period of registration, he was ineligible for termination from the sex-offender registry.
The defendant argued, in the alternative, that the trial court erred in denying his petition to terminate his requirement to register as a sex offender because the termination statute’s ten-year North Carolina registry requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause. The Court of Appeals determined that an individual’s residency at the time of his initial registration as a sex offender is not inherently suspect, and thus applied a rational basis review to determine whether the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Court concluded that the requirement that a defendant be registered in North Carolina as a sex offender for at least ten years in order to be eligible for early termination of sex offender registration is rationally related to the State’s legitimate interests in maintaining public safety and protection. The Court also concluded that the defendant was treated the same as all other registered sex offenders who initially enrolled in another jurisdiction’s sex-offender registry based upon an out-of-state conviction. The Court thus held that the ten-year North Carolina registry requirement under G.S. 14-208.12A(a) does not violate the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.
(1) The defendant did not properly preserve his challenge of a juror for cause because he did not follow the procedures established by G.S. 15A-1214. (2) The trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the defendant’s non-custodial confession. (3) The trial court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on second-degree murder as a lesser-included offense where there was no evidence to support a conviction of second-degree murder. (4) The defendant was not entitled to another transfer hearing because he failed to appeal the transfer order and preserve the issue under G.S. 7B-2603.
State v. Wilson, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (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. 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.