It has become clear to me in my work with judges and lawyers around the state that use of prayer for judgment continued—a practice virtually unique to North Carolina, at least by that name—varies. The long-running James Johnson case in Wilson concluded last week with a PJC (story here), prompting me to make the first of what will probably be many posts on the subject. I thought I’d start with something we know for sure: how PJCs count for prior record level purposes.
Our appellate courts made clear in State v. Hatcher, 136 N.C. App. 524 (2000), and a number of other cases that a PJC counts for prior record points. That conclusion stems from G.S. 15A-1331(b), which reads “[f]or the purpose of imposing sentence, a person has been convicted when he has been adjudged guilty or has entered a plea of no contest.” It’s the adjudication of guilt, not the entry of judgment that matters.
I have heard the argument that PJCs for misdemeanors shouldn’t count for prior record level points because, under G.S. 15A-1340.11(7)(a), a conviction of a crime in the district court is a “prior conviction” only when the person has not given notice of appeal and the time for appeal has expired. (Unlike superior court convictions, which are deemed final regardless of pending appeal to the appellate division.) Because no judgment is entered when a misdemeanor conviction is followed by a PJC, no appeal is possible. Because no appeal is yet possible, the argument continues, the time for appeal has not technically expired, and the conviction is therefore not a prior conviction. It’s not a frivolous argument, but in State v. Canellas, 164 N.C. App. 775 (2004), the court applied the same analysis it used in Hatcher to conclude that a defendant’s PJC for assault on a female should count for prior record purposes.
The rule seems clear enough, but if there are nuances to it in practice that aren’t clear from the cases, I’d love to hear about them.