Under G.S. 14-208.18, it is a crime for certain sex offenders “to knowingly be at” certain locations, including “[o]n the premises of any place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors.” The court of appeals recently decided State v. Harris, a case concerning an indictment for that offense. The court’s opinion makes some interesting points, so I’ll set out the indictment, and then administer a quiz.
The indictment alleged that the defendant
did unlawfully, willfully and feloniously on the premises of Winget Park Elementary School, located at . . . Charlotte, North Carolina. A place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors and defendant is a registered sex offender.
On appeal, the defendant identified several alleged defects in the indictment. So here’s the quiz: which of the following problems, if any, did the court of appeals view as requiring relief for the defendant?
a. The omission of “go” or “be” from the phrase “did unlawfully, willfully and feloniously on the premises
b. The failure to allege “knowingly,” which is the mens rea term used in G.S. 14-208.18
c. The lack of any antecedent for the phrase “[a] place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors”
d. The failure to specify that the defendant’s reportable conviction was for an offense in Article 7A of Chapter 14
e. None of the above, the court determined that the indictment was sufficient
The answer is after the break.
As to the omission of “go” or “be,” the court of appeals found this “less than optimal” and “ungrammatical,” but determined that the meaning of the indictment was still clear. Therefore, it ruled that the omission did not justify relief.
As to the failure to allege “knowingly,” the court stated that the term “willfully” implies or includes knowingly. So again, no relief.
As far as the court’s opinion reflects, the defendant didn’t raise the fact that a period separates “Winget Park Elementary School” and “[a] place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors.” If the court had examined this issue, perhaps it would have again concluded that the indictment was not grammatically correct and was “less than optimal” but still comprehensible.
However, the court of appeals ruled that the indictment was fatally defective because it alleged merely that the defendant was “a registered sex offender.” The court noted that G.S. 14-208.18 applies only to a subset of sex offenders – those who have been convicted of “[a]ny offense in Article 7A of . . . Chapter ,” or “[a]ny offense where the victim of the offense was under the age of 16 years at the time of the offense.” Because the indictment “does not suffice to allege all of the elements of the criminal offense,” i.e., because it did not contain an allegation about the nature of the defendant’s prior conviction, the court of appeals found that it was fatally defective and failed to confer jurisdiction on the trial court. The defendant’s conviction was vacated, though the court noted that the state is free to re-charge the defendant under a sufficient indictment. For those keeping track of their quiz performance, the correct answer is (d).