Not-Quite-Defective Indictments

Ordinarily, a pleading that fails to accurately allege every element of the offense is defective and is treated as a jurisdictional nullity. See, e.g., G.S. 15A-924(a)(5) (“as a prerequisite to its validity, an indictment must allege every essential element of the criminal offense it purports to charge”); State v. Harris, 219 N.C. App. 590 (2012) (indictment is invalid and confers no jurisdiction on the trial court if it “fails to state some essential and necessary element of the offense”).

The limited exception to this rule is the somewhat relaxed pleading standard for a citation, which may still be sufficient even if it fails to state every element, as long as it reasonably identifies the crime charged. Shea Denning and Jeff Welty covered that issue in a series of posts available here, here, and here.

Several recent cases from the Court of Appeals have offered a good reminder about another important corollary to the general rule for pleadings:  although an indictment must “allege every element” in order to be valid, the state has quite a bit of flexibility in how that standard can be met.

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