Earlier this month, the state supreme court rejected a defendant’s challenge to his conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon pursuant to an indictment that failed to comport with a statutory pleading requirement. That case, State v. Newborn, 330PA21, ___ N.C. ___ (June 16, 2023), is the latest in a decade of rulings determining that technical pleading defects do not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction. This post will review Newborn and consider its place among jurisprudence departing from the traditional view that a defective pleading fails to vest jurisdiction.
Author’s Note: The opinion discussed below was reversed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Newborn, 330PA21, ___ N.C. ___ (June 16, 2023). The North Carolina Supreme Court’s opinion is discussed here.
The first sentence of State v. Newborn, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-426 (Aug. 17, 2021) sums up the issue: “When the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon is brought in an indictment containing other related offenses, the indictment for that charge is rendered fatally defective and invalid, thereby depriving a trial court of jurisdiction over it.”
Even after I read it that straightforward statement, I questioned my understanding. This rule struck me as inconsistent with recent caselaw holding that the violation of statutory pleading rules for prior convictions does not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction. See State v. Brice, 370 N.C. 244 (2017). But (ipso facto) that is the rule for felon in possession indictments, which prosecutors ignore at the case’s peril.