Monday, August 25, 2008

Supreme Court Update (June 12, 2008 Decisions)

June 2008 NC Supreme Court Decisions

State v. Cook, No. 341A07 (June 12, 2008): Background. The prosecution provided notice and expert report to Defendant the Friday before a Monday trial that it would be using expert testimony to establish that Defendant was intoxicated at the time of a crash. The trial court denied the Defendant's timely motion for a continuance. Holding: The denial of a continuance was an abuse of discretion by the trial court, allowing unfair surprise. A written expert report must be provided within a reasonable time before trial under N.C.G.S. § 15A-903(a)(2). Where, as here, the Prosecutor had the report 5 weeks prior to trial, failure to disclose it until the Friday before trial was not "within a reasonable time before trial." Nonetheless, the court found this as a harmless error, as there was significant other evidence to indicate that the Defendant was intoxicated. Opinion available here.

State v. Moore, No. 460A06 (June 12, 2008): Background. The Defendant pleaded guilty to 1st degree murder and was sentenced to death, after waiving his right to counsel and proceeding pro se. The trial court did not question the Defendant to determine if he understood the consequences of this decision, nor discuss the possible detriment to the Defendant. Holding: New trial ordered, as Court did not conduct adequate colloquy or determine that waiver of right to counsel was knowing and voluntary. N.C.G.S. § 15A-1242 requires a "thorough inquiry" as part of the colloquy to accept a waiver of counsel. The court included a model for this colloquy, including questions regarding the Defendant's mental state, understanding of their right to counsel, and the charge, including its maximum and mandatory minimum sentences. Opinion available here.

State v. Gwynn, No. 158PA07 (June 12, 2008): Background. Defendant convicted of felony-murder, for death caused during armed robbery. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, ordering a new trial, because the trial court failed to instruct the jury on second degree murder as a lesser included offense. The trial court found that Defendant obtained marijuana from the decedent and, instead of paying him, shot and killed him. Holding. The trial court did not err, as instructions on second degree murder as a lesser included offense are not necessary in a felony-murder case where: (1) charged as felony-murder only; and (2) the underlying felony is not in conflict and all evidence supports felony-murder. The court found that evidence of the underlying felony was not in doubt and that the decedents voluntary act of giving over the marijuana (under the belief he would be paid, rather than shot), did not tend to negate the force element, required for the underlying felony of robbery. Opinion available here.

Additional Cases of Interest, Short Notes

Standley v. Town of Woodfin, No. 531A07 (June 12, 2008): Upholding town ordinance forbidding sex offenders from using local parks.

State v. Gobal, No. 545A07 (June 12, 2008): Per curiam affirmance (double jeopardy).

State v. Person, No. 2A08 (June 12, 2008): Per curiam reversal, based on dissent below (Jury instruction).

State v. Miles, No. 41A08 (June 12, 2008): Per curiam affirmance (Terry stop).

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