Monday, June 21, 2010

NC Supreme Court Update (June 17, 2010)

State v. Tanner. The Court of Appeals giveth and the Supreme Court taketh away.

The Court of Appeals ruled that, since the jury acquitted the defendant of larceny, he could not be convicted of possession of stolen goods on the grounds that he knew or should have known the goods were stolen.

The Court distinguished State v. Perry, which held that the jury could not convict of felony larceny while acquitting on breaking and entering, where the basis for felony larceny was a larceny committed pursuant to a b&e. (Defendant must commit the b&e to be guilty of felony larceny pursuant to a b&e)

Here, the larceny is not a requirement of proving felony possession of stolen goods. Rather, the defendant must have knowledge or reason to believe the goods were stolen during a breaking and entering. (Defendant doesn't have to commit the b&e to be guilty of felony possessing stolen goods from a b&e).

State v. Michael Ward. No error in judge's decision not to bifurcate capital sentencing procedure to include both a mental retardation hearing and then a more general life/death sentencing.

During capital sentencing, a jury cannot sentence a mentally retarded person to death. Under 15A-2000, "upon the introduction of evidence of the defendant’s mental retardation during the sentencing hearing, the court shall submit a special issue to the jury as to whether the defendant is mentally retarded as defined in this section. This special issue shall be considered and answered by the jury prior to the consideration of aggravating or mitigating factors and the determination of sentence. If the jury determines the defendant to be mentally retarded, the court shall declare the case noncapital and the defendant shall be sentenced to life imprisonment."

The question before the court is whether this statute allows/requires bifurcation of the sentencing hearing-- with first a mental retardation phase, then a general sentencing phase. The court ruled that the statute was ambiguous and it was within the trial court's discretion to decide whether or not to bifurcate. No error here in trial court's decision not to bifurcate.

Justice Brady, joined by Justices Martin and Newby, concurred in the result, but said that trial courts shouldn't be allowed to bifurcate.

State v. Jimmy Ward. Affirming the COA decision that an expert's identification of controlled substances by visual identification alone was unreliabe. See COA opinion post here.

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