Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NC Supreme Court Criminal Decisions (2.4.2011)

State v. Freeman. The Supreme Court digged an appeal of a 1st degree murder reversal (COA ordered new trial on defendant's absolute right to make decisions on peremptory challenges). See post on decision below, here.

State v. Long. Per curiam affirmance of denial of MAR, 3-3 (Justice Jackson took no part in consideration of the outcome. Jackson was elected this past November, after argument/etc.). Attorney for Mr. Ronnie Long asserted in the MAR that Mr. Long was innocent of rape and they could prove it. See press, here.

State v. Pinkerton. Per curiam reversal of COA for the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court erred during sentencing in a child rape case, by improperly punishing defendant for exercising his right to trial.

During sentencing, the defendant said, "Yes, sir. I would. I’d like to apologize. I loved you all. I really did. That’s all I have to say."

Then the sentencing judge said, "Now, Mr. Pinkerton, prior to calling the jury in, you had an
opportunity to plead guilty in a plea bargain where the Court offered you the minimum sentence for one crime which would have been about 22 years, and you explained to me that you thought
22 years or 200 years was the same, that it was a life sentence for you. But, if you truly cared - if you had one ounce of care in your heart about that child - you wouldn’t have put that child through this. You would have pled guilty, and you didn’t. That’s your choice."

Then went on to say, "I’m not punishing you for not pleading guilty. I am not going to punish you for not pleading guilty. I would have rewarded you for pleading guilty. Your sentence is not in any way because you didn’t plead guilty. I’m sentencing you to what I think is appropriate."

The Court of Appeals ruled that this was improper punishment during sentencing for the exercise of the defendant's right to trial.

Judge Hunter's dissent, which is now adopted by the Supreme Court, reads:

"I see nothing improper about the trial judge’s acknowledgment that he would have “rewarded” defendant for pleading guilty. Clearly, every plea bargain serves to reward the defendant for admitting his or her guilt and saving the State the time and expense of trial. The reward is, in actuality, offered by the State, not the trial court. In approving the bargain reached between the State and the defendant, the trial court is then, in effect, rewarding the defendant with a sentence that is presumably less than it would have been had the defendant been convicted by a jury. Once the State has proceeded to try the defendant and he is convicted of the crimes charged, the State no longer seeks to reward the defendant. At that point, the trial court has heard all of the evidence presented, which resulted in a conviction by the jury, and is responsible for sentencing defendant for the crimes he committed; in this case, ten counts of sexual crimes against a child. At this stage in the trial process, it would be illogical to expect the trial judge to reward defendant and I see no impropriety in the trial judge making the truthful assertion that defendant would have been rewarded had he agreed to the State’s bargain."

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