Friday, November 8, 2013

NC Supreme Court Criminal Decisions, Nov. 8. 2013

State v. Cox.-- Reversing the COA grant of relief in a possession of firearm by felon case. Ronald Cox.

Facts: During a stop, police find a gun in a car, with four people in it. Tell them if no one takes the gun charge they'll all be arrested. Defendant says it's his. He is charged with possession of firearm by a felon.

History: Decision Below, State v. Cox

COA reversed on corpus delecti grounds. NCSC remanded in light of State v. Sweat, which said that  defendant's confession alone could prove guilt if "the accused’s confession is supported by substantial independent evidence tending to establish its trustworthiness.” COA ruled that, in light of Sweat the case should still be overturned, as there were no corroborating circumstances to the Defendant's confession other than that he owned a gun.



Supreme Court Reversed. Corpus delecti requires corroborative evidence that a crime was committed-- it need not corroborate that the defendant is the guilty party. Here, the presence of the gun was sufficient corroboration of the confession to allow conviction.

State v. Heien. Per curiam affirmed -- Nicholas Heien.
COA Opinion Post: State v. Heien. Appeal of remaining issues (previously COA found a stop had no reasonable suspicion for a stop, but the NCSC reversed and sent it back on the rest of the issues) in a cocaine case.

First, defendant challenges the search on ground of undue prolongment of detention during traffic stop. Driver was stopped for a brake light violation. While giving a warning ticket, the officer observed the defendant being "nervous" in the back seat. After giving the warning, another officer checked defendant's ID for warrants, questioned about contraband, then asked to search. Permission was given and things were found.

Held: This was not undue prolongment, as defendant would have felt free to leave and the entire stop only lasted 13 minutes (prior to consent).
State v. Huss. Per curiam affirmance (3-3, no precedential value) -- Wayne Huss.
COA Opinion Post: State v. Huss. Appeal of kidnapping, sex offense and rape convictions.

Defendant and victim met at self-defense martial arts classes taught by the defendant. During breakup, sex occurred. Victim reports rape, defendant alleges it was consensual.

Held: Trial court erred in failing to dismiss the charges.  A rape/sex offense can only be found if: (1) force is used; or (2) the victim is "physically helpless"--defined as unconscious or physically unable to resist.

The court instructed on physical helpless theory of rape, but no evidence was presented that the victim was physically helpless: she was never unconscious and is otherwise able-bodied. The mere fact that defendant was trained martial artist and much bigger than the victim does not mean she was "physically helpless."

Reversed.

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