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State v. Hatfield

January 06, 1998

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
JOSHUA ORTEL HATFIELD



Appeal by defendant from judgment and commitment entered 24 June 1996 by the Honorable Claude S. Sitton in Graham County Superior Court.

Wynn, Judge. Judges Eagles and Martin, Mark D. concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wynn

WYNN, Judge.

Joshua Ortel Hatfield was convicted on 24 June 1996 for three counts of first-degree sexual offense and one count of taking indecent liberties with his minor stepdaughter.

At Hatfield's trial, the minor female testified for the State about several incidents in 1992, when she was nine years old, during which Hatfield fondled and penetrated her. Also testifying for the State was social worker Buddy Morris, who stated that the minor female talked to him and revealed that Hatfield had abused her. She initially told him that the abuse began in 1994, but later said that it started in 1992.

Richard Phillips, a friend of the stepdaughter, testified that in 1995 he saw her crying and when he asked what was wrong she told him that Hatfield had put his penis in her mouth three years earlier. Detective Rocky Sampson testified that he interviewed the stepdaughter in 1995, but was unable to ascertain exact dates of the alleged incidents.

I.

Hatfield first argues that the trial court committed reversible error by not allowing him to ask prospective jurors if they thought that children were more likely to tell the truth when they made allegations of sexual abuse.

In State v. Phillips, our Supreme Court summarized the rules guiding questioning of prospective jurors during voir dire :

Counsel should not fish for answers to legal questions before the Judge has instructed the juror on applicable legal principles by which the juror should be guided. Counsel should not argue the case in any way while questioning the jurors. Counsel should not engage in efforts to indoctrinate, visit with or establish 'rapport' with jurors. Jurors should not be asked what kind of verdict they would render under certain named circumstances.

300 N.C. 678, 682, 268 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1980).

In State v. Clark, 319 N.C. 215, 353 S.E.2d 205 (1987), the prosecutor pointed out during voir dire that the State's case was circumstantial and asked the potential jurors: "Does the fact that there are no eyewitnesses cause you any problems?" Id. at 220, 353 S.E.2d at 207. The defendant raised several objections to this question, but our Supreme Court found no error. Id. at 220-22, 353 S.E.2d at 207-08. The Court recited the language quoted (supra) from Phillips, and then stated:

We hold that the question by the prosecuting attorney does not violate any of the rules enunciated in Phillips. It does not fish for answers to legal questions before the Judge has instructed the jury. It merely informs the jurors that the State will rely on circumstantial evidence and asks them whether a lack of eyewitnesses could cause them problems. The prosecuting attorney was not arguing with the jury or attempting to establish 'rapport' with them. The question was certainly not designed to ask what kind of verdict the jury would render under certain named circumstances. The question is not, as contended by the defendant, improperly argumentative. It does not incorporate within the question assumed facts. The question is not ...


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