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State v. Bates

April 03, 1998

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
JOSEPH EARL BATES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frye, Justice.

On writ of certiorari pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-32(b) to review an order entered 13 June 1997 by Morgan (Melzer A., Jr.), J., in Superior Court, Yadkin County, granting defendant's motion for discovery under N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f). Heard in the Supreme Court 16 December 1997.

On 21 June 1996, the General Assembly ratified "An Act to Expedite the Post-conviction Process in North Carolina." Ch. 719, 1995 N.C. Sess. Laws 389, 397. Among other things, the Act amended N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415 to add this new subsection:

(f) In the case of a defendant who has been convicted of a capital offense and sentenced to death, the defendant's prior trial or appellate counsel shall make available to the capital defendant's counsel their complete files relating to the case of the defendant. The State, to the extent allowed by law, shall make available to the capital defendant's counsel the complete files of all law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant. If the State has a reasonable belief that allowing inspection of any portion of the files by counsel for the capital defendant would not be in the interest of Justice, the State may submit for inspection by the court those portions of the files so identified. If upon examination of the files, the court finds that the files could not assist the capital defendant in investigating, preparing, or presenting a motion for appropriate relief, the court in its discretion may allow the State to withhold that portion of the files.

N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f) (1997).

The sole question presented here is the extent of disclosure of prosecution and law enforcement investigative files mandated by N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f). We emphasize at the outset that N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f) applies only to the post-conviction process and only to defendants who have been convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death.

Defendant, Joseph Earl Bates, was indicted on 29 October 1990 for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Edwin Jenkins. He was tried capitally in February 1991, found guilty on one count of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree kidnapping, and sentenced to death for the murder conviction. On appeal, this Court found error and ordered a new trial. State v. Bates, 333 N.C. 523, 428 S.E.2d 693, cert. denied, 510 U.S. 984, 126 L. Ed. 2d 438 (1993). Defendant was retried capitally in October 1994 and was found guilty on one count of first-degree kidnapping and one count of first-degree murder on the basis of premeditation and deliberation and under the felony murder rule. The jury again recommended, and the trial court imposed, a sentence of death. On appeal, this Court found no error. State v. Bates, 343 N.C. 564, 473 S.E.2d 269 (1996), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 136 L. Ed. 2d 873 (1997). For the purpose of reviewing the issue presented here, it is unnecessary to further recite the circumstances of the crimes or the evidence presented at defendant's two trials.

On 10 April 1997, Judge Melzer A. Morgan appointed defendant's present counsel to represent defendant in post-conviction proceedings. On 1 May 1997, defendant's counsel filed a motion for discovery of all investigative and prosecution files pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f); Article I, Sections 19 and 23 of the North Carolina Constitution; and the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The State filed a response in opposition to this motion, arguing that the qualifying language in N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f), "to the extent allowed by law," manifested a legislative intent to require disclosure, upon request, only of evidence favorable to a defendant and did not require the disclosure of all investigative files. The State also argued that this language shielded from discovery the work product of the attorney for the State and his agents.

Following a hearing on defendant's motion and arguments by the parties, Judge Morgan entered an order on 13 June 1997 that contained the following findings of fact and Conclusions of law:

1) That the North Carolina General Assembly recently enacted revisions to the post conviction review process in this state, part of which revision included the addition of paragraph (f) to N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415. The provisions of subsection (f) became effective June 21, 1996, and apply to this case.

2) N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f) provides for broader discovery for a capital defendant's counsel in the post conviction review process than previously existed, specifically including the discovery of the complete files of all law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant.

3) That if the State has a reasonable belief that allowing inspection of any portion of the State's files by counsel for the capital defendant would not be in the interest of Justice the State may submit for inspection by the court those portions of the files so identified for the court's review, pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-1415(f).

4) The defendant is entitled to have made available to his present counsel the complete files of all law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant, including but not limited to any files in possession of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Department, the Yadkin County Sheriff's Department, the Iredell County Sheriff's Department, the State Bureau of Investigation, and any other law enforcement or investigative agencies involved in the investigation into the death and alleged kidnapping of Charles Jenkins, irrespective of the prosecutorial district involved, including the District Attorney's files regarding the prosecutions of Joseph Earl Bates' co-defendants Hal "Tink" Eddleman (who was prosecuted by the District Attorney for the 23rd Prosecutorial District for his involvement in the events which led to the conviction of Joseph Earl Bates in the present matter) and Gary Shavers, who was prosecuted in Iredell County.

The order decreed that a full and complete copy of the above- referenced files would be made available at the office of the Yadkin County Clerk of Superior Court for inspection by defendant's counsel, subject to in camera review of those portions of the files for which the State reasonably believes that inspection by defendant would not be in the interest of Justice.

The State petitioned for a writ of certiorari on 18 June 1997 for review of the discovery order entered by Judge Morgan. This Court allowed ...


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