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State v. Wilson-Angeles

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

February 7, 2017


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 January 2017

         Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 9 October 2014 by Judge Tanya T. Wallace in Superior Court, Iredell County No. 11 CRS 058387.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General James M. Stanley, Jr., for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Jon H. Hunt, for Defendant.

          McGEE, Chief Judge.

         Rachel Sheri Wilson-Angeles ("Defendant") appeals from judgment entered after a jury found her guilty of attempted first-degree arson and being intoxicated and disruptive in public.

         I. Background

         Defendant was casually talking to her neighbor, Sharon Houston ("Houston"), outside Houston's apartment in their apartment complex in Mooresville, North Carolina, just before midnight on 20 December 2011. The two had been neighbors for a few years, and were known to occasionally visit and talk with each other in the evenings. That evening, Defendant had been drinking, and "flipped out." Defendant began cursing at Houston and accusing her of being responsible for Defendant's children being taken away from her. After a brief physical altercation, Houston retreated into her apartment and locked the door. About five minutes later, Houston heard a commotion just outside her door. Houston peered through the peephole, and observed Defendant outside with a Mad Dog 20-20 bottle (a brand of fortified wine) in her hand. A rag was protruding from the bottle, effectively making a "Molotov cocktail, " that Defendant lit and threw against Houston's door. Houston testified at trial that she heard a "whoosh" sound as the flame "went up." Houston also heard Defendant "cussing" and "saying she was going to burn me out." Houston called 911.

         As Houston waited for law enforcement to arrive, she went outside her apartment to assess the damage. The fire had gone out on its own, leaving behind black soot, roughly three inches in diameter, on the brick wall near her front door. Houston swept up the pieces of broken glass from the bottle and disposed of them in the trash. When law enforcement arrived at the apartment complex, they immediately observed a woman, later identified as Defendant, yelling obscenities and loudly proclaiming she "was the victim." As law enforcement approached Defendant, she quickly handed a container she was holding to another person, who poured out the liquid. Despite the liquid being poured out, the container had a strong odor of alcohol. Defendant claimed to law enforcement that she was bleeding, and repeatedly attempted to remove her clothing to show the officers her injuries. One of the officers who encountered Defendant, Officer Brian Plyler ("Officer Plyler"), noticed a strong odor of alcohol emanating from Defendant's mouth, and observed that she appeared "extremely intoxicated." Defendant was, according to Officer Plyler, screaming at a large group of people who had assembled to witness the spectacle, and it seemed to him that Defendant was attempting to "incite more violence." Based on these observations, Officer Plyler placed Defendant under arrest for being intoxicated and disruptive in public. During the ride to the police station, and while at the station, Defendant exhibited other signs of being intoxicated, including inexplicably singing hymns, repeatedly claiming to be the victim, and later passing out at the police station.

         Subsequent to Defendant's arrest, Officer Plyler's superior, Captain Joseph Cooke ("Captain Cooke"), talked with Houston. Houston described the physical altercation between herself and Defendant, and told Captain Cooke about Defendant's attempt to start a fire at her front door. Captain Cooke explained at trial what he observed at Houston's front door:

I saw broken glass from what looked like a bottle had been shattered on the door. There was liquid on the door. There was also carbon mark or a charring -- not really charring, but a mark about three inches in diameter on the concrete in front of her door that I had could see that something had just been recently burned. Basically it looked like, you know, bottle was thrown on the bottom of her door, shattered, and liquid was all over the place, and something had been tried to set on fire.[1]

         Based on his observations and conversation with Houston, Captain Cooke instructed the other officers to also charge Defendant with attempted first-degree arson.

         Defendant's trial began on 7 October 2014. During the course of the trial, the State sought to introduce the testimony of three witnesses - Jason Workman, Chris Jorgenson, and Gary Styers ("the 404(b) witnesses") - who were to testify regarding Defendant's perpetration (or attempted perpetration) of two prior arsons, both occurring at properties in Mooresville, North Carolina in August 2008: one at a property on Main Street (the "Main Street Arson"), and another at a property on Mills Street (the "Mills Street Arson").

         After voir dire of the 404(b) witnesses, the trial court ruled that evidence regarding the Mills Street Arson was relevant, but its probative value was outweighed by its unduly prejudicial effect, rendering it inadmissible pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 403. The trial court further ruled that the testimony regarding the Main Street Arson was relevant and would be admitted pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 404(b) for the sole purpose of showing Defendant's intent to commit arson. In so ruling, the trial court also held that evidence of the Main Street Arson was more probative than prejudicial, and admissible pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 8C-1, Rule 403. Defendant was found guilty of attempted first-degree arson and being intoxicated and disruptive in public. The trial court determined Defendant to be a prior record level III offender for sentencing purposes, and sentenced her to a prison term of thirty to forty-eight months. Defendant appeals.

         II. Analysis

         Defendant argues the trial court erred by: (1) admitting evidence, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 8C-1, Rules 401, 403 and 404(b), that she had previously committed the Main Street Arson; and (2) by including Defendant's probation, parole, or post-release supervision in her prior record level calculation for sentencing purposes in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.16(a6)'s notice requirements. Defendant also argues that she received ineffective assistance of counsel when her trial counsel failed to request a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication.

         A. Admission of Prior Bad Acts to Show Intent

         Defendant argues the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the Main Street Arson, and that the admission of this evidence violated N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 8C-1, Rules 401, 403, and 404(b). We address these arguments together.

         Rule 404(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence provides, in relevant part:

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake, entrapment or accident.

          N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 404(b) (2015). Rule 404(b) has been characterized as a "clear general rule of inclusion of relevant evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts by a defendant." State v. Coffey, 326 N.C. 268, 278-79, 389 S.E.2d 48, 54 (1990) (emphasis in original). This clear rule of inclusion is "subject to but one exception requiring its exclusion if its only probative value is to show that the defendant has the propensity or disposition to commit an offense of the nature of the crime charged." Id. (emphases in original). Despite these sweeping and inclusive statements, our Supreme Court has also stated that Rule 404(b) is "consistent with North Carolina practice prior to [the Rule's] enactment." State v. Carpenter, 361 N.C. 382, 386, 646 S.E.2d 105, 109 (2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted). "Before the enactment of Rule 404(b), North Carolina courts followed the general rule that in a prosecution for a particular crime, the State cannot offer evidence tending to show that the accused has committed another distinct, independent, or separate offense." Id. (emphasis added) (citation, ellipsis, and brackets omitted). Attempting to reconcile ...

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