in the Court of Appeals 13 March 2017.
by defendant from judgment entered 5 May 2016 by Judge Jay D.
Hockenbury in Onslow County, No. 15 CRS 52257 Superior Court.
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Durwin P. Jones, for the State.
Charlotte Gail Blake for defendant-appellant.
defendant sought to introduce evidence of a testifying
officer's text conversations that had very low probative
value, the trial court did not err in excluding the evidence.
Accordingly, we find no error in the judgment of the trial
January 2016, a grand jury indicted defendant Kendrick Hart
on one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. Defendant
was tried between 2 and 5 May 2016. During his trial,
defendant stipulated to the fact that he was convicted of
felony possession of cocaine on 4 November 2002.
trial, Justin Lea, a former officer who had worked with the
Jacksonville Police Department during the events relevant to
this case, testified to the following facts for the State: On
22 April 2015, Officer Lea and a few other officers went to a
housing complex in Jacksonville to arrest an individual with
an outstanding arrest warrant. As the officers were in the
process of arresting the individual, Officer Lea witnessed a
woman, later identified as Amy Brandon, exit the townhouse
adjacent to the townhouse of the individual the officers were
there to arrest. Upon seeing Officer Lea, Brandon retreated
back into her townhouse. Officer Lea smelled "a very
strong odor of marijuana" coming from the townhouse.
Lea and Officer John Clukey then went to Brandon's
townhouse and knocked on the door. When Brandon opened the
door, Officer Lea explained to her that he had smelled
marijuana coming from the townhouse, and asked for her
consent to search the townhouse in lieu of the officers
seeking a search warrant. Brandon signed a consent form. When
Officer Lea asked Brandon if there were any weapons in the
house, Brandon replied that her boyfriend, later identified
as defendant, "owned a black powder pistol, due to him
being a convicted felon." Officer Lea went to search the
master bedroom, and upon lifting a mattress discovered a
padlocked "Smith & Wesson gun box." Officer Lea
returned to Brandon and asked where the key to the padlock
was. Brandon replied that defendant had the only key with
him. Brandon also stated she had forgotten to mention that
she owned a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol, and that she
believed it was in the dresser drawer in the bedroom. After
an officer returned to the bedroom and was unable to find the
pistol, Brandon stated that defendant "must have moved
it and put it in the gun case, too." Officers were able
to pry open the gun box, wherein they discovered two
firearms-a .25-caliber pistol and a revolver fully loaded
with .45-caliber rounds.
next day, Officer Lea obtained a warrant for defendant's
arrest and then returned with other officers to arrest
defendant at his townhouse. As defendant was being searched
incident to arrest, he informed Officer Lea "that he
goes shooting with Ms. Brandon and her father and also cleans
the guns afterwards, " and that he had been shooting the
Officer Lea's testimony on direct examination, the trial
court considered the State's motion in limine
seeking to prohibit defense counsel from asking Officer Lea
about the circumstances surrounding his resignation from the
Jacksonville Police Department, which occurred less than
three weeks after defendant was arrested. During voir
dire, Officer Lea testified that he was going through a
divorce at the time and texted a number he found on
Craigslist under the heading "women seeking men."
Officer Lea and the woman exchanged pictures via text. Upon
receiving the woman's photo, Officer Lea realized that
she was a prostitute who also served as a police informant,
and their conversation ended at that point. On 6 May 2015,
Officer Lea learned he was being investigated for this
conduct, and he resigned the next day. After hearing
arguments from counsel, the trial court allowed the motion
in limine, concluding that "the witness'
conduct is not probative of truthfulness or untruthfulness,
" and that:
[T]he Court has, in the exercise of its discretion, taken
into consideration the importance of the witness'
testimony to the [S]tate; the lack of relevance of the act of
misconduct or truthfulness; the remoteness of the act with
respect to the trial date; that an inquiry will lead to
time-consuming, distracting explanations not relevant to the
case in chief; that there would be an unfair humiliation of
the witness; and there would be undue prejudice to the
[S]tate which outweighs de minimis probative value for the
testimony at trial regarding the events of 22 April 2015
contradicted Officer Lea's. Brandon stated that she had
informed the officers who were searching her home on 22 April
2015 that both guns belonged to her. Brandon testified that
while she usually did not keep the guns in the home due to
defendant's felony conviction, she had retrieved the guns
from her parents' house the week before because defendant
was going to be out of town for several days.
testified that he had previously owned black powder guns
because he understood it was not illegal for him to possess
them as a felon, but that his guns had been stolen out of his
residence a couple of years prior to his arrest on the
current charge. Defendant further testified that neither of
the guns recovered from the gun box in his townhouse ...