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State v. Langley

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 20, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA,
v.
WILLIE JAMES LANGLEY, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 5 April 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 28 January 2015 by Judge W. Russell Duke, Jr. in Pitt County Superior Court Pitt County, Nos. 14CRS3412, 3452, 57851-54.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Kimberly N. Callahan, for the State.

          Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC, by John Keating Wiles, for defendant-appellant.

          MURPHY, Judge.

         Willie James Langley ("Defendant") appeals from his judgment for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, two counts of attempted first degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, discharge of a weapon into an occupied motor vehicle, and attaining habitual felon status. On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred by (1) denying Defendant's Motion for a Mistrial; (2) giving jury instructions that constructively amended the habitual felon indictment; and (3) proceeding on a facially defective habitual felon indictment. After careful review, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's Motion for a Mistrial as any error was invited by Defendant. However, we agree with Defendant that the trial court proceeded on a facially deficient habitual felon indictment. Therefore, we order that the judgment regarding the habitual felon conviction be vacated and the case be remanded for resentencing on the underlying felonies without the habitual felon enhancement, and we need not reach the issue of whether the trial court's jury instructions materially varied from the allegations in the habitual felon indictment.

         Factual Background

         On 24 September 2014, [1] Jesse Atkinson, Sr., Jesse Atkinson, Jr., and a friend of Atkinson Jr.'s, Kion, drove to Vance Street in Greenville in a car belonging to Kion. When they arrived, the men parked the car; Kion exited and the Atkinsons remained in the car. A few minutes later, a blue car, containing Defendant and Mr. Davron Lovick, passed by, then U-turned and pulled up beside Kion's car. Defendant began to fire a gun at the Atkinsons through the rolled-down driver's side window. Atkinson, Sr. was shot in his right calf and left thigh.

         Although the above acts resulted in the charges now in dispute, Defendant bases his appeal primarily on conduct that took place at trial, after jury deliberation began. Approximately an hour into deliberation, the foreman sent a question to the trial judge: "With the charge of assault with a deadly weapon of Atkinson, Jr. with intent to kill does the law state intent to kill only or does it include inflicting serious bodily injury as well?" In response, the trial court returned the jury to the courtroom and reread the pertinent instructions. Just over an hour later, the jury sent another question: "With the two attempted first degree murder charges do they have to have the same verdict?" The trial court told the jury they did not, and provided them with a written copy of the instructions for each offense. Before recessing for the evening, the trial court instructed the jurors not to deliberate on the case, except when they were all together in the jury room, and not to look at the television, read the newspaper, or listen to the radio.

         The next morning, the foreperson immediately sent the following note to the court: "[O]ne juror Google'd intent to kill on the internet to try to understand the law, and, second, can we get clarification on the underlined item on page four of Court's Exhibit Number 1?" The judge again returned the jury to the room and inquired:

All right, now, first, I'm going to address the first one. Which juror Google'd intent?
All right, now, Ladies and Gentlemen, at the beginning of the case, I think y'all remember, that you are to follow the law as given to you by the Court; do y'all remember that? Remember me asking you that? And this is the reason. And it's because everyone tried for the same crime in North Carolina should be treated in the same way and have the same law applied to him. That's only fair. Now, I'm going to ask each one of you to pledge to me that, that's what you're going to do. Now, if all of you can accept and follow the law as given to you by the Court, a North Carolina Judge, North Carolina Court, if you can do that, please, raise your hand.
(All twelve jurors raise their hands.)
Thank you. And can you disregard any other definition of intent to kill or anything else other than what I give you because it is, I can assure, the accepted law in North Carolina. It is applied in every case. Can you disregard any other law other than the law that's given to you by the Court? And if you can just raise your hand, please.
(All twelve jurors raise their hands.)
Thank you. Now, the underlined word is the legal effect. If the Defendant intended to harm one person but instead harmed a different person the legal effect would be the same as if the Defendant had harmed the intended victim. And, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have given you the instructions that - and I've given you that the Defendant intended to commit first degree murder. That's an element of the charge of attempted first degree murder. And I've defined for you intent. And then I've defined for you what happens when someone else is hurt or harmed other than the person who was intended - the Defendant intended to kill or harm. And I'm going to just ask you to apply the law as I've given it to you here. Do y'all understand?
(All jurors nod their heads affirmatively.)

         Judge Duke then turned to the second question, explaining the underlined item on page four of Court's Exhibit Number 1.

         Once the jury exited the courtroom, Defendant moved for a mistrial and the following exchange took place:

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Your Honor, as to the way you presented, I felt like you just restated what you had already said. However, given the question - given the nature of what happened, I feel like I need to move for the Court to declare that this is a mistrial, that the jurors have gone outside of the Court's instructions to follow the law as given to them. They have gone on the Internet to look up the law. It is unclear whether they went to the Internet last night and did research and deliberated outside of the jury room. It's unclear whether other jurors asked this juror to Google ...

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