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State v. Miller

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 20, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
MARVIN EVERETTE MILLER, JR.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 4 May 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 8 April 2016 by Judge Edwin G. Wilson, Jr. in Guilford County Superior Court Guilford County, Nos. 13CRS089956-57.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General David J. Adinolfi II, for the State.

          Mark Montgomery for defendant.

          DIETZ, Judge.

         Defendant Marvin Miller appeals his conviction for killing his estranged wife and severely wounding her boyfriend. He argues that the State violated his Confrontation Clause rights at trial when a law enforcement officer described to the jury what Miller's wife told him during an earlier domestic abuse investigation.

         As explained below, we agree that the State violated Miller's Confrontation Clause rights. The victim's statements to the officer in that earlier domestic violence incident were made after she fled from Miller in her car and called police from a safe location. Moreover, the purpose of the officer's questions was to determine what happened, not what was happening. As a result, those statements were testimonial in nature.

         Although Miller was tried for that earlier domestic violence offense, the record in this case does not indicate that Miller had an opportunity to cross-examine his wife about the challenged statements at the time. To the contrary, Miller's wife asked the State to drop the charges and sat with him at the trial, which suggests Miller may have had no need to cross-examine her in that earlier proceeding; in any event, because the record contains no transcript of the proceeding, this Court has no way to know.

         Likewise, the record contains no indication (and no findings from the trial court) that Miller killed his wife to prevent her from testifying about that earlier incident. Thus, under controlling U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the mere fact that the victim is unavailable because Miller killed her does not mean Miller forfeited his Confrontation Clause rights.

         Finally, because this is a constitutional error, the burden is on the State to show that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The State did not argue harmless error on appeal and, as a result, abandoned any harmless error argument. We therefore vacate the trial court's judgments and remand for further proceedings.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On 1 September 2013, Defendant Marvin Miller entered the home of his estranged wife, Lakeshia Wells, and found her and her boyfriend, Marcus Robinson, naked. Miller attacked Wells and Robinson with a knife, wounding Robinson and killing Wells.

         A grand jury indicted Miller for first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and burglary and the case went to trial. The jury acquitted Miller on the burglary charge but convicted him of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder. The court arrested judgment on the attempted first degree murder conviction ...


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