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State v. Lynch

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 5, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
MARIE ANTOINETTE LYNCH

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 7 June 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 17 December 2015 by Judge Phyllis M. Gorham in Duplin County Superior Court. Duplin County, Nos. 13 CRS 050960-61

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Barry Bloch, for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Wyatt Orsbon, for defendant.

          DIETZ, Judge.

         Defendant Marie Antoinette Lynch appeals her conviction and sentence on multiple drug trafficking charges. She argues that the trial court should have declared a mistrial after a prospective juror, in the presence of the rest of the jury pool, stated that "I've seen her (Lynch) around" and "I believe she did it." The trial court immediately dismissed that prospective juror and gave a lengthy curative instruction to the jury pool.

         As explained below, in light of the trial court's curative instruction, the trial court's decision not to declare a mistrial was within the court's sound discretion.

         Lynch also argues that the there is a clerical error in the judgment form because the court indicated that it would arrest judgment on the trafficking by delivery charge but failed to do so on the judgment form. We reject this argument because, although the court indeed indicated that it was "going to arrest judgment" on that charge at trial, at the sentencing hearing the court stated that it would instead consolidate all the trafficking charges into a single sentence. Thus, to the extent there is an error in the court's judgment, it is not a clerical one. Because this is the only ground on which Lynch challenges her sentence on appeal, we find no error in the trial court's judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The State indicted Lynch for a number of drug trafficking offenses involving the sale of opium. The jury acquitted Lynch of some charges but found her guilty of trafficking in opium by sale; trafficking in opium by delivery; trafficking in opium by possession; and a number of related charges. The jury also found Lynch guilty of attaining habitual felon status.

         Lynch was present for the first day of trial but failed to appear on later days. After the jury returned the verdict, the court continued the proceeding in order to sentence Lynch when she was present. Several weeks later, with Lynch present, the court consolidated the three trafficking convictions and sentenced her to 70 to 93 months in prison for those charges and a concurrent sentence of 67 to 93 months in prison on other related charges. Lynch timely appealed.

         Analysis

         I. Motion for Mistrial

         Lynch first argues that the trial court erred by denying her motion for a mistrial after a prospective juror stated in the presence of the jury pool that he had seen Lynch around and "I believe she did it." Lynch contends that the prospective juror's statement prejudiced the jury and that the trial court failed to conduct an adequate inquiry of all jurors to determine whether they heard the statement, the effect of such statement, and whether they could disabuse their minds of the harmful effects of the comments. We disagree.

         It is well established that "[t]he judge must declare a mistrial upon the defendant's motion if there occurs during the trial an error or legal defect in the proceedings, or conduct inside or outside the courtroom, resulting in substantial and irreparable prejudice to the defendant's case." State v. McCollum, 157 N.C.App. 408, 415, 579 S.E.2d 467, 471 (2003), aff'd, 358 N.C. 132, 591 S.E.2d 519 (2004). But "[t]he decision whether to grant a motion for mistrial rests within the sound discretion of the trial judge and will not ordinarily be disturbed on appeal absent a showing of abuse of that discretion." State v. Boyd, 321 N.C. 574, 579, 364 S.E.2d 118, 120 (1988). "An abuse of discretion occurs only upon a showing that the judge's ruling was so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision." State v. Salentine, 237 N.C.App. 76, 81, 763 S.E.2d 800, 804 (2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         Here, a prospective juror made the unsolicited statement during jury selection that "I've seen her around Beulaville, I believe she did it." Lynch then moved for a mistrial, arguing that the statement irreparably prejudiced the jury. The trial court denied Lynch's motion and indicated that it would instruct the jury to cure ...


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