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State v. Trent

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 1, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
CLARENCE JOSEPH TRENT

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 22 February 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 6 June 2016 by Judge Michael R. Morgan in Randolph County Nos. 16 CRS 96-97Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Carole Biggers, for the State.

          Yoder Law PLLC, by Jason Christopher Yoder, for defendant-appellant.

          CALABRIA, Judge.

         Clarence Joseph Trent ("defendant") appeals from judgments revoking his probation and activating his suspended sentences. After careful review, we affirm the trial court's judgments but remand for correction of clerical errors.

         I. Background

         On 10 March 2016 in Guilford County Superior Court, defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses (15 CRS 80278-79) and two counts of conspiring to obtain property by false pretenses (15 CRS 81150-51). The trial court consolidated 15 CRS 80278 and 15 CRS 81150 into one judgment, and 15 CRS 80279 and 15 CRS 81151 into another. The court sentenced defendant to serve two consecutive terms of 8 to 19 months in the custody of the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction. The trial court suspended both sentences, placed defendant on 36 months of supervised probation, and ordered him to serve a 30-day active term as a condition of special probation in 15 CRS 80278. Defendant's probation supervision was transferred to Randolph County.

         On 18 March 2016, defendant met with his new supervising officer ("Officer Russell") to review the conditions of his probation. Defendant told Officer Russell that he and his wife ("Kim") were in the process of being evicted from their residence at 3550 Holly Ridge Drive in Trinity. Officer Russell instructed defendant to provide an update whenever his address changed. When defendant next met with Officer Russell on 12 April 2016, he provided his new address as 150 U.S. Highway 311, Lot 9 in Randleman. At the conclusion of the meeting, Officer Russell scheduled defendant's next appointment for 9 May 2016.

         On 24 April 2016, Officer Russell made an unannounced visit to defendant's home in Randleman. Defendant was not home, and Kim was "very upset." Kim told Officer Russell that she had not seen defendant since the previous day, when he took her car and bank card without permission and left the residence. Kim also told Officer Russell that it was defendant's "normal pattern . . . to go out and be gone for days on drugs." Officer Russell informed Kim that if defendant did not come home within a few days, she would consider him to be absconding. When Officer Russell revisited the residence on 5 May 2016, Kim said that defendant still had not returned, and she did not know where he was.

         On 9 May 2016, Officer Russell filed reports in both cases alleging that defendant had committed the following willful violations of his probation[1]:

1. Regular Condition of Probation: "Not to abscond, by willfully avoiding supervision or by willfully making the supervisee's whereabouts unknown to the supervising probation officer" in that, THE DEFENDANT LEFT HIS RESIDENCE AT 150 U.S. HWY 311, LOT 9, RANDLEMAN ON OR ABOUT 04/23/2016, AFTER TAKING HIS WIFE'S CAR AND BANK CARD AND HAS FAILED TO RETURN TO THE RESIDENCE SINCE THAT TIME. HIS WHEREABOUTS ARE UNKNOWN.
2. Condition of Probation " . . . obtain prior approval from the officer for, and notify the officer of, any change in address . . . " in that THE DEFENDANT HAS FAILED TO NOTIFY HIS PROBATION OFFICER OF ANY CHANGE IN ADDRESS AND DID NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO MOVE.

         Defendant did not appear for his scheduled appointment with Officer Russell that afternoon. On 10 May 2016, Officer Russell learned that defendant had been arrested in Guilford County the previous day. Defendant was subsequently transferred to the Randolph County jail, where he remained in custody until his probation violation hearing on 6 June 2016.

         At the hearing, Officer Russell testified for the State and recommended that the trial court revoke defendant's probation. After the State presented evidence, defendant testified that during Officer Russell's unscheduled visits to his residence, he was working in Raleigh on an eight-day painting job. According to defendant's testimony, Kim agreed to inform Officer Russell that he was away. However, when defendant returned home on 6 or 7 May 2016, he discovered that Kim had been "lying" to Officer Russell and "was trying to get [him] locked up" because she was having an affair. During cross-examination by the State, defendant admitted that despite knowing that Officer Russell had visited his residence while he was away, he did not contact her at any time after he returned from Raleigh.

         At the hearing's conclusion, the trial court found that the State had proven that defendant absconded from supervision, but not that he failed to notify Officer Russell of a change to his address. Based on its finding that defendant willfully absconded from supervision, the court revoked defendant's probation and activated both of his suspended sentences. Defendant appeals.

         II. Analysis

         On appeal, defendant contends the trial court erred in revoking his probation based on its finding that he willfully absconded from supervision. We disagree.

         A. Standard of Review

A hearing to revoke a defendant's probationary sentence only requires that the evidence be such as to reasonably satisfy the judge in the exercise of his sound discretion that the defendant has willfully violated a valid condition of probation or that the defendant has violated without lawful excuse a valid condition upon which the sentence was suspended.

State v. Young, 190 N.C.App. 458, 459, 660 S.E.2d 574, 576 (2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). "[O]nce the State has presented competent evidence establishing a defendant's failure to comply with the terms of probation, the burden is on the defendant to demonstrate through competent evidence an inability to comply with the terms." State v. Talbert, 221 N.C.App. 650, 652, 727 S.E.2d 908, 910-11 (2012) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         We review the trial court's decision to revoke a defendant's probation for abuse of discretion. State v. Murchison, 367 N.C. 461, 464, 758 S.E.2d 356, 358 (2014). "Abuse of discretion occurs when a ruling is manifestly unsupported by reason or is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision." Id. (citation, quotation marks, and brackets omitted).

         B. ...


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