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State v. Crump

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 17, 2018

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
RAMAR DION BENJAMIN CRUMP

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 28 November 2017.

          Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 7 June 2016 by Judge Gregory R. Hayes in Mecklenburg County Nos. 13 CRS 239335-36; 239339; 239612-16; 239618, 239620-23; 239625-31; 240427-30 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Peter A. Regulski, for the State.

          Glover & Petersen, P.A., by Ann B. Petersen, for defendant-appellant.

          BRYANT, JUDGE.

         Where the plain language of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-51.4(1) does not require a causal nexus between the disqualifying felony and the circumstances giving rise to the perceived need for the use of force, we find no error. Where defendant stipulated to a disqualifying felony before the charge conference, the trial court did not commit prejudicial error in giving a self-defense jury instruction. Where the facts of this specific case do not show that defendant was prejudiced by the trial court's limiting of the scope of defendant's questioning of prospective jurors during voir dire, we find no prejudicial erorr but express our concern that the trial court flatly prohibited questioning as to issues of race and implicit bias during voir dire. Where defendant opened the door to certain evidence, the trial court did not err in denying defendant's motion in limine and allowing the State to introduce rebuttal evidence. We find no prejudicial error in the judgments of the trial court.

         Around 3:00 a.m. on 24 September 2013, defendant Ramar Crump and Jamel Lewis gained entrance to an illegal gambling house on Old Pineville Road in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and held about a dozen patrons at gunpoint. Both defendant and Lewis had firearms. One by one, defendant and Lewis had the patrons hand over their valuables, including wallets, cell phones, identification cards, credit cards, debit cards, and cash. They also had each patron, except for a woman and a man with a bad leg, strip down to his underwear, and then marched them all into the men's restroom and barricaded them in while defendant and Lewis escaped.

         When smoke began to seep under the bathroom door, two people, including Matios ("Mat") Tegegne, went up through the false ceiling into the kitchen and let everyone out. The "smoke" had come from a fire extinguisher that had been sprayed around the room. Everyone's clothes and belongings were gone. With a cell phone provided by a passerby, calls were made requesting clothes and spare car keys or rides home. No one reported the robbery to the police.

         Gary Smith, whose daughter had attended the poker game on Old Pineville Road on the night of the robbery, also knew Mat. Mat had his phone stolen during the robbery, but had purposefully not deactivated his phone in order to track it. Smith told Mat he had been receiving text messages from Mat's phone from people he believed to be the robbers who were looking for another poker game to rob. Smith told Mat he intended to invite them to a "fake poker game and report them, call the cops."

         In the early morning hours of 29 September 2013, Smith received a response from Mat's phone to a group text he sent earlier about the location of a new, but nonexistent, poker game on North Tryon Road (the "bait game"). When Smith arrived at the bait game located at a mixed-use office and commercial building on North Tryon Street, he looked for a Silver Mustang, intending to confront the passenger whom he believed to be in possession of Mat's phone. However, as he approached the Mustang, he saw through the open window that the driver had a handgun.

         Smith parked across the street in the Amtrak station lot, called 911, and told the emergency operator "there were two gentlemen in a car with loaded guns, and I thought they were intending to rob someone." From the Amtrak lot, Smith watched police cars arrive. Then, he heard gunshots. First, he heard what sounded like handgun fire, then he heard what sounded like shotgun and large-caliber handgun fire. He then watched the Mustang "screech" out of the lot. Smith walked across the street and told police officers he made the 911 call.

         A police car with lights and sirens activated pursued the Mustang down Tryon Street. The owner and driver of the car was defendant. Lewis was in the back seat and another passenger was in the front seat. After a low-speed pursuit which continued for some distance, the Mustang ran over stop sticks that had been placed by police and came to a stop. All three men got out of the car and were taken into custody.

         After the occupants of the car were placed under arrest, officers searched the Mustang. Both right side tires were missing, the passenger side window was shattered, and there was a series of bullet holes along the passenger side of the car. Officers found a six-shot .38-caliber revolver in the driver's seat with six spent shells in the chambers. Officers also found credit cards and the identification cards of several poker players who had been robbed. In the trunk of the car, officers found three firearms. They also found four cell phones and mail addressed to defendant. Victims of the 24 September robbery on Old Pineville road identified wallets, credit cards, and debit cards found in the Mustang as their own.

         On 7 October 2013, the Mecklenburg County Grand Jury indicted defendant on five offenses committed on 29 September 2013: two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill ("AWDWIK"), two counts of assault on a government official with a firearm, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On 28 October 2013, the grand jury indicted defendant on twenty-four offenses committed during the poker game robbery on 24 September 2013: eleven counts of armed robbery and eleven counts of second-degree kidnapping, conspiring with Lewis to commit armed robbery, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. All charges were joined for trial.

         The case came on for trial at the 16 May 2016 Criminal Term of the Mecklenburg County Superior Court, the Honorable Gregory Hayes, Judge presiding. At the close of the State's evidence, the trial court dismissed the charges of armed robbery and second-degree kidnapping as to one victim as well as the charge of armed robbery as to another victim.

         On 7 June 2016, the jury found defendant not guilty of two counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer with a firearm and guilty of all the remaining charges.

         On appeal, defendant contends the trial court erred (I) in overruling his objections to the instruction on self-defense which barred defendant from claiming self-defense in circumstances where it was legally available; (II) by misapprehending the nature of the "stake-out" questions, thereby depriving defendant of his right to elicit information during voir dire relevant to the exercise of cause and peremptory challenges; and (III) by permitting the State to present evidence that the investigation of certain officers by homicide detectives and internal affairs agents resulted in no disciplinary actions or demotions for those officers.

         I

         Defendant first argues the trial court erred in overruling his objections to the self-defense instructions and in rejecting defendant's proposed language. Specifically, defendant argues the language of the instruction, as a whole, had the legal effect of negating the defense of self-defense entirely, and the error was so prejudicial that he is entitled to a new trial. We disagree.

         "Whether a jury instruction correctly explains the law is a question of law, reviewable by this Court de novo." State v. Barron, 202 N.C.App. 686, 694, 690 S.E.2d 22, 29 (2010) (citing State v. Brame, 136 N.C.App. 170, 174, 523 S.E.2d 424, 427 (1999)). "However, an error in jury instructions is prejudicial and requires a new trial only if 'there is a reasonable possibility that, had the error in question not been committed, a different result would have been reached at the trial out of which the appeal arises.' " State v. Castaneda, 196 N.C.App. 109, 116, 674 S.E.2d 707, 712 (2009) (citation omitted) (quoting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1443(a) (2007)).

         In the instant case, defendant raised the statutory justifications of protection of his motor vehicle and self-defense pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-51.2, -51.3 as to the AWDWIK charge. The trial court found that defendant's evidence, on the other hand, did not show his belief that entry to his motor vehicle was imminent, and gave N.C. P.I.-Crim. 308.45 ("All assaults involving deadly force") and not N.C. P.I.-Crim. 308.80 ("defense of motor vehicle"), as requested by defendant. The trial court instructed the jury pursuant to N.C. P.I.-Crim. 308.45 by incorporating the language of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-51.4(1), which indicates self-defense based on .1 and .2 is not available "to a person . . . who was attempting to commit, was committing, or was escaping after the commission of a felony." See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-51.4(1) (2017).

         The State requested that the trial court also define for the jury those felonies which would disqualify defendant's claim of self-defense, arguing there was ample evidence of defendant's uncharged felonious conduct, including, inter alia, the fact that defendant and his accomplices used a stolen cell phone to ascertain the location of a poker game to rob. The trial court agreed and instructed the jury in the words of N.C. G.S. § 14-51.4(1) that self-defense was not available to one engaged in felonious conduct:

Self-defense is also not available to a person who used offensive force and who was attempting to commit, was committing, or was escaping after the commission of a felony. Robbery with a dangerous weapon, attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, possession of stolen goods, assault with a deadly weapon ...

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