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State v. Veney

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 5, 2018

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
RODNEY VENEY

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 17 May 2018.

          Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 21 March 2017 by Judge Donald W. Stephens in Wake County No. 15 CRS 210656 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Matthew L. Liles, for the State.

          Glover & Petersen, P.A., by James R. Glover, for defendant-appellant.

          TYSON, Judge.

         Rodney Veney ("Defendant") appeals from judgments entered upon his convictions for three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. Defendant argues the trial court committed a structural error by instructing prospective jurors outside the presence of defense counsel, which deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The State has proved the conceded error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

         I. Background

         Defendant was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill inflicting serious injury ("AWDWIKISI") for stabbing Valerie Wright on 12 May 2015. On 6 July 2015, a grand jury returned a true bill of indictment. On 17 August 2015, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Defendant with three counts of AWDWIKISI for stabbing Valerie Wright, Krystal Octetree and Dahmon Scott. The three charges of AWDWIKISI were joined for trial with other charges from a different indictment for first-degree burglary and conspiracy to commit felonious assault.

         Defendant was tried before a jury on the 5 December 2016. During the voir dire portion of jury selection, the trial court called a recess. While waiting to resume jury selection, and while Defendant's trial counsel was outside of the courtroom, the trial court gave the following instruction to the prospective juror pool, which Defendant contests on appeal:

COURT: While [defense counsel's] gone, let me give you some instructions, all of you, if you happen to sit on this jury, you're picked for this jury.
As you've been told by the lawyers and by me, you have to try this case based on what you hear in the courtroom uninfluenced by any outside factor whatsoever. This case must be tried based upon the evidence presented and the law as I give it to you.
I was licensed to practice law in 1970. That's 46 years. At that time, the largest office in the law firm was the law library. Now lawyers walk around with a law library on their cell phone. Okay? Which means it gives them access to the law, and it gives you access to the law or access to anything you want to know. If something comes up in the case, I mean, you could Google "burglary" and get some kind of definition.
The reason I say that to you is just to remind you please don't do that. Please don't do that. Okay? Please don't do any research on your own. Don't go to any alleged crime scene. Don't read the law. If something comes up during the testimony with reference to forensic evidence from the City-County Bureau of Investigation, don't Google the term or whatever.
You're not investigators. You're jurists. Everything you need to know you'll hear in the presentation of the evidence or in the legal principles that I will describe to you. So please don't resort to any matter of investigation on your own. Don't read any law. Don't do any research. Don't do anything of that nature please. You're instructed not to. The Supreme Court has advised me to tell you that that would be improper.

         On 9 December 2016, the jury returned verdicts finding Defendant not guilty of first-degree burglary, not guilty of conspiracy to commit felonious assault, but guilty of three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury ("AWDWISI"). The trial court sentenced Defendant to three consecutive sentences of twenty-six months to forty-four months imprisonment. Defendant's trial counsel gave oral notice of appeal in open court.

         II. Jurisdiction

         Jurisdiction lies in this Court from an appeal of a final judgment of the superior court in a criminal case based upon the jury's convictions of Defendant following pleas of not guilty. N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7A-27(b), 15A-1444(a) (2017).

         III. Standard of Review

         "The standard of review for alleged violations of constitutional rights is denovo." State v. Graham, 200 N.C.App. 204, 214, 683 S.E.2d 437, 444 (2009) (citing State v. Tate, 187 ...


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