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State v. Loftis

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 26, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
VIRGINIA LEE LOFTIS

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 26 February 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 6 December 2017 by Judge Jeffrey P. Hunt in McDowell County Superior Court No. 16 CRS 376.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Kevin G. Mahoney, for the State.

          Joseph P. Lattimore for defendant.

          DIETZ, JUDGE.

         Defendant Virginia Lee Loftis appeals her convictions for trafficking in methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, and maintaining a dwelling place for keeping and selling controlled substances. Her two arguments share a common theme-an effort to shift the responsibility to preserve arguments and build an appellate record away from defense counsel and onto the trial court.

         We reject these arguments. Loftis first contends that the trial court erred by failing, on its own initiative, to conduct a voir dire hearing to confirm that Loftis's incriminating in-custody statements to law enforcement were knowing and voluntary. But Loftis did not move to suppress those statements-either before or during trial. Thus, the trial court properly overruled her objection to the admission of those statements without conducting a hearing (which Loftis never requested) because her constitutional challenge to admissibility was procedurally barred.

         Loftis next contends that the trial court failed to personally discuss with her the consequences of stipulating to the admissibility of a forensic laboratory report, which waived her right to confront the forensic expert who performed the analysis. As explained below, when a stipulation to the admissibility of evidence is, in effect, a confession of guilt, the trial court must address the defendant directly. But where, as here, the stipulation was not an admission of guilt, and left the defendant free to assert that the State had not met its burden of proof on other grounds, the obligation to inform the defendant of the consequences of waiving Confrontation Clause rights rests with defense counsel. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by accepting the stipulation-made by Loftis's counsel in her presence in open court-without first addressing Loftis directly and discussing the consequences of that stipulation.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On 7 April 2016, law enforcement executed a search warrant at a mobile home in McDowell County where Defendant Virginia Loftis was present with her boyfriend, Franklin Barlow. An officer placed Loftis in handcuffs and read Loftis her Miranda rights.

         Officer Shane Vance then asked Loftis where the drugs were in the house and Loftis responded that she would tell him in exchange for a cigarette. Officer Vance gave Loftis a cigarette and she showed officers where to find the drugs. Based on the information from Loftis, officers recovered plastic bags containing a "crystal white substance" from inside a camera bag, along with drug paraphernalia, including plastic baggies and a smoking device. Officers also found a pink diary containing what appeared to be a ledger of drug transactions.

         While Loftis was being held in detention following the search, she asked to speak with law enforcement. Lieutenant Chris Taylor and Agent Jackie Turner responded to her request. The officers again read Loftis her Miranda rights. Loftis waived her Miranda rights. Loftis then told the officers that the names in the pink diary "were the names of the people that owed her money for methamphetamine." Loftis also described traveling to Asheville to "meet with her source of methamphetamine" and purchasing "at least two to three ounces of methamphetamine every three days."

         Law enforcement submitted the seized substance to the SBI laboratory for forensic chemical analysis. An SBI analyst determined that the substances recovered during the search contained methamphetamine and weighed 40.81 grams.

         On 18 June 2016, the State indicted Loftis for trafficking in methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell or deliver, and maintaining a dwelling for keeping and selling methamphetamine. Loftis did not make a pretrial ...


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