in the Court of Appeals 26 February 2019.
by defendant from judgments entered 6 December 2017 by Judge
Jeffrey P. Hunt in McDowell County Superior Court No. 16 CRS
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Kevin G. Mahoney, for the State.
P. Lattimore for 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.
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.
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.
and Procedural History
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
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
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."
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.
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