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State v. Schmieder

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 16, 2019


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 5 March 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 26 March 2018 by Judge Julia Lynn Gullett in Henderson County Superior Court. No. 17 CRS 337

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Neil Dalton, for the State.

          James R. Parish for defendant.

          DIETZ, JUDGE.

         Defendant Matthew Joseph Schmieder appeals his conviction for second degree murder following a fatal motor vehicle accident. Schmieder argues that the trial court erroneously admitted evidence of his past driving offenses and that, without that evidence, the trial court should have granted his motion to dismiss. He also argues that the trial court erred by entering judgment on the Class B2 second degree murder offense because the indictment only was sufficient to charge the Class B1 version of that offense.

         As explained below, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Schmieder's driving record because the court properly found sufficient similarity and temporal proximity between the charged offense and a lengthy pattern of past driving offenses. As a result, the trial court also did not err in denying Schmieder's motions to dismiss because the driving record provided substantial evidence from which the jury could infer the element of malice. Finally, the indictment in this case was sufficient to charge second degree murder under all theories permitted by law and Schmieder was not misled by the indictment. We therefore find no error in the trial court's judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On 22 December 2016 around 7:30 p.m., Evelyn Argueta was driving along Kanuga Road in Henderson County. It was dark and the road was two lanes with a double yellow line down the middle and narrow shoulders. The road has turns and inclines and a posted speed limit of 40 mph. Argueta noticed a white BMW behind her and became "a little scared" when the BMW passed her across the double yellow line without using turn signals. Argueta estimated that the BMW was travelling at 45 to 50 mph.

         After passing Argueta, the BMW increased its speed and caught up to a Silverado pickup truck. The BMW started to pass the Silverado without using any turn signals, and Argueta thought that the BMW was following too close behind the Silverado to see around it. When the BMW entered the left lane to pass, it became apparent that there was an oncoming red pickup truck in that lane. The BMW hit the brakes and attempted to get back into the right lane, but it was too late. The BMW collided head-on with the oncoming red truck and then hit the Silverado. Argueta estimated that the BMW was going 55 to 60 mph at the time of the attempted pass.

         First responders arrived on the scene in response to a 911 call. They observed that there had been a head-on collision with a heavy impact, a distance of about 100 feet between the vehicles, and substantial debris in the roadway and on the side of the road. They heard a voice calling for help from the white BMW. The red pickup truck had to be opened with hydraulic spreaders. The driver of the red pickup truck, 17-year-old Derek Miller, had no pulse and was crushed between the steering wheel and the backseat of his vehicle. A paramedic was able to crawl into the vehicle and determined that Miller had injuries "inconsistent with life" and was deceased.

         After determining that Miller was deceased, paramedics began work on the white BMW. Defendant Matthew Schmieder, the driver of the BMW, was pinned inside. First responders extracted him from the vehicle and transported him to the hospital. Schmieder told paramedics, "I know I caused this," and asked about the other driver's injuries. Paramedics smelled an odor of alcohol coming from Schmieder and asked him how much he had to drink. Schmieder responded that he did not know.

         On 15 May 2017, the State indicted Schmieder for second degree murder. The body of the indictment alleged that Schmieder "unlawfully, willfully and feloniously and of malice aforethought did kill and murder Derek Lane Miller." In the murder indictment's header, which included form boxes, the State checked the box labeled "Second Degree," but did not check either of the two additional boxes beneath that one, which were labeled "Inherently Dangerous Without Regard to Human Life" and "Unlawful Distribution of Substance."

         Before trial, Schmieder moved to exclude his record of prior driving convictions. The trial court later denied Schmieder's motion to exclude his driving record, finding that Schmieder's prior driving convictions "are similar" and "that there is not much of a gap in time between convictions over the years." The court allowed Schmieder's motion to exclude evidence of four prior accidents that did not result in charges as well as Schmieder's motion to exclude some of the letters he had received from the DMV regarding the status of his driver's ...

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