in the Supreme Court on 8 January 2019.
discretionary review pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-31 of a
unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, __
N.C.App. __, 805 S.E.2d 563 (2017), finding no error in a
judgment entered on 9 September 2015 by Judge J. Thomas Davis
in Superior Court, Graham County.
H. Stein, Attorney General, by John F. Oates, Jr., Assistant
Attorney General, for the State.
Gerding, Appellate Defender, by Daniel Shatz, Assistant
Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellant.
BEASLEY, CHIEF JUSTICE.
sole question presented by this appeal is whether the
superseding indictment upon which defendant was tried and
convicted was facially defective, and thus failed to
establish jurisdiction in the trial court, because it
identified the alleged victim only as "Victim #1."
For the reasons stated below, we hold that an indictment
identifying the alleged victim only as "Victim #1"
fails to satisfy the statutory requirement that the
indictment name the victim; and, therefore, the indictment is
facially invalid. As a result, the trial court's judgment
must be vacated.
in December 2010, the victim, Hannah,  lived with her
mother and defendant in defendant's trailer for a brief
time when she was around seven years old. Hannah reported to
her aunt in 2013 that defendant had molested her during her
stay at the trailer. Defendant confessed in writing to
sexually assaulting Hannah after Hannah's aunt reported
the incident to the police. On 1 May 2013, an arrest warrant
was issued, alleging probable cause to believe that defendant
"unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did engage in a
sex offense with [Hannah], a child under the age of 13
years." On the same day, defendant was arrested and
charged with one count of first-degree sex offense with a
child in violation of N.C. G.S. § 14-27.4A(1)
(recodified as N.C. G.S. § 14-27.28(a) (2015)). A grand
jury returned a true bill of indictment on this charge on 8
July 2013. On 18 May 2015, the grand jury returned a
superseding indictment, which charged defendant with one
count of sexual offense with a child by an adult, stating
that he "engage[d] in a sexual act with Victim #1, a
child who was under the age of 13 years, namely 7 years
old," and added a new count of indecent liberties with a
child, alleging that "[t]he name of the child is Victim
#1." Both the arrest warrant and the original indictment
identified Hannah by her full name.
case was tried at the 31 August 2015 session of Superior
Court, Graham County, with the Honorable J. Thomas Davis
presiding. On 9 September 2015, the jury returned a verdict
finding defendant guilty of sexual offense with a child by an
adult offender. The trial court imposed an active sentence of
300 to 369 months of imprisonment. On 17 October 2017, the
Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's conviction in an
unpublished opinion, State v. White, N.C. App., 805
S.E.2d 563, 2017 WL 4638188 (2017) (unpublished). Defendant
petitioned this Court for review, arguing that the Court of
Appeals erred by holding that an indictment that failed to
identify the alleged victim was not facially invalid.
the Court of Appeals, defendant argued that the superseding
indictment upon which he was convicted was invalid because it
identified the victim as "Victim #1" rather than
naming the victim as the short-form indictment statute for
the offense directs. White, 2017 WL 4638188, at * 2.
The Court of Appeals held that the indictment was valid
because the identity of the victim could be ascertained by
reference to other documents in the record. Id. at
*3 (relying on State v. McKoy, 196 N.C.App. 650,
657-58, 675 S.E.2d 406, 412, appeal dismissed and disc.
rev. denied, 363 N.C. 586, 683 S.E.2d 215 (2009)).
defendant can challenge the facial validity of an indictment
at any time, and a conviction based on an invalid indictment
must be vacated." State v. Campbell, 368 N.C.
83, 86, 772 S.E.2d 440, 443 (2015) (citing McClure v.
State, 267 N.C. 212, 215, 148 S.E.2d 15, 17-18 (1966)).
The sufficiency of an indictment is a question of law
reviewed de novo. See, e.g., State v. Sturdivant,
304 N.C. 293, 307-11, 283 S.E.2d 719, 729-31 (1981).
valid bill of indictment is essential to the jurisdiction of
the trial court to try an accused for a felony."
State v. Rankin, 371 N.C. 885, 886, 821 S.E.2d 787,
790 (2018) (alteration in original) (quoting
Campbell, 368 N.C. at 86, 772 S.E.2d at 443).
Generally, an indictment "is fatally defective if it
'fails to state some essential and necessary element of
the offense of which the defendant is found
guilty.'" State v. Ellis, 368 N.C. 342,
344, 776 S.E.2d 675, 677 (2015) (quoting State v.
Gregory, 223 N.C. 415, 418, 27 S.E.2d 140, 142 (1943)).
While "it is not the function of an indictment to bind
the hands of the State with technical rules of
pleading," State v. Williams, 368 N.C. 620,
623, 781 S.E.2d 268, 270-71 (2016) (quoting
Sturdivant, 304 N.C. at 311, 283 S.E.2d at 731), the
indictment must fulfill its constitutional purposes-to
"identify clearly the crime being charged, thereby
putting the accused on reasonable notice to defend against it
and prepare for trial, and to protect the accused from being
jeopardized by the State more than once for the same
crime," Sturdivant, 304 N.C. at 311, 283 S.E.2d
at 731 (citing Gregory, 223 N.C. 415, 27 S.E.2d
General Assembly has the power "to relieve the State of
the common law requirement that every element of the offense
be alleged" in an indictment, State v. Lowe,
295 N.C. 596, 603, 247 S.E.2d 878, 883 (1978), "provided
the form established is sufficient to apprise the defendant
with reasonable certainty of the nature of the crime of which
he stands charged." Id. at 603, 247 S.E.2d at
883 (quoting State v. Harris, 145 N.C. 456, 457-58,
59 S.E. 115, 116 (1907)). In particular, this Court has held
that statutes authorizing short form indictments for rape and
first-degree sexual offense "comport with the
requirements of the North Carolina and United States
Constitutions," even though they do not require each
essential element of the offense to be alleged. State v.
Wallace, 351 N.C. 481, 505, 528 S.E.2d 326, 342,
cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1018, 121 S.Ct. 581, 148
L.Ed.2d 498 (2000). Furthermore, courts do not favor quashing
an indictment. See, e.g., State v. Greer,
238 N.C. 325, 327, 77 S.E.2d 917, 919 (1953).
of the Phrase "Victim #1" Does Not Constitute
"Naming the Victim."
goal of statutory interpretation is to determine the meaning
that the legislature intended upon the statute's
enactment." Rankin, 371 N.C. at 889, 821 S.E.2d
at 792 (citing State v. Beck, 359 N.C. 611, 614, 614
S.E.2d 274, 276-77 (2005)). "Where the language of a
statute is clear and unambiguous, there is no room for
judicial construction and the courts must construe the
statute using its plain meaning." Burgess v. Your
House of Raleigh, Inc., 326 N.C. 205, 209, 388 ...