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State v. Dawkins

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 21, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA,
v.
ALPHONSO DAWKINS, JR., Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 10 April 2019.

          Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 5 July 2018 by Judge Carla Archie in Mecklenburg County Superior Court Nos. 17CRS209358, 17CRS209361.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Jane Atmatzidis, for the State-Appellee.

          The Epstein Law Firm PLLC, by Drew Nelson, for Defendant-Appellant.

          COLLINS, JUDGE.

         Defendant appeals from judgment entered upon jury verdicts finding him guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon and misdemeanor possession of marijuana, following a jury trial on 5 July 2018. Defendant contends that the trial court erred by (1) rejecting Defendant's trial counsel's attempt to stipulate to the fact that Defendant was a convicted felon and (2) allowing the State to introduce evidence of Defendant's prior felony conviction, which showed evidence of Defendant's prior misdemeanor convictions. Finding no error, we affirm.

         I. Background

         On 10 March 2017, Defendant crashed his vehicle into the front yard of a residence in Charlotte. Law enforcement officers arrived on the scene within minutes in response to a call describing the scene and informing dispatch that the driver of the vehicle had placed something inside a trash can next to the crashed vehicle.

         Upon arrival, Defendant told the officers that he had lost control while driving. The officers received consent from the owner of the residence to search her trash cans, and found a half-empty bottle of alcohol and a firearm therein. The owner of the residence said that neither item belonged to her. One of the officers ran Defendant's information through the police database and learned that Defendant was a convicted felon, and arrested Defendant for possession of a firearm by a felon. After being placed under arrest, Defendant admitted to the officers that the firearm belonged to him and that he had placed it in the trash can.

         The officers took Defendant to the police station and placed him in an interview room, which was monitored with audio and visual recording equipment. Once alone in the interview room, Defendant reached into his groin area, and the officers watched as he removed something from his person and placed it into his mouth. The officers reentered the interview room and demanded Defendant spit out what he had placed into his mouth. Defendant complied, and spit out three small plastic bags containing marijuana.

         On 12 June 2017, Defendant was indicted for possession of a firearm by a felon, a violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.1 (2017), and misdemeanor possession of marijuana, a violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-95(d)(4) (2017). On 2 July 2018, Defendant pled not guilty to all charges, and trial commenced.

         Prior to the beginning of trial, the State and Defendant's trial counsel agreed to stipulate that Defendant had previously been convicted of a felony. Defendant's trial counsel conferred with Defendant and read him the proposed stipulation, and then told the trial court that Defendant did not wish to sign the stipulation. Defendant's trial counsel stated that he believed the stipulation to be in Defendant's best interest, and that he believed the decision of whether to stipulate was his to make, rather than Defendant's. Ultimately, the trial court rejected the proposed stipulation. The trial court noted that the State would be able to introduce the Judgment and Commitment form for Defendant's prior felony and misdemeanor convictions (the "Form") to prove Defendant's status as a convicted felon. The trial court also indicated that it might require certain portions of the Form to be redacted, and recommended that the parties confer about proposed redactions.

         The following day, the parties and the trial court again discussed the Form. Defendant objected to the admission of the Form because it reflected Defendant's prior convictions for two misdemeanors, which Defendant argued would be prejudicial to him. The trial court conducted a balancing analysis under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 403 (2018), and ruled that the evidence of the misdemeanors was not "overly prejudicial." Defendant did not specifically object to the evidence of the two prior misdemeanors, nor move the trial court to redact the evidence of the misdemeanors from the Form. The only content Defendant asked the trial court to redact was the "sentence imposed" on the Form for the felony and misdemeanor convictions combined, which the trial court declined to do because it found the sentence not "overly prejudicial." Defendant did not object further to the Form. The trial court thus allowed the Form's admission, subject to the redaction of the offenses charged, the prior record level, and the prior record points, but not the evidence of the misdemeanor convictions altogether.

         At trial, the State called the Assistant Clerk of Superior Court of Mecklenburg County as a witness, who identified the Form. The redacted Form was shown to the jury, and the Assistant Clerk testified that it showed Defendant had been convicted of a felony and two misdemeanors. Defendant did not object to the Form's admission, or to the ...


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