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State v. Patterson

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 6, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
CHRISTOPHER DAVID PATTERSON, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 27 February 2019.

          Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 28 March 2018 by Judge Lori I. Hamilton in Rowan County No. 14CRS055709 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Gail E. Carelli, for the State-Appellee.

          Sharon L. Smith for Defendant-Appellant.

          COLLINS, JUDGE

         This case requires us to determine the definition of "business day" for purposes of Chapter 27A of our General Statutes. Defendant Christopher David Patterson appeals from judgment entered upon a jury verdict of guilty of failing to register as a sex offender by failing to timely return an address verification form. Defendant argues there was insufficient evidence of his willful failure to return the address verification form within three business days after receipt because Columbus Day could not be counted as a business day. We hold that the term "business day," as used in Chapter 27A, means any calendar day except Saturday, Sunday, or legal holidays declared in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 103-4. Because Columbus day is a legal holiday pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 103-4, there was insufficient evidence that Defendant willfully failed to return the address verification form within three business days after receipt. The trial court erred by denying Defendant's motion to dismiss and we thus vacate Defendant's conviction.

         I. Background

         On or about 8 March 2012, Defendant was convicted of a sex offense in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.7(b), which requires registration under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.7. On or about 12 March 2012, Defendant registered as a sex offender with the Rowan County Sheriff's Department.

         Every year on the anniversary of a person's initial registration date, and again six months after that date, the Department of Public Safety mails an address verification form to the last reported address of the person. Once the person receives the form, he has three business days to take the form to the sheriff's office to be signed.

         Rowan County Sheriff's Deputy John Lombard, a twenty-three-year employee of the department and an acquaintance of Defendant's since kindergarten, was in charge of the sex offender registry in Rowan County in 2012. Lombard testified that when the address verification form was returned to the sheriff's department as undeliverable, [1] "I would normally call [Defendant], and he would come in and sign the [form]." In May 2014, Lombard moved to another position within the sheriffs department and Deputy Karen Brindle was put in charge of the sex offender registry.

         Around October 2014, an address verification form was mailed to Defendant, but was returned to the Rowan County Sheriffs Department as undeliverable. On Thursday, 9 October 2014, Brindle instructed Lieutenant Larry St. Clair to deliver the address verification form to Defendant at his place of employment. On that day, St. Clair found Defendant at his place of employment, and told Defendant that "he needed to contact Ms. Brindle to set up an appointment to come up and verify the information she was needing." St. Claire had Defendant sign a card acknowledging that he needed to set up an appointment and left the address verification form with Defendant. The telephone call log entered into evidence by the State showed that Defendant called Brindle on Thursday, 9 October 2014; Monday, 13 October 2014; Tuesday, 14 October 2014, at which time he left Brindle a voicemail; and twice on Wednesday, 15 October 2014. Brindle testified that she did not return any of Defendant's calls or respond to his voicemail.

         After the unsuccessful attempts to set up an appointment with Brindle as instructed, Defendant appeared in person at the sheriffs department on 15 October 2014 and asked to meet with Brindle. Defendant testified that he understood the form had to be returned within three business days, and thought Columbus Day was not a business day. He testified, "I thought by showing up on Wednesday I -- I was complying with my requirement." He further explained that he thought "Friday would have been the first [business day]. Obviously, the weekend didn't count. I knew that Monday was a federal holiday, so it was my assumption that -- that that Monday didn't count as a business day. That was my assumption, so I knew in my mind, I had until Wednesday to get with the sheriffs department." Defendant testified, "I took Wednesday off on purpose in case I had to meet with her at that point."

         Upon his arrival at the sheriffs office, Defendant was told to wait in the lobby. Unbeknownst to Defendant, at some point on 15 October 2014, the Rowan County District Court found probable cause that Defendant "unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously" failed to return an address verification form as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.9A and issued a warrant for Defendant's arrest. After waiting in the lobby, an officer approached Defendant, handcuffed him, and arrested him for failing to register as a sex offender by failing to return the address verification form.

         On 16 October 2014, Defendant was brought to court for his first appearance. After paying his bond, Defendant saw Brindle in the lobby of the sheriffs department. Defendant approached and handed her the signed address verification form. Brindle testified that Defendant twice apologized to her "for making a mistake."

         On 8 December 2014, a Rowan County grand jury indicted Defendant for failure to register as a sex offender by failing to return an address verification form as required under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.9A. Defendant was tried by a jury on 27 and 28 March 2018 in superior court. At the close of the State's evidence and again at the close of all the evidence, Defendant moved to dismiss for insufficient evidence; the court denied the motions. The jury found Defendant guilty of failing to register as a sex offender. The court sentenced Defendant to a term of 19-32 months' imprisonment, suspended the sentence, and placed Defendant on supervised probation for 36 months. Additionally, the court required Defendant to complete 24 hours of community service during the first 180 days of probation. The court also imposed a fine of $250, and assessed costs and fees in the amount of $3, 215.50. Defendant gave proper notice of appeal in open court.

         II. Discussion

         On appeal, Defendant argues there was insufficient evidence of his failure to register as a sex offender under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.9A because there was insufficient evidence that he (1) failed to return the address verification form within three business days after receipt or (2) acted willfully if he had, in fact, failed to return the form within three business days after receipt.

         A. Standard of Review

         "This Court reviews a trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss de novo[.]" State v. Moore, 240 N.C.App. 465, 470, 770 S.E.2d 131, 136 (2015) (citation omitted). Moreover, "[i]ssues of statutory construction are questions of law which we review de novo on appeal[.]" State v. Hayes, 248 N.C.App. 414, 415, 788 S.E.2d 651, 652 (2016). Upon de novo review, this Court "considers the matter anew and freely substitutes its own judgment for that of the lower tribunal." State v. Williams, 362 N.C. 628, 632-33, 669 S.E.2d 290, 294 (2008) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Upon a defendant's motion to dismiss, the trial court must determine "whether there is substantial evidence of each essential element of the offense charged and of the defendant being the perpetrator of the offense. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." State v. Worley, 198 N.C. App 329, 333, 679 S.E.2d 857, 861 (2009) (quotation marks and citations omitted). "[T]he trial court must consider the record evidence in the light most favorable to the State . . . ." Id. (citation omitted). "The defendant's evidence, unless favorable to the State, is not to be taken into consideration." State v. Jones, 280 N.C. 60, 66, 184 S.E.2d 862, 866 (1971). However, if the defendant's evidence is consistent with the State's evidence, then the defendant's evidence "may be used to explain or clarify that offered by the State." Id. (citation omitted).

         B. Analysis

         A person required to register as a sex offender pursuant to Article 27A, and who "willfully" fails to return an address verification form required under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.9A, is guilty of a Class F Felony. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.11 (a)(3) (2018). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.9A provides:

(1) Every year on the anniversary of a person's initial registration date, and again six months after that date, the Department of Public Safety shall mail a nonforwardable verification form to the last reported address of the person.
(2) The person shall return the verification form in person to the sheriff within three business days after the receipt of the form.
(3) The verification form shall be signed by the person . ...

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