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State v. Diaz

Supreme Court of North Carolina

August 16, 2019


          Heard in the Supreme Court on 10 April 2019.

         On discretionary review pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-31 of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, 808 S.E.2d 450 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2017), granting defendant a new trial in part and finding no error in part upon appeal from judgments entered on 18 May 2016 by Judge Jeffrey B. Foster in Superior Court, Pitt County.

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

          Marilyn G. Ozer for defendant-appellee.

          HUDSON, JUSTICE.

         This case is before us pursuant to the State's petition in the alternative for discretionary review[1] of the Court of Appeals' opinion which granted defendant a new trial on his abduction of a child and statutory rape charges after determining that he was prejudiced by the trial court's decision to allow his affidavit of indigency to be admitted to prove his age-an element of the charges-in violation of his constitutional right against self-incrimination. State v. Diaz, 808 S.E.2d 450, 457 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2017). Pursuant to the State's petition in the alternative for discretionary review, we now address whether:

. . . the Court of Appeals err[ed] when it . . . held there was a self-incrimination clause violation where a form filled out by the defendant was admitted into evidence to show the defendant's age which was an element of his crimes, when the defendant's age was testified to without objection by uncontroverted testimony by the victim who lived in the same household.

         We conclude that admission of the affidavit was in error; however, because the trial court's error in allowing the affidavit of indigency to be admitted was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we affirm the Court of Appeals' opinion in part and reverse it in part.[2]

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         At trial, the State offered the only evidence. The factual background of this case was established mainly through the testimony of the juvenile victim, Julie.[3]Julie's testimony tended to show the following.

         Defendant and Julie met and began dating in the "late fall, early winter" of 2014. At the time they met, Julie was a freshman in high school and defendant was a senior at the same high school. Julie was fourteen years old, and she would not turn fifteen until 21 July 2015. Defendant told Julie that he was eighteen, but Julie later found out that he was nineteen. Julie testified that defendant's birthdate was 26 November 1995. On cross-examination, Julie testified that she never saw defendant's driver's license, birth certificate, or passport.

         After they met, Julie and defendant began "talking." However, at the end of January 2015, Julie and defendant began skipping school to have sex at defendant's house. The two continued having sex through April of 2015. Julie testified that she wanted to have sex with defendant all "but the first time."

         At one point in March or April of 2015, defendant asked Julie if he could record them while they were having sex. Julie testified that defendant's request was unexpected and that although she initially did not object to it, she was later worried that defendant might "use[ ] [i]t to manipulate [her]." Defendant made four separate recordings and the trial court admitted all of them into evidence.

         On 14 April 2015, Julie and defendant left North Carolina. Julie testified that although it was defendant's idea to leave North Carolina, she agreed to leave with him because: (1) she thought she was in love with him; (2) he told her that she would never see him again if she did not come with him; and (3) she was scared that he was going to use the recordings that he took of them having sex to manipulate her to go with him. Julie ultimately testified on cross-examination that although, in her view, defendant did not force her to leave with him, she "felt forced."

         After leaving North Carolina, defendant and Julie first went to defendant's uncle's house in New Mexico. Defendant's uncle, however, "didn't help [them]." He told them that they needed to "go back and do things right." He also told Julie that she needed to call her mother. Julie did so, but she did not tell her mother where her and defendant were.

         After leaving defendant's uncle's house, Julie and defendant went to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Julie testified that they "tried to get settled" there. They got an apartment together, and both she and defendant found jobs. Julie testified that at that point, the two were "[b]asically starting a new life" and "helping each other out." Julie testified that although she was "in favor of being out" in Oklahoma, she "kind of wanted to go back." Julie and defendant were away from North Carolina for about a month in total before U.S. Marshals found them in Oklahoma. Once they were found, U.S. Marshals arranged for Julie to return home to Greenville, __ N.C. __, on a flight from Oklahoma to Charlotte. Julie had no interaction with defendant after she returned home.

         On 2 June 2015, Julie made a written statement to one of the U.S. Marshals who picked her up at the airport in Charlotte. Julie testified at trial that she still loved defendant and felt like she had to protect him at the time that she wrote the statement. The statement tended to: (1) contradict Julie's trial testimony that it was defendant who came up with the idea to record them having sex back in March or April; and (2) demonstrate that defendant was willing to take Julie back home if she wanted to go back.

         On 14 September 2015, defendant was indicted for: (1) one count of abduction of a child under N.C. G.S. § 14-41; (2) three counts of statutory rape under then N.C. G.S. § 14-27.7A(b);[4] and (3) four counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor under N.C. G.S. § 14-190.16.

         On 6 October 2015, defendant completed and signed an affidavit of indigency so that a court-appointed attorney could be assigned to his case. Within the sworn affidavit, defendant listed his date of birth as 20 November 1995.

         Defendant's trial began on 16 May 2016. At trial, Julie testified to the facts stated herein.[5] At the end of Julie's testimony, the State offered as evidence a copy of defendant's affidavit of indigency. The State asserted that the affidavit was a self-authenticating document under Rule 902 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence. Defendant objected to the admission of the affidavit on the grounds of "relevance, due process, hearsay, confrontation." The trial court ruled that the affidavit was admissible because under "Rule 902 Rules of Evidence, it is a self-authenticating document." The trial court then allowed the State to publish the ...

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