in the Court of Appeals 27 February 2019.
by Defendant from judgment entered 24 January 2018 by Judge
Lori I. Hamilton in Rowan County No. 17CRS51386 Superior
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney
General Forrest P. Fallanca, for the State-Appellee.
& Carter PLLC, by Michelle F. Lynch, for the
Cory Antwon Mahatha appeals from judgment entered upon a
jury's verdicts finding him guilty of felony speeding to
elude arrest and attaining habitual felon status. After
careful review, we conclude that the trial court failed to
provide adequate information to ensure that Defendant
knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to
be represented by counsel. We therefore vacate
Defendant's convictions and judgment and grant a new
Factual Background and Procedural History
March 2017, Detective Patrick Schmeltzer of the Rowan County
Sheriff's Office was assigned to the crime reduction unit
in the Airport Road area. Schmeltzer, accompanied by
Detective Cody Trexler and Deputy Naturile, patrolled the
area in an unmarked black Chevrolet Tahoe. Schmeltzer
received a "be on the lookout" ("BOLO")
from his supervisor, Sergeant Weston, who radioed that an
assault had occurred and that the suspect vehicle, a white
Dodge Challenger, was heading his way. Schmeltzer pulled his
vehicle onto the shoulder, waited, and spotted a white Dodge
Challenger drive past him. Schmeltzer pulled onto the highway
and followed the vehicle for some distance but did not
observe Defendant speed, commit any traffic violations, or
engage in suspicious behavior. Schmeltzer activated the
Tahoe's blue lights and siren in order to initiate a
traffic stop of the vehicle.
was driving the white Dodge Challenger but did not pull over
when Schmeltzer activated the Tahoe's blue lights and
siren. Instead, Defendant maintained a speed of approximately
45 miles per hour and continued driving until he reached
South Main Street. Once Defendant reached South Main Street,
he turned right and accelerated to speeds of 90-100 miles per
hour. The officers pursued Defendant onto South Main Street
and witnessed Defendant: cross into turn lanes and onto the
shoulder of the road in order to pass other vehicles;
"almost wreck" before swerving back into traffic;
fish-tail across lanes; pass over the double-yellow lines;
and turn into oncoming traffic.
next drove through an intersection, failed to stop at a stop
sign, and pulled his car into a driveway; he then took off on
foot and ran into a cow pasture. Schmeltzer and Naturile
pursued Defendant on foot, discovered him hiding in a ditch,
and took Defendant into custody. Upon searching Defendant,
the officers found $3000 on his person and later found a
small amount of marijuana inside Defendant's vehicle.
May 2017, a grand jury indicted Defendant for felony speeding
to elude arrest in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. §
20-141.5(B) (2017). On 12 June 2017, a grand jury indicted
Defendant for having attained habitual felon status in
violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-7.1 (2017).
September 2017, Defendant was arraigned in Rowan County
Superior Court. The trial court told Defendant of the crimes
with which he was charged: "obtaining the status of a
habitual felon; possession of a firearm by a felon; attempted
robbery with a firearm; fleeing to allude arrest; driving
while license revoked, not an impaired revocation; and
assaulting a female." The trial court asked Defendant
whether he wished to have a lawyer represent him, to which
Defendant replied that he was going to represent himself. The
trial court also asked Defendant if he understood how much
time he was facing and told him that he was "looking at
. . . 231 months." At the end of his arraignment,
Defendant entered a plea of not guilty.
January 2018, prior to the start of Defendant's jury
trial, the State dismissed the charges of driving while
license revoked, not an impaired revocation; assault on a
female; possession of a firearm by a felon; and attempted
robbery with a dangerous weapon. The State proceeded to trial
on the charges of speeding to elude arrest and attaining
habitual felon status.
January 2018, the jury returned verdicts finding Defendant
guilty of both charges. The trial court entered judgment upon
the jury's verdicts, sentencing Defendant to a term of 97
months' to 129 months' imprisonment. From entry of
judgment, Defendant gave proper notice of appeal.
argues that the trial court erred (1) in failing to dismiss
the charge of speeding to elude arrest where there was no
evidence that the officer was lawfully performing his duties
at the time of the traffic stop and (2) by allowing Defendant
to represent himself when his waiver of counsel was not valid
and by later denying his request for appointed counsel.
Speeding to Elude Arrest
first argues that the trial court erred in failing to dismiss
the charge of speeding to elude arrest when there was no
evidence that Schmeltzer was lawfully performing his duties
when he initiated an investigatory traffic stop of Defendant.
Defendant's argument is misplaced.