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State v. Helms

Supreme Court of North Carolina

September 27, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
BOBBY DEWAYNE HELMS

          Heard in the Supreme Court on 28 August 2019.

          Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the unpublished decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, No. COA18-12, 2018 WL 4701732 ( N.C. Ct. App. Oct. 2, 2018), finding no error in judgments entered on 4 May 2017 by Judge Christopher W. Bragg in Superior Court, Union County.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Alexandra Gruber, Assistant Attorney General, for the State.

          Ann B. Petersen for defendant-appellant.

          HUDSON, JUSTICE.

         The case comes to us based on a dissenting opinion in the Court of Appeals. The issue before the Court is whether the Court of Appeals majority erred when it determined that the State presented sufficient evidence of the N.C. G.S. § 15A-1340.16(d)(15) aggravating factor-that defendant "took advantage of a position of trust or confidence, including a domestic relationship, to commit the offense[s]"-to submit that aggravating factor to the jury. Because we conclude there was not sufficient evidence to submit the aggravating factor to the jury, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand this matter for a new sentencing hearing without the consideration of the section 15A-1340.16(d)(15) aggravating factor.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On 6 July 2015, Defendant was indicted for two counts of engaging in a sex offense with a child under the age of thirteen years, in violation of section 14-27.4(a)(1) of the General Statutes. Those indictments were later joined for trial with two additional indictments for taking indecent liberties with a child.

         The victim, L.F., [1] was born on 23 April 2011. Her mother, B.F., went on her first date with defendant in 2012. Over the course of B.F.'s relationship with defendant, L.F. had very little contact with defendant and was in his presence only twice: once on B.F.'s first date with defendant, and once on the occasion of the offense.

         B.F. brought L.F., who was an infant at the time, along on her first date with defendant. At the end of the date, B.F. performed oral sex on defendant in the car while L.F. was asleep in a rear-facing car seat in the backseat.

         The only other time L.F. and defendant were together was on the occasion of the offense. One night in the fall of 2014, B.F. brought three-year-old L.F. to defendant's parents' house. Defendant's parents had a treehouse with a bed and a television inside. B.F., L.F., and defendant sat on the bed in the treehouse and watched a children's television show. Defendant texted B.F. and told her to take off L.F.'s clothes and her own, and she complied. Defendant then removed all of his own clothes, except his boxers. Defendant asked B.F. to touch L.F.'s clitoris, which she did. Defendant watched and began masturbating. At defendant's request, B.F. moved L.F. closer to him. Defendant placed his hand on L.F.'s head to guide her mouth onto his penis. When L.F. expressed that she wanted to leave, defendant took her and B.F. home.

         In January 2015, L.F. told her stepmother about what happened in the treehouse. Her stepmother contacted law enforcement and social services.

         At trial, the jury found defendant guilty of all four charges and found that the State had proven two aggravating factors: (1) that defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence, including a domestic relationship, to commit the offense, and (2) that the victim was very young. The trial court arrested judgment on the two convictions of taking indecent liberties with a child.

         At the sentencing hearing, the trial court found four mitigating factors, but determined that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors, and gave defendant an aggravated sentence. The trial court sentenced defendant to 300 to 420 months ...


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