in the Court of Appeals 9 May 2019.
by defendant from judgments entered 12 October 2017 by Judge
Alan Z. Thornburg in Buncombe County Nos. 16 CRS 2470, 2472
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney
General Deborah M. Greene, for the State.
Eldred, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by Edward Eldred, for the
Rieger got pulled over for following too closely. Law
enforcement found marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia in
Rieger's car and arrested him on two charges: possession
of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
Rieger took his case to trial and a jury convicted him of
Rieger, this all seemed like one criminal case against him.
But the State filed the two charges against him in two
separate charging documents and the trial court entered two
separate judgments against him. In each of those judgments,
the court assessed court costs, amounting to a total of
appeal is about those court costs. The applicable statute
authorizes court costs "in every criminal case" in
which the defendant is convicted. N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7A-304(a). So the question is this: was what Rieger
experienced one criminal case or two?
not an easy question to answer. Both Rieger and the State
offer reasonable but conflicting interpretations of the plain
language, the statute's history, and the spirit and
intent underlying the imposition of court costs. Ultimately,
we are guided by the General Assembly's intent that court
costs reflect the costs that the justice system actually
incurs. Court costs are not intended to be a fine or other
form of punishment. With this in mind, we hold that when
multiple criminal charges arise from the same underlying
event or transaction and are adjudicated together in the same
hearing or trial, they are part of a single "criminal
case" for purposes of the costs statute. Accordingly, we
vacate the imposition of costs in one of the two judgments
and Procedural History
2016, after law enforcement discovered various illegal drugs
and drug paraphernalia in Dave Robert Rieger's car during
a traffic stop, the State charged Rieger with driving while
impaired, driving without an operator's license, and
possession of clonazepam, hydrocodone, marijuana, and
marijuana paraphernalia. The case then made its way through
the justice system. Although the State brought each charge
through a separate charging document, at each step in the
criminal justice process these charges were heard together in
the same court proceeding. Ultimately, in late 2017, after
being found guilty on multiple charges in district court,
Rieger appealed to superior court and his case went to trial.
The jury found Rieger guilty of two charges: possession of
marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
sentencing, the superior court entered two separate
judgments, one for each conviction. In both judgments, the
trial court imposed the court costs described in the statute
addressing costs in criminal court. This amounted to nearly
$800 in court costs. Rieger appealed, challenging the
imposition of the same court costs in both judgments.
argues that the trial court erred by assessing court costs as
part of both the criminal judgments. The statute governing
criminal costs ...