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State v. Coburn

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 5, 2019


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 20 August 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from judgment entered on or about 15 December 2017 by Judge William W. Bland in Superior Court, Wayne County. No. 16CRS050564

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Melissa H. Taylor, for the State.

          Franklin E. Wells, Jr., for defendant-appellant.

          STROUD, Judge.

         Defendant appeals a judgment convicting him of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. On appeal defendant argues the trial court should have instructed the jury on defense of habitation based upon North Carolina General Statute § 14-51.2. Because defendant invited any error in the trial court's instructions as to self-defense and defense of habitation, defendant has waived review of this issue, including plain error review. We thus conclude there was no error in defendant's trial .

         I. Background

         The State's evidence showed that Mr. William Howard Lancaster, Jr. had owned the home where he also resided for 32 years. Mr. Lancaster was an acquaintance of defendant and allowed defendant to move into the home at a time when defendant was struggling to find a stable living arrangement. Defendant occasionally paid Mr. Lancaster for the accommodations. Mr. Lancaster did not consider himself to be renting the room but rather "helping [defendant] out" until he was able to get a job and move. Defendant lived with Mr. Lancaster for approximately four months, and in February of 2016, Mr. Lancaster asked defendant to leave. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lancaster went to the home with Tony Anderson. Mr. Anderson and defendant got into an argument and a physical altercation ensued. Mr. Lancaster testified he saw defendant hit Mr. Anderson with a crowbar and a bat and spray fire at Mr. Anderson using an aerosol can and a lighter. Mr. Lancaster tried to break up the fight, and defendant stabbed him in the leg with a knife from his back pocket.

         Defendant also testified in his own defense. Defendant said he was renting a room from Mr. Lancaster. One Friday Mr. Lancaster came home and told defendant if he messed with one of the women who was visiting the home he would "cut [his] guts out." Defendant left the house on Saturday morning and did not return until Sunday. Defendant was packing up when Mr. Lancaster and his son[1] threatened defendant; defendant called 911. The police came and when they left, Mr. Lancaster, Mr. Anderson, and Mr. Lancaster's son went into defendant's room, "cornered me in the back of my bedroom and was jumping at me" and threatened defendant. Defendant called 911 again because he "needed help," and he "was scared they were going to, you know, really hurt me, jump on me." Defendant claimed he was defending himself when he pulled out the knife.

         Defendant was indicted for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury and attempted voluntary manslaughter. The trial court dismissed some of the charges against defendant and submitted only assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury to the jury, and the jury found defendant guilty. The trial court entered judgment and sentenced defendant to a minimum of 29 months and a maximum of 44 months imprisonment. Defendant appeals.

         II. Preservation of Issue on Appeal

         Defendant's only issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on defense of habitation. The State contends defendant failed to preserve this issue for appeal because he did not request an instruction regarding defense of habitation. Defense of habitation was discussed from the beginning of the trial, based upon a pretrial motion, until the end, during the charge conference. Defendant filed several motions prior to trial; one alleged he was immune from prosecution based upon defense of habitation under North Carolina General Statutes §§ 14.51.2 and 15A-954. The trial court denied defendant's pretrial motion to dismiss based upon "immunity" from prosecution and defendant has not challenged this ruling appeal. After all of the evidence was presented, defendant made several more motions, particularly regarding self-defense and the alleged defender's reasonable belief of the need to use force. Defendant did argue for defense of habitation. The trial court then stated,

I'm going to talk with each of the lawyers as we do this, so we kind of have an idea what's coming, and then get it firmly on the record. . . . Let's officially be in recess until a quarter to 2:00, and but let me speak to you all in chambers.

         Upon return to the courtroom the trial court stated, "I appreciate the assistance and professional attitude of counsel as we worked through lunch addressing some of these issues." The trial court listed the introductory pattern jury instructions it intended to give and ...

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