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Criminal Practice – Evidence – Prior Incarceration – Plain Error Review – Sentencing

Criminal Practice – Evidence – Prior Incarceration – Plain Error Review – Sentencing

State v. Oakes (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-07-0336, 14 pp.) (Martha A. Geer, J.) Appealed from Forsyth County Superior Court. (Ronald E. Spivey, J.) N.C. App. Full-text opinion.

Holding: The state showed that, immediately after being stabbed and while awaiting an ambulance, the victim identified defendant as his assailant by nickname and pointed to defendant’s apartment building as where his assailant lived. Officer Wilson found blood on the front step of that building and a wet steak knife next to defendant’s kitchen sink, suggesting it had just been washed. At trial, the victim identified defendant as the perpetrator. Given this evidence, even if it were error for the trial court to admit testimony that defendant had been recently released from jail, defendant has failed to show that evidence of his past incarceration caused the jury to find him guilty.

We find no prejudicial error in defendant’s convictions of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and of attaining habitual felon status.

Even though the state did not present testimony from a health care provider regarding the seriousness of the victim’s injury, given that the victim was stabbed, both Officer Wilson and the victim testified that the victim was bleeding profusely, the victim was hospitalized for more than a week, and the victim required a breathing tube, defendant has not shown that, in the absence of testimony about his prior incarceration, the jury would have concluded that the victim’s injury was not serious.

It was error to admit plea transcripts that had not been redacted to remove information that was irrelevant to the habitual felon proceeding, such as defendant’s prior drug use, mental health counseling, and lenient sentencing. However, defendant did not dispute the fact that he had been convicted of the necessary predicate felonies, and the state presented evidence of those convictions in the form of the information, warrant, transcript of plea, and judgment for each of the three felonies. There is essentially no likelihood that the jury would have reached any other verdict had the plea transcripts been excluded.

Finally, defendant cites no authority — and we know of none — suggesting that a trial court may not take into account the seriousness of a crime and the defendant’s criminal record in deciding where within a presumptive range a defendant’s sentence should fall. We fail to see why a trial court should not be able to take into account the seriousness of the particular offense when exercising its discretion to decide which minimum term within the presumptive range for that class of offense and prior record level to impose.

No prejudicial error.


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