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Home / Opinion Digests / Criminal Practice / Criminal Practice – Constitutional – Ineffective Assistance Claim – Harbison Inquiry – Admission of Guilt – Evidence – Counsel’s Description – Hearsay

Criminal Practice – Constitutional – Ineffective Assistance Claim – Harbison Inquiry – Admission of Guilt – Evidence – Counsel’s Description – Hearsay

State v. Cook (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-094-16, 22 pp.) (Donna Stroud, J.) Appealed from Guilford County Superior Court (A. Moses Massey, J.) N.C. App.

Holding: During an inquiry pursuant to State v. Harbison, 315 N.C. 175, 337 S.E.2d 504 (1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1123 (1986), defendant agreed to allow his attorney to admit to the jury that defendant had killed the victim and that he had culpability for some criminal conduct. Although defendant did not specifically admit that he was guilty of second-degree murder, since only first- and second-degree murder were submitted to the jury, and since defendant does not argue that the trial court should have instructed the jury on voluntary manslaughter, defense counsel did not exceed the scope of defendant’s Harbison consent when he said to the jury, “[A]re we saying to you that [defendant] committed no crime and he should somehow walk, or something to that effect? Absolutely not.”

Defendant was not deprived of effective assistance of counsel, and the trial court committed no error in defendant’s conviction of first-degree murder.

Although, in closing arguments, defense counsel described defendant’s acts as “horrible,” counsel was impressing on the jury the fact that the gravity of defendant’s crimes was not the issue they had to determine. Rather, counsel asked the jury to decide whether defendant lacked the mental capacity necessary for premeditation and deliberation. Defendant has failed to rebut the strong presumption that counsel’s conduct fell within the range of reasonable professional assistance.

In addition, there is no reasonable probability that, in the absence of counsel’s alleged errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different since the state proffered overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt. Furthermore, the jury found defendant guilty under both a theory of premeditation and deliberation and a theory of felony murder based on either of defendant’s felony assaults on the victim’s mother and sister. Defendant has failed to show that he was deprived of effective assistance of counsel.

The trial court allowed the victim’s sister to testify that, on the night before she was killed, the victim said she “was scared of” defendant. This statement unequivocally demonstrated the victim’s state of mind and was highly relevant to show the status of her relationship with defendant. Accordingly, this statement was admissible under the state-of-mind hearsay exception.

No error.


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