Columbus Day is a legal holiday that doesn’t count as a “business day” under a state law that requires registered sex offenders to return an address verification form to their county sheriff within three days of receiving the form—and so are Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, Greek Independence Day, and Confederate Memorial Day, among others, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled.
Christopher David Patterson was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender by failing to timely return an address verification form, a Class F felony, in Rowan County in 2014. He received the form on the Thursday before Columbus Day. Assuming that Columbus Day didn’t count as a business day since it is a federal holiday, Patterson showed up at the sheriff’s office the following Wednesday. That was the third business day by Patterson’s count, but the fourth business day by the reckoning of the sheriff’s office, which placed him under arrest.
Patterson appealed, arguing that he had complied with the law. North Carolina’s appellate courts had never previously considered whether Columbus Day counts as a business day for the purposes of the sex offender registration law. Somewhat unhelpfully, the law does not define “business day,” and the term is defined at least six different ways in various other portions of the state’s statutes.
Unable to divine a definition of the term based on the plain language of the statute or the legislature’s intent, the majority of the court’s panel applied the rule of lenity, which requires courts to interpret ambiguous criminal statutes in the manner most reasonably favorable to the defendant. Judge Allegra Collins, writing for a majority in an Aug. 6 opinion, said that the trial court therefore erred in denying Patterson’s motion to dismiss the charges.
“We hold that the term ‘business day,’ as used in Chapter 27A, means any calendar day except Saturday, Sunday, or legal holidays declared in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 103-4,” Collins wrote. “This construction effectuates the purpose of Session Law 2008-117 to shorten the grace period for reporting, and alleviates confusion for offenders and law enforcement, thus giving the term its ‘fair meaning in accord with the manifest intent of the lawmakers.’”
Judge Dillon dissented from the court’s ruling, noting that the “legal holidays” enumerated in § 103-4 include commemorations like the Anniversary of signing of Halifax Resolves and the Anniversary of Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which are not holidays as most people think of them. Dillon would have defined “business days” to include any weekday that the sheriff’s office is open for regular business.
The 21-page opinion is State v. Patterson (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-207-19). The full text of the opinion is available online at nclawyersweekly.com.
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