In the early morning hours of 1 June 1979, defendant was arrested in a rural area of Rutherford County and charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Later that same day, defendant was found to be an indigent, and Mr. David K. Fox, a member of the Henderson County Bar, was appointed to represent him. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ronald G. Blanchard, who was also a
On 16 August, defendant made a motion through defense counsel that his court appointed attorneys be discharged "for good and sufficient reasons." A hearing was held, and Superior Court Judge Robert D. Lewis denied the motion.
On 4 September 1979, Mr. Fox received a letter from defendant who was then confined in the Buncombe County Jail in Asheville. Dated 31 August 1979, the letter read as follows:
Mr. Fox responded to the letter from defendant by filing a motion in which he asked that the court dismiss him as defendant's attorney of record because "no meaningful communication" was possible between himself and defendant. According to the motion, since the attorney's initial conference with defendant, he had met with a "stiffening personal resistance ... which soon thereafter involved [sic] into a personal antagonism on the part of defendant" toward the attorney.
A special session of McDowell Superior Court was scheduled for 17 September 1979, and Judge Smith was assigned to preside. Defendant's case was calendared for that session of court. On 5 September 1979, Judge Smith was presiding over a session of Henderson Superior Court. At that time, defendant's attorneys presented the letter to Judge Smith, and he proceeded to conduct an informal hearing in the presence of defendant, defense counsel, the district attorney, and a court reporter.
Throughout the day of 5 September and into the next, the court closely questioned defense counsel about the nature of their relationship to defendant. Defendant was examined by the court in order to determine the nature of the problem between him and his court appointed attorneys. During the early part of the hearing, defendant told the court, "I know Mr. Fox is a good lawyer." Upon further inquiry by the court, the following exchange took place:
At a later point in the proceedings, after the court asked defendant who he expected would be ready for trial on 17 September, defendant answered, "... just like I said, Mr. Fox there, I know he's a good lawyer here in town, but he ain't come through with nothin' [sic]." Thereupon, the court and defendant had the following exchange.
Following the hearing, the court entered an order making findings of fact that defendant had made no showing which would amount to legal justification for removing either or both of his court appointed attorneys; that the only reason defendant had articulated for wishing to have his attorneys discharged was because of his stated belief that they had not visited him enough to discuss the case; and that there had been no showing that defendant's attorneys were failing to prepare themselves for trial. The court then ordered that defendant's motion for removal of his attorneys and appointment of substitute counsel be denied.
It is defendant's contention on appeal
There are two prongs to our analysis: First, the implications of an alleged conflict between an indigent defendant and his court-appointed attorney; and, second, the obligation of a court to inform a defendant of his right to proceed pro se.
A cardinal principle of the criminal law is that the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution requires that in a serious criminal prosecution the accused shall have the right to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25, 92 S.Ct. 2006, 32 L.Ed.2d 530 (1972); Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792, 9 L.Ed.2d 799 (1963); see generally J. Cook, Constitutional Rights of the Accused: Trial Rights, § 22 (1974). The competency of a criminal defendant's counsel does not amount to a denial of the constitutional right to counsel unless it is established that the attorney's representation was so ineffective that it renders the trial a farce and a mockery of justice. State v. Sneed, 284 N.C. 606, 201 S.E.2d 867 (1974). In the absence of any substantial reason for the appointment of replacement counsel, an indigent defendant must accept counsel appointed by the court, unless he wishes to present his own defense. E. g., State v. Robinson, 290 N.C. 56, 224 S.E.2d 174 (1976). A disagreement over trial tactics does not, by itself, entitle a defendant to the appointment of new counsel. State v. Thacker, 301 N.C. 348, 271 S.E.2d 252 (1980); State v. Robinson, supra. Nor does a defendant have the right to insist that new counsel be appointed merely because he has become dissatisfied with the attorney's services. State v. Sweezy, 291 N.C. 366, 230 S.E.2d 524 (1976); State v. Robinson, supra. Similarly, the effectiveness of representation cannot be gauged by the amount of time counsel spends with the accused; such a factor is but one consideration to be weighed in the balance. E. g., Missouri v. Turley, 443 F.2d 1313 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 965, 92 S.Ct. 336, 30 L.Ed.2d 284 (1971); O'Neal v. Smith, 431 F.2d 646 (5th Cir. 1970).
The hearing which was conducted by Judge Smith fulfilled the obligation of the court to inquire into defendant's reasons for wanting to discharge his attorneys and to determine whether those reasons were legally sufficient to require the discharge of counsel. At the close of that hearing, the court made findings of fact which are conclusive
The concerns expressed by defendant relating to the frequency he received visits from his attorneys are untenable. While it is no doubt true that the effective assistance of counsel includes the development and nurturing of an attorney-client relationship, we conclude that repeated visits to a defendant's jail cell at a particular level of frequency are not necessarily incident to that development. An attorney is obligated to consult with his client whenever the need arises. Furthermore, an attorney ought to keep his client informed of the status of his case. These duties are clear and hardly open to question. The issue, however, which is posed by this assignment is not whether these duties exist but whether defense counsel failed to so conduct themselves and thereby denied defendant his sixth amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.
It is manifest that there are no hard and fast rules that can be employed to determine whether a defendant has been denied the effective assistance of counsel. State v. Hensley, 294 N.C. 231, 240 S.E.2d 332 (1978); State v. Sneed, supra. Instead, each case must be examined on an individual basis so that the totality of its circumstances are considered. Id. Absent a showing of a sixth amendment violation, the decision of whether appointed counsel shall be replaced is a matter committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. State v. Sweezy, supra.
While the frequency of contact between an attorney and his client is one factor to be weighed in evaluating the effectiveness of counsel, appointed counsel need not make perfunctory visits to the jail in order to render effective assistance. At no place in the record is there any evidence which would tend to show that defense counsel were unable to mount a defense which would be consistent with the concept of effective representation. The record indicates that defense counsel had been diligent in all respects regarding their preparation for trial. There is no question that they engaged in spirited motions practice and discovery, as well as the research which is necessarily incident to cases of this nature. While it is true that defendant insisted that his attorneys had not visited him often enough, there is no indication that the frequency of contact resulted in defendant being misinformed about the progress of the case. Nor is there any suggestion that the level of contact affected adversely the attorney's preparation for trial. It must be noted that defendant was incarcerated in a county different from that in which his attorneys lived and practiced. The time which would have been required for frequent commuting between Asheville and Hendersonville could have been better utilized in pre-trial preparation. Because of the potential these challenges have for disrupting the efficient dispensing of justice, appellate courts ought to be reluctant to overturn the action of the trial judge in disposing of the matter. Such deference recognizes the superior viewpoint one who is on the scene has as compared with the reviewer of a cold record. All of these considerations lead us to conclude that Judge Smith did not err in denying defendant's motion.
A criminal defendant has the right under the sixth amendment to refuse representation by an attorney and to conduct his own defense. Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d
In the six years since Faretta became the law of the land, the courts of this state, as well as those of the other states, have had numerous opportunities to construe its meaning and parameters. One of the persistent concerns of these cases has been whether Faretta requires that appropriate warnings be made to safeguard the right of self-representation. Without exception, the courts which have passed upon the question have concluded that Faretta does not impose such a requirement. Our own court had the opportunity to address this very issue within a matter of months of the Faretta decision in State v. Branch, 288 N.C. 514, 220 S.E.2d 495, cert. denied, 433 U.S. 907, 97 S.Ct. 2971, 53 L.Ed.2d 1091 (1977). In that decision, we too indicated that Faretta did not carry with its recognition of the right of self-representation a concurrent recognition of the right to be warned of its existence.
In Branch, at the time of his arraignment, co-defendant Sullivan made a motion for a continuance, indicating that he was dissatisfied with his retained counsel and that he wished to employ another attorney. The motion was denied, and the case proceeded to trial. On appeal, this court rejected the argument that Sullivan had been denied the right of self-representation because the trial judge had not informed him of that right. Holding that such was not mandated by Faretta, Justice Copeland correctly observed that:
State v. Branch, 288 N.C. at 548, 220 S.E.2d at 518.
We find Branch to be controlling here and we reaffirm its viability because of the striking similarity between the case sub judice and it. In both cases, while there was an expression of some dissatisfaction with counsel by criminal defendants, neither defendant suggested any desire to represent himself. In both cases, while the trial court denied the appropriate motions, neither defendant was forced to accept the assistance of counsel generally. Rather, the trial court in both instances refused to be governed by the expressed dissatisfaction with particular attorneys. Unless an accused makes some form of an affirmative statement which would amount to a manifestation of a desire to proceed pro se, it cannot be reasonably argued that an accused has been forced to accept representation at trial. It is that concern to which Faretta was addressed. See United States ex rel. Maldonado v. Denno, 348 F.2d 12 (2d Cir. 1965); People v. Enciso, 25 Cal.App.3d 49, 101 Cal.Rptr. 590 (1972); Russell v. State, 383 N.E.2d 309 (Ind.1978); State v. Garcia, 92 Wn.2d 647, 600 P.2d 1010 (1979).
At no place in the record is there any suggestion that defendant manifested any desire to represent himself. At the close of the first day's hearing on the motion to withdraw, upon questioning by the court, defendant indicated that it was his desire that his attorneys be removed.
Nor do we perceive that the procedure approved in State v. Thacker, supra, has been violated. G.S. § 15A-1242 (1978) provides that:
In Thacker, the trial judge questioned the defendant specifically in accordance with the statute. The answers which defendant gave indicated that he had been advised of the right to counsel; that he was aware of the consequences of his decision to represent himself; and that he understood the nature of the charges against him, the range of permissible punishments, and the trial proceedings which were to follow.
In Thacker, the defendant explicitly requested the permission of the court to proceed pro se. In the present case, there is no evidence in the record which would tend to show or even to suggest that defendant wished to represent himself. That being the case, the fact that the trial judge in Hendersonville did not make a systematic examination of defendant consistent with the mandate of the statute is irrelevant. Assuming, arguendo, however, that there may have been a desire on the part of defendant to represent himself which was not expressed to the court, it is our conclusion that the trial judge conducted himself in an exemplary manner to the end that defendant was fully informed in all respects concerning the situation which he faced. There can be no doubt that Judge Smith apprised defendant that he had the right to the effective assistance of counsel and that he was aware of the charges which he then faced, as well as the probable punishments which would attach upon a conviction.
Shortly after the hearing on the motion to discharge counsel convened, the district attorney moved that the hearing be closed. Thereupon, the following exchange occurred:
The proceeding was then removed to the judge's chambers. By his second assignment of error, defendant argues that the trial court erred in granting the motion for closure. We find no merit in this contention.
The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution provides in pertinent part that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, ...." See generally J. Cook, Constitutional Rights of the Accused: Trial Rights, §§ 100-02 (1974 & Cum.Supp. 1980). Section 18 of Article I of the North Carolina Constitution echoes this mandate by requiring that "[a]ll courts be open." Similarly, Section 24 of the same article of the state constitution provides that "[n]o person shall be convicted of any crime but by unanimous verdict of a jury in open court...." These guarantees are not absolute. State v. Burney, 302 N.C. 529, 276 S.E.2d 693 (1981); State v. Yoes, 271 N.C. 616, 157 S.E.2d 386 (1967); see generally Annot., 61 L.Ed.2d 1018 (1980). While every reasonable presumption will be indulged against a waiver of fundamental constitutional rights by a defendant in a criminal prosecution, e. g., State v. Stokes, supra, a defendant may waive the benefit of constitutional guarantees by express consent, failure to assert it in apt time, or by conduct inconsistent with a purpose to insist upon it. E. g., State v. Gaiten, 277 N.C. 236, 176 S.E.2d 778 (1970).
Defendant argues that the hearing on the motion to discharge counsel "was little more than an effort to intimidate and placate" him so that he would be satisfied with his attorneys. Defendant reasons that "[i]t is hard to imagine that the proceeding would have been the same had it been held in open court." The face of the record belies this argument by its showing that the judge dealt with defendant in a patient and solicitous manner. In so doing, Judge Smith began the inquiry by specifically asking defendant if he wanted the matter heard in closed court or open court. Defendant unequivocably responded on three occasions that he preferred to proceed with the court being closed. In the last instance, defendant was responding to the judge's question concerning whether he was waiving the provisions of the state and federal constitutions which require that courts be open to the public. Defendant will not now be heard to complain that his right to a public trial was violated when he expressly waived the benefit of its provisions.
On 6 September 1979, after defense counsel received a report which had been prepared by a psychiatrist who had examined defendant in the Buncombe County Jail, counsel informed the trial court of the possibility of an insanity defense. The district attorney thereupon moved to transfer defendant to Dorothea Dix Hospital for examination.
The next day, 17 September, defendant's case was called for trial. Before trial, the district attorney informed defense counsel that he intended to rely upon a theory of premeditation and deliberation as to the killing of Deputy Sheriff Huskey and that he intended to rely upon a theory of lying in wait as to the killing of the other two officers. Following receipt of this notice, defense counsel sought a continuance on the ground that defendant was not in any condition to proceed and that preparation for trial was impossible. The motion was denied. We perceive no error in this action.
A motion for a continuance is addressed to the discretion of the trial court, and its ruling thereon is not subject to review absent an abuse of discretion; however, if the motion is based upon a right which is guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions, the question presented is one of law and not of discretion, and the ruling of the trial court is reviewable on appeal. E. g., State v. Thomas, 294 N.C. 105, 240 S.E.2d 426 (1978). Defendant now argues that the denial of his motion by the trial court denied to him his right to the effective assistance of counsel. The record offers no support for this argument.
First, defendant did not object to the trial court's action in granting the motion of the state that he be committed to Dorothea Dix for observation. That action could not have prejudiced defendant because it was consistent with the possibility that an insanity defense could be mounted. In any event, by failing to object, defendant has waived his absence in Raleigh as ground upon which he may rely. Second, the notice that the state gave defense counsel of its theory of the case could not have adversely affected defendant's position. Defense counsel did not challenge the statement of the district attorney that the notice was not based upon any evidence that had not yet been furnished through the discovery process. Furthermore, the trial court did not instruct the jury on theories of lying in wait. It follows, therefore, that the preparation of defense counsel could not have been prejudiced by the denial of the motion to continue.
Defendant next contends that the trial court erred in denying his motions to dismiss as to first-degree murder, arguing that the only evidence presented by the state was that of encounters between defendant and each of the three officers and the subsequent death of each officer by a gunshot wound. It is defendant's argument that there is no evidence that any of the deaths were perpetrated upon premeditation and deliberation.
Murder in the first-degree is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice and with premeditation and deliberation. E. g., State v. Davis, 289 N.C. 500, 223 S.E.2d 296, death sentence vacated, 429 U.S. 809, 97 S.Ct. 47, 50 L.Ed.2d 69 (1976); see generally W. LaFave & A. Scott, Handbook on Criminal Law, § 73 (1972). No fixed length of time is required for the mental processes of premeditation and deliberation constituting first-degree murder. E. g., State v. Sanders, 276 N.C. 598, 174 S.E.2d 487 (1970). Premeditation means thought beforehand for some length of time however short. E. g., State v. Buchanan, 287 N.C. 408, 215 S.E.2d 80 (1975); State v. Johnson, 278 N.C. 252, 179 S.E.2d 429 (1971). Deliberation does not require brooding or reflection for any appreciable length of time but connotes the execution of an intent to kill in a cool state of blood without legal provocation in furtherance of a fixed design. State v. Davis, supra; State v. Britt, supra; State v. Johnson, supra. Premeditation and deliberation are seldom susceptible of direct proof, but they may be inferred from circumstantial evidence. State v. Reams, 277 N.C. 391, 178 S.E.2d 65 (1970), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 840,
We also hold that it was not error for the trial court to have charged the jury on theories of felony murder as to the deaths of Deputy Sheriff Messersmith and Trooper Peterson. A homicide which is committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of a felony is murder in the first-degree, irrespective of premeditation and deliberation. E. g., State v. Hairston, 280 N.C. 220, 185 S.E.2d 633 (1972). In such cases, the law presumes premeditation and deliberation and the state is not put to further proof of either. State v. Woodson, 287 N.C. 578, 215 S.E.2d 607 (1975), death sentence vacated, 428 U.S. 280, 92 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976); State v. Jenerett, 281 N.C. 81, 187 S.E.2d 735 (1972). A killing is committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of a felony for purposes of the felony murder rule where there is no break in the chain of events leading from the initial felony to the act causing death, so that the homicide is part of a series of incidents which form one continuous transaction. State v. Thompson, 280 N.C. 202, 185 S.E.2d 666 (1972). A felony comes within the purview of the felony murder rule if its commission or attempted commission creates a substantial foreseeable risk to human life and actually results in the loss of life. Id.
In the case sub judice, the trial court charged the jury on theories of felony murder as to the deaths of Deputy Sheriff Messersmith and Trooper Peterson. The underlying felony as to the killing of Messersmith was the killing of Deputy Sheriff Huskey. The underlying felony as to the killing of Peterson was the killing of either Huskey or Messersmith. While our research has failed to reveal any case in which the killing of one individual serves as the underlying felony for the conviction of a defendant for the murder of yet another person, we perceive no inherent bar to such a theory, provided that the other requirements of the felony murder doctrine are met. The evidence does not suggest a break in the chain of events which began with the killing of Deputy Huskey and which culminated in the killing of Trooper Peterson. The shootings of Messersmith and Peterson tended to exhibit the attribute that they were perpetrated so that defendant could avoid identification and arrest for shooting and killing Deputy Huskey.
Defendant also contends that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that:
Clearly, this instruction was erroneous. Second-degree murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice but without premeditation and deliberation. E. g., State v. Duboise, 279 N.C. 73, 181 S.E.2d 393 (1971). However, it is fundamental that the charge of the court will be construed contextually, and isolated portions will not be held to constitute prejudicial error when the charge as a whole is free from objection. E. g., State v. Bailey,
Similarly, we reject defendant's contention that he was prejudiced by the following portion of the judge's charge:
Upon a showing that there has been an intentional killing with a deadly weapon, the law permits the jury to infer that the homicide was committed with malice. State v. Patterson, 297 N.C. 247, 254 S.E.2d 604 (1979); State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 220 S.E.2d 575 (1975), rev'd on other grounds, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1977). It is error for a court to fail to charge the jury that it is not compelled to nor need necessarily infer malice. State v. Patterson, supra. We hold, however, that defendant could not have been prejudiced by Judge Smith's failure to instruct the jury that the inference was a permissible one because on five other occasions he correctly instructed the jury upon the nature of the inference.
After defendant was found guilty of one count of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree murder, Judge Smith convened a sentencing hearing before the same jury pursuant to G.S. § 15A-2000, et seq., (1978 & Cum.Supp.1980). Sentencing on the second-degree murder conviction was delayed pending the outcome of the hearing.
The state attempted to introduce evidence, including statements defendant made to law enforcement officers, concerning a prior shooting in which defendant had been engaged. However, after conducting a voir dire, the trial court ordered that the statements be suppressed. The state thereupon rested. Defendant offered the testimony of several witnesses which tended to show that defendant had a good reputation in the community. The state offered rebuttal witnesses whose testimony was to the contrary.
The following aggravating circumstances were submitted as to both first-degree murder convictions:
The jury found each of these aggravating circumstances to exist beyond a reasonable doubt.
The following mitigating circumstances were submitted as to both first-degree murder convictions:
As to both murders, the jury found only one mitigating circumstance: That the murder was committed while defendant was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance.
Upon finding, as to both murders, that the aggravating circumstances were sufficiently substantial to call for the imposition of the death penalty, that the mitigating circumstances were insufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstances, and upon the unanimous recommendation of the jury, Judge Smith pronounced judgments which called for the imposition of two death sentences. Judge Smith also sentenced defendant to life imprisonment for second-degree murder.
Defendant initially challenges the sentencing phase of his trial by challenging the constitutionality of the North Carolina death penalty. A similar challenge was rejected by this court in State v. Barfield, 298 N.C. 306, 259 S.E.2d 510 (1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 907, 100 S.Ct. 3050, 65 L.Ed.2d 1137 (1980); see generally Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976); Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976); Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972). Barfield controls this assignment of error, and today we reaffirm its validity.
Defendant next contends that the trial court erred by sustaining the objections of the district attorney which prevented his character witnesses from elaborating upon their testimony. This contention is without merit.
While it is the general rule that a party calling a character witness can only inquire as to the general reputation of the person about whom the questions are asked, the witness may, on his own, say in what respect it is good or bad. See generally 1 Stansbury's North Carolina Evidence § 114 (Brandis Rev.1973). At the sentencing phase of trial, defendant offered the testimony of five character witnesses, each of whom testified that they knew the character and reputation of defendant in the community in which he lived and that it was good. Each of the character witnesses proceeded to elaborate upon his answers. On six occasions, the trial court sustained the objections of the district attorney. The record indicates that in those instances where objections were sustained, the answers would have been irrelevant to the inquiry or unresponsive. In any event, there could have been no prejudice because in each instance, the witness had already detailed his knowledge of defendant's reputation.
Defendant next brings forward three challenges to the legal sufficiency of Judge Smith's charge to the jury at the close of the evidence at the sentencing hearing. We find no error in the charge.
Initially, defendant contends that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the state offered evidence at the guilt
Second, defendant argues that the trial court erred by instructing "the jury in such a way as to permit it to use its discretion in determining punishment." There was no error.
While it is true that the North Carolina capital sentencing procedure contemplates the exercise of discretion by a jury at the sentencing phase of trial, that discretion is not constitutionally impermissible. Any scheme for the imposition of the death penalty which permits either the judge or the jury to impose that sentence as a matter of unbridled discretion is unconstitutional. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. at 253, 92 S.Ct. at 2734, 33 L.Ed.2d at 357 (Douglas, J., concurring); State v. Barfield, supra; State v. Waddell, 282 N.C. 431, 194 S.E.2d 19 (1973). On the other hand, any method by which a state chooses to implement capital punishment must allow for the particularized consideration of relevant aspects of the character and record of each convicted defendant before the death penalty may be imposed upon him. Woodson v. North Carolina, supra; State v. Barfield, supra; State v. Goodman, 298 N.C. 1, 257 S.E.2d 569 (1979). Through the exercise of guided discretion, juries in North Carolina are required to assess the appropriateness of imposing the death penalty upon a particular defendant for the commission of a particular crime. State v. Barfield, supra; State v. Goodman, supra. It is not the exercise of discretion but the exercise of unbridled discretion which is unconstitutional. Gregg v. Georgia, supra; State v. Barfield, supra.
We find defendant's argument to be unpersuasive because he has failed to demonstrate in any manner that the conduct of Judge Smith allowed or encouraged the jury to exercise unbridled discretion.
Judge Smith instructed the jury that:
Correspondingly, he instructed the jury that
Similarly, we find defendant's remaining challenges to Judge Smith's charge, as well as his challenges to the form upon which the jury was to record its sentencing decision, to be without merit. As to both the murder of Deputy Messersmith and Trooper Peterson, the court submitted virtually identical verdict forms which set out mitigating and aggravating circumstances as issues one and three, respectively. Issue two inquired as to whether any aggravating circumstances which the jury found were sufficiently substantial to call for the imposition of the death penalty. Issue four asked the jury
The form went on to provide that if the jury answered Issue Number Four "No" it was to indicate that its punishment recommendation was life imprisonment; if the jury answered the issue "Yes", it was to indicate that its punishment recommendation was death. Judge Smith so instructed the jury by charging it in the following manner:
There was no error either in the framing of the issues or in the corresponding instructions of the judge. Since we have already held that the statute is constitutional, State v. Barfield, supra, the only basis upon which defendant can challenge this portion of the trial is that it did not comply with the dictates of the statute. The procedure so set out for the jury is precisely that contemplated by G.S. § 15A-2000.
Lastly, defendant challenges the failure of the trial court to instruct the jury that a sentence of life imprisonment would be imposed in the event that it failed to reach unanimous agreement on the proper sentence. There was no error. We have previously held that such an instruction is improper because not only would it be of no assistance to the jury, it would also permit the jury to escape its responsibility to recommend the sentence to be imposed. State v. Johnson, 298 N.C. 355, 259 S.E.2d 752 (1979).
Defendant also brings forward three assignments of error which challenge the particular aggravating and mitigating circumstances which were submitted to the jury. None of these contentions have merit.
Initially, defendant contends that the trial court erred in submitting as an aggravating circumstance that the murder of Deputy Sheriff Messersmith, as well as that of Trooper Peterson, was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a
In Cherry, we held that when a defendant is found guilty of first-degree murder on a theory of felony murder, the trial court may not submit to the jury at the sentencing phase of trial as an aggravating circumstance that the murder was committed during the commission of the underlying felony. Defendant argues that Cherry controls the case sub judice to the extent that since the state's theory at the guilt phase was that he was resisting arrest, the state ought to be barred from relying upon that aggravating circumstance at the sentencing phase of trial. Cherry is grounded upon the criminal law concept that when the state uses evidence that a killing occurred in the perpetration of another felony so as to establish that the homicide was first-degree murder, the underlying felony becomes part of the murder conviction to the extent that further prosecution or punishment for it is barred. State v. Cherry, 298 N.C. at 113-14, 257 S.E.2d at 567-68. That defendant was resisting lawful arrest in the course of committing a series of homicides does not, by itself, present the problem of merger to which the opinion in Cherry was addressed. While that was the state's theory of the case at the guilt phase of trial, it did not constitute an underlying felony on a felony murder theory.
Second, defendant contends that the trial court erred by submitting two aggravating circumstances which were based upon the same evidence as to both first-degree murder convictions: that the murder was committed for the purpose of resisting a lawful arrest and that the murder was committed against a law enforcement officer who was engaged in the performance of his lawful duties. There was no error.
It is error to charge the jury at the sentencing phase of a capital case on multiple aggravating circumstances which are supported by precisely the same evidence. State v. Goodman, supra. In Goodman, we held that it was error for the trial court to have submitted as aggravating circumstances that the first-degree murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest
In Oliver & Moore, the defendants had been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder on felony murder theories. In the course of robbing a convenience store, the defendants had killed the storekeeper and a customer. At the sentencing hearing at which the defendants were sentenced to death, several aggravating circumstances were submitted to the jury for its consideration. Among other aggravating circumstances, the trial court submitted, as to both murders, the aggravating circumstances that the murder was committed during the commission of an armed robbery and that the murder was committed for pecuniary gain. While we remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing because of a violation of the Cherry rule,
The last challenge that defendant makes to the sentencing phase of his trial is that the trial court erred in failing to submit the mitigating circumstance that defendant did not have a significant history of prior criminal activity. It is fundamental that the trial judge must declare and explain the law that arises upon the evidence. E. g., State v. Williams, 280 N.C. 132, 184 S.E.2d 875 (1971). The state does not have the burden of proof that in a given capital case no mitigating circumstances exist. State v. Barfield, supra. It is the responsibility of the defendant to go forward with evidence that tends to show the existence of a given mitigating circumstance and to prove its existence to the satisfaction of the jury. In the case sub judice, while defendant presented evidence which tended to show that he had a good reputation in the community in which he lived, that does not, by itself, tend to show that defendant did not have a significant history of prior criminal activity. Since defendant did not go forward with evidence in this regard, nor was there any evidence introduced by the state on this point, the trial court was not obligated to instruct the jury on this mitigating circumstance on its own motion.
By his final assignment of error, defendant argues that the trial court erred in entering judgments imposing the death penalty in light of the fact that the jury found a mitigating circumstance. The jury found that each of the murders was committed while defendant was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance. It did not find that defendant's capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct was impaired; that defendant's capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was impaired; or that there were any other circumstances which the jury deemed to have mitigating value. It is defendant's position that since the jury found the mitigating circumstance that defendant committed the murders while he was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance, the trial court should have sentenced defendant to life imprisonment rather than death. We disagree. Upon proper instructions, the issues presented to a jury at the sentencing phase of a capital case call for that body to answer questions of fact. The jury found in each murder that three aggravating circumstances existed beyond a reasonable doubt; that they were sufficiently substantial to call for the imposition of the death penalty; and that the mitigating circumstances were insufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstances. That being the case, the trial court was obligated to enter judgments consistent with the jury's unanimous recommendation that defendant be sentenced to death. The jury weighed the circumstances submitted to it and resolved them adversely to defendant's position. Absent a showing of legal error, the trial
G.S. § 15A-2000(d) directs this court to review the record in a capital case to determine whether the record supports the jury's finding of any aggravating circumstance, whether the sentence was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, and whether the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant. State v. Martin, ___ N.C. ___, 278 S.E.2d 214 (1981); State v. McDowell, 301 N.C. 279, 271 S.E.2d 286 (1980), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 101 S.Ct. 1731, 68 L.Ed.2d 220 (1981); State v. Barfield, supra. This mandate serves as a check against the capricious or random imposition of the death penalty. Id. Our review function in this regard is limited to those instances where both phases of the trial of the defendant in a capital case have been found to be free from prejudicial error. State v. Goodman, 298 N.C. at 35, 257 S.E.2d at 590-91.
We have scrutinized the record in the present case. We have carefully scrutinized the briefs and arguments which have been presented to us on behalf of defendant. After complete deliberation, we conclude that there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the jury's findings concerning the aggravating circumstances which were presented to it. There is nothing in the record which would indicate that the sentences of death were imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor.
The present case does not present the situation in which a victim was brutally murdered in such a way that the episode could be characterized as being a torture slaying. Compare State v. Martin, supra; State v. McDowell, supra. Nor can it be said that defendant inflicted death in an exotic manner and stood silent as his victim was ministered to by competent medical personnel. Compare State v. Barfield, supra. However, the record clearly establishes a course of conduct on the part of defendant which amounts to a wanton disregard for the value of human life and for the enforcement of the law by duly appointed authorities. These factors lead us to conclude that the sentence of death is not disproportionate or excessive, considering both the crime and the defendant. We, therefore, decline to exercise our discretion to set aside the sentences imposed.
MEYER, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
EXUM, Justice, dissenting.
All the evidence presented on the question demonstrates to me that the relationship between defendant and his court-appointed counsel had so deteriorated that counsel was unable to provide defendant the effective assistance which the Sixth Amendment requires. I must, therefore, respectfully dissent from the majority's position on this issue and, for this reason, I cannot join in the majority's conclusion that no error was committed in this proceeding leading to imposition of the death penalty upon the defendant.
In State v. Thacker, 301 N.C. 348, 271 S.E.2d 252 (1980), the principal issue was whether defendant had "the constitutional right to have substitute counsel appointed to represent him." The Court, after a thorough, well researched discussion of the problem in an opinion by Justice Carlton, properly on the record before it viewed the situation as a mere dispute between defendant and counsel over trial tactics because of which defendant complained that he had difficulty communicating with his counsel. Significantly, in Thacker counsel never alluded to any communication problem. Thacker, however, recognized the principle that the appointment of substitute counsel is required when "the nature of the conflict between defendant and counsel is ... such as would render counsel incompetent or ineffective
The principle that when the lawyer-client relationship has so deteriorated that effective representation is no longer possible substitute counsel must be appointed was also recognized in State v. Gray, 292 N.C. 270, 233 S.E.2d 905 (1977) and State v. Sweezy, 291 N.C. 366, 230 S.E.2d 524 (1976). The principle was not applied in Gray, however, because "[w]hether defendant may have been peeved with his attorney for personal reasons, the court had no reason to doubt that attorney's effectiveness and capability as an advocate or to suspect the relationship between defendant and his counsel to have deteriorated so as to prejudice the presentation of his defense." 292 N.C. at 282, 233 S.E.2d at 913. Neither was the principle applied in Sweezy because "[n]o irreconcilable conflict or breakdown in communication between defendant and his counsel has been demonstrated." 291 N.C. at 373, 230 S.E.2d at 529.
Thus this Court, while acknowledging that deterioration of the lawyer-client relationship to such an extent that effective representation is no longer possible mandates the appointment of substitute counsel, has in past cases properly refused to apply this principle because the record simply did not call for its application.
If this principle has any vitality, however, and I believe that it does, this case demands its application. If it is not to be applied here, I cannot imagine a case in which it would be.
I agree with the majority that motions for substitute counsel should be allowed only for substantial reasons. Mere disagreement over trial tactics, mere dissatisfaction with counsel's services, or general complaints about the infrequency of counsel's jail visits and other communications are not generally, in themselves, reason enough to substitute counsel. The majority seems to view this case as one involving only defendant's complaints that counsel did not visit him often enough in jail nor otherwise sufficiently communicate with him about his case. It decides the issue as if this were the only support in the record for defendant's motion. If it were, I would agree with the majority's conclusion on the issue.
I submit, however, that the record contains far more than is alluded to in the majority's discussion of the issue. A fair reading of the record shows that not only did defendant desire to have substitute counsel appointed for reasons which admittedly he could but poorly articulate, but that defendant's counsel, beginning on 16 August and repeatedly thereafter, urged the trial court to relieve them. Nowhere does the record indicate that counsel's pleas to be relieved were based on mere unwillingness to handle a difficult and undoubtedly unpopular case. Rather counsel consistently and eloquently advised the trial court that they simply could not effectively represent defendant because he had so lost confidence in them and harbored such animosity against them that communication between counsel and client essential to proper trial preparation was impossible.
The motion for substitute counsel was first made more than one month before trial was to begin. It was obviously not made for dilatory purposes. The motion was supported by statements of both defendant and his court-appointed lawyers. Judge Smith conducted a full inquiry into the matter almost two weeks before trial was to begin. This inquiry revealed as severe a breakdown in communication between counsel and client as can be portrayed on a written record.
On 31 August defendant wrote Mr. Fox, his court-appointed lawyer:
At the hearing before Judge Smith Mr. Hutchins complained that his lawyers had "promised this and promised that, and none of them have come through." He said, "We ain't talked over the case at all." "If I can't trust them now," Mr. Hutchins said, "I can't trust them anymore." Mr. Hutchins complained that his lawyers had not let him know what they were doing, had not visited him in jail, and had not kept him informed about the outcome of various pre-trial proceedings.
More compelling, however, were the better articulated urgings of both Mr. Fox and Mr. Blanchard, court-appointed counsel, that they be relieved from the case. Mr. Fox said:
Mr. Blanchard pleaded with the court as follows:
Later Mr. Blanchard stated:
During the hearing Mr. Dennis Winner, a member of the Asheville Bar, appeared. The court inquired whether Mr. Winner could prepare himself for trial of Mr. Hutchins' case by 17 September, the date upon which it was scheduled. Mr. Winner expressed doubts that he could be ready by then. Whereupon Mr. Lowe, the district attorney, argued at length that he was adamantly opposed to any continuance and to appointing substitute counsel if this would work a continuance in the case. Judge Smith then, after finding that defendant had shown no justification for substituting counsel, that his "only reason for wishing to discharge his attorneys is ... his ... belief that they have not visited him enough to discuss the case," and that there was no showing that the attorneys were failing to prepare, denied defendant's motion.
The record does not support these findings. All the evidence demonstrates, as I have noted, that the relationship between defendant and his court-appointed lawyers at the time of the hearing before Judge Smith had deteriorated to such an extent that the presentation of his defense would be prejudiced. Indeed Judge Smith never really addressed the question whether under the circumstances counsel could render effective assistance. We indicated in Thacker that a finding on this issue should be made. We said, "when faced with a claim of conflict and a request for appointment of substitute counsel, the trial court must satisfy itself only that present counsel is able to render competent assistance and that the nature or degree of the conflict is not such as to render that assistance ineffective. The United States Constitution requires no more." 301 N.C. at 353, 271 S.E.2d at 256. The Constitution does, however, require a record which supports the trial judge's conclusion, if made, that the conflict between defendant and counsel is not such as to render counsel's assistance ineffective. Not only was no such conclusion made here, there is nothing in the record which would have supported it.
The conflict between defendant and his lawyers had not ameliorated when the case came on for trial on 17 September. At that point Mr. Fox renewed "the motion of the defendant and attorneys for the defendant in regard to dismissal of counsel." When asked if he had anything to present on the motion, Mr. Fox referred to the evidence which had already been heard and then said, "The only other additional evidence that I would place before Your Honor would be that I have since come to the understanding that Mr. Hutchins expressed the feeling to law enforcement officers that I and Mr. Lowe were in company in opening his mail. He shows a sense of distrust in his attorney." Although the real reason for Mr. Hutchins' distrust of his court-appointed lawyers is somewhat obscure, the fact of it is undisputed.
On the day of trial defendant moved for a continuance of the case on the grounds: (1) The defense had not been able adequately to explore Hutchins' mental condition. (2) Mr. Hutchins, himself, was unstable mentally. Mr. Fox told the court:
Defendant presented no evidence during the guilt phase of his trial. He himself did not testify during the sentencing phase. At the sentencing hearing, psychiatric testimony indicated that Hutchins was a paranoid psychotic who felt that law enforcement agencies were persecuting him. The psychiatrist testified that such persons "may function well as a neighbor or parent or a husband, but still have this very bizarre delusional system that eventually usually ends up controlling their lives. They are potential for violence because ... the persecution feelings that they have is terrific and predictable." During this phase, other than the psychiatrist's testimony, defendant simply offered several witnesses who testified that defendant had a reputation for good character in his community, was a good neighbor, and a good father.
The jury found after the sentencing hearing that the first degree murders of Owen Messersmith and R. L. Peterson were committed while the defendant "was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance." The jury found, however, that defendant's capacity "to appreciate the criminality of his conduct" was not impaired.
This state of the record precludes me from concluding that there was no prejudice in failing to substitute counsel. Prejudice in such cases rarely arises from what competent counsel does affirmatively. Prejudice more often occurs because of things left undone which should and would have been done had a proper attorney-client relationship existed. An appellate court looking at a cold record can never say with certainty what these things might have been.
Defendant was apparently a paranoid psychotic who believed even before the tragedy that he was being persecuted by law enforcement agencies. Mr. Fox persistently referred to counsel's inability because of the breakdown in the attorney-client relationship properly to delve into defendant's mental condition prior to trial. It is, therefore, probable on this record that had a better relationship existed between defendant and his counsel, an insanity defense could have been more adequately prepared and successfully presented. Therefore I cannot say the state has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt
Even if I were totally satisfied that with the best possible representation arising from an appropriate attorney-client relationship defendant would, in any event, have been convicted of at least two counts of first degree murder, I could not vote to find no error in the sentencing proceeding resulting in the imposition of the death penalty. At this stage of the trial, as delicate as it is crucial, a defendant is entitled to all the skills of advocacy his counsel can muster. There can be no doubt that because of the gross deterioration in the attorney-client relationship these skills were sorely dampened in this case.
I must, therefore, vote for both a new trial and a new sentencing hearing.
So, I believe, it was here.
It may, of course, be argued that this defendant would not have cooperated with any lawyer. The record indicates, however, that he would have cooperated with Mr. Winner had Mr. Winner been appointed. Mr. Winner advised the court that he would not want to accept appointment unless:
The following colloquy then occurred:
We cannot know, of course, whether substitute counsel would have ultimately enjoyed an appropriate attorney-client relationship with Mr. Hutchins. The trial court's duty on the record before us was not dependent on such foreknowledge. The trial court's duty was at least to relieve Mr. Fox and Mr. Blanchard and to make a reasonable effort to secure counsel whose relations with defendant would not preclude counsel's effective assistance. For failure to do this, I believe defendant is entitled to a new trial.
CARLTON, Justice, dissenting.
I agree with that portion of Justice Exum's dissent which relies on the principles enunciated by this Court in State v. Thacker, 301 N.C. 348, 271 S.E.2d 252 (1980). However, I do not reach the question whether defendant received fair representation at the sentencing hearing. I believe this is unnecessary because defendant was denied his constitutional right to counsel from the time the trial court denied his request for substitute counsel. I think defendant's lawyers did the best they could under the most trying of circumstances.
I prefer that this Court voluntarily apply principles it has already established instead of being ordered to do so by higher authority. The State has presented strong evidence of this defendant's guilt. It is simply incumbent upon the State to give him a fair trial before imposing the appropriate punishment.
MR. HUTCHINS: Both of them.
MR. HUTCHINS: Mr. Winner and Mr. Fox.