State v. Gaddis, 306A21

Docket Nº306A21
Citation2022 NCSC 102
Case DateAugust 19, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

2022-NCSC-102

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.

RICHARD ALAN GADDIS, JR.

No. 306A21

Supreme Court of North Carolina

August 19, 2022


Heard in the Supreme Court on 10 May 2022.

Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, 278 N.C.App. 524, 2021-NCCOA-351, finding no error in the jury's verdicts or in the judgments entered on 6 September 2019 by Judge Jeffery K. Carpenter in Superior Court, Union County.

Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Michael T. Henry, Assistant Attorney General, for the State-appellee.

Jarvis John Edgerton IV for defendant-appellant.

BERGER, Justice.

¶ 1 Following a mistrial, defendant was convicted by a jury of driving while impaired, driving while his license was revoked for an impaired driving offense, driving without a valid registration, and driving without a displayed license plate. Based upon a dissent in the Court of Appeals, the issue before this Court is whether the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the trial court correctly denied

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defendant's motion for a transcript of a prior trial and motion to continue. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 2 On February 12, 2018, defendant was charged with multiple driving offenses stemming from impaired driving. Defendant was found to be indigent, and Onyema Ezeh was appointed as counsel. Defendant's first trial in Superior Court, Union County, began on July 15, 2019. The jury was deadlocked eleven to one, and the trial court declared a mistrial. Ezeh was allowed to withdraw as counsel for defendant, and Peter Dwyer was appointed as new counsel. The case was re-calendared for September 3, 2019.

¶ 3 On August 26, 2019, approximately one week before trial and over five weeks after Mr. Dwyer was appointed as counsel, defendant filed a "Motion for Transcript" seeking to obtain a free transcript of the previous trial. Defendant also appears to have requested in open court that his trial be continued.[1] The trial court appears to have summarily denied defendant's motion for a transcript and corresponding motion to continue.

¶ 4 On the day of trial, defendant submitted a renewed motion for a transcript and a renewed motion to continue, arguing that the denial of each would be a "violation

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of [d]efendant['s] right to fundamental fairness and due process of law guaranteed by" both the United States Constitution and the North Carolina State Constitution. The trial court again denied both motions, and the case proceeded to trial.

¶ 5 At defendant's second trial, the evidence tended to show that on the evening of February 12, 2018, Bryan Porcello was driving with his family on Idlewild Road in Union County. Porcello observed a white truck ahead of him travelling in the same direction swerve several times into oncoming traffic and travel through several traffic signals that were emitting a solid red light. Porcello called law enforcement and followed the white truck.

¶ 6 Porcello testified that he observed the driver of the truck attempt to drive around other vehicles stopped at a traffic signal and become stuck on the right-hand shoulder of the road. At that point, Porcello drove past the truck. Shortly thereafter, Porcello decided to turn around to ensure the driver was no longer operating the vehicle and that law enforcement had responded to the scene. However, the driver managed to get off the shoulder and drive away, and soon crossed Porcello's direction of travel.

¶ 7 Porcello turned his vehicle around and followed the truck again. The driver of the truck continued to operate the vehicle erratically for some time until Porcello witnessed the truck travel off the right shoulder of the road, overcorrect, and "sho[o]t across both lanes and wreck into a ditch" off the left side of the road. Porcello testified

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that he observed a "white male" driving the vehicle and did not see anyone else in the vehicle.

¶ 8 Porcello responded to the crash, but conditions had become too dark to allow Porcello to see clearly into the truck, and he flagged down another driver, David Daniel, for assistance. Porcello testified that he always "kept [his] eye" on the vehicle and did not observe anyone exit the white truck. Daniel stated that as he approached the wrecked truck, the headlights from Daniel's vehicle helped illuminate the scene. Daniel observed defendant sitting alone in the driver seat of the wrecked truck. When Porcello and Daniel approached the truck with a flashlight, the two men saw defendant sitting in the front seat revving the engine. Defendant was disoriented, his speech was slurred, and his breath smelled strongly of alcohol. Defendant eventually exited the vehicle and stumbled down the road in an attempt to flee the scene.

¶ 9 At first, Porcello and Daniel followed defendant on foot. While Daniel remained on foot behind defendant, Porcello eventually went back to the scene of the accident and retrieved Daniel's vehicle in order to drive along the side of the road to ensure he and Daniel did not lose sight of defendant.

¶ 10 Defendant verbally threatened and charged at Daniel several times. In response, Daniel drew his handgun and fired a warning shot into the ground to keep defendant at bay. When defendant began to head toward a nearby house, Porcello

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got out of the truck and helped Daniel subdue defendant. The two men held defendant on the ground until law enforcement arrived.

¶ 11 Defendant was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car when officers arrived. Defendant became violent and attempted to kick his way out of the patrol car. Officers removed defendant from the first patrol car and moved him to a different vehicle where he had to be shackled to the floor. In-car camera footage recorded defendant admitting that he owned the wrecked truck and had been driving. Defendant failed to perform field sobriety tests to officers' satisfaction, and a search warrant was obtained to draw a blood sample from defendant. Testing showed defendant's blood alcohol concentration was .12 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters.

¶ 12 The jury found defendant guilty of all charges, and he timely appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals determined that defendant received a fair trial free from prejudicial error. State v. Gaddis, 278 N.C.App. 524, 2021-NCCOA-351, ¶ 17. Defendant appeals to this Court arguing that the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for a transcript and motion to continue.

¶ 13 Defendant contends that the trial court's denials of his motions violated his equal protection and due process rights under Britt v. North Carolina, 404 U.S. 226 (1971), and State v. Rankin, 306 N.C. 712 (1982). Specifically, defendant argues that the trial court's denial of his requests for a transcript prevented him from properly impeaching the State's witnesses on their identification of defendant as the operator

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of the vehicle. Although we agree that the trial court likely erred in failing to apply the two-part Britt test upon defendant's requests for a transcript of the previous proceeding, we conclude that this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

II. Analysis

¶ 14 "At every retrial a transcript of the former trial would undoubtedly be a convenience and at least of some assistance to all parties." State v. Matthews, 295 N.C. 265, 289, 245 S.E.2d 727, 741 (1978). "[E]ven in the absence of specific allegations it can ordinarily be assumed that a transcript of a prior mistrial would be valuable to the defendant in at least two ways: as a discovery device in preparation for trial, and as a tool at the trial itself for the impeachment of prosecution witnesses." Britt, 404 U.S. at 228, 92 S.Ct. at 434.

¶ 15 However, a defendant does not have "an unqualified right to a transcript or to demand it at any stage of trial." Matthews, 295 N.C. at 289, 245 S.E.2d at 741. Neither the Supreme Court of the United States nor this Court have suggested that "the mere request for a transcript by an indigent imposes a constitutional duty on the trial court to order it prepared." United States v. Smith, 605 F.2d 839, 843 (5th Cir. 1979). For example, a trial court may consider such motions untimely if they are made at the last minute or "late in the game." Id.

¶ 16 In Britt, the Supreme Court outlined the following test to determine whether the State must provide an indigent defendant with a free transcript, requiring trial

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courts to consider: (1) "the value of the transcript to the defendant in connection with the appeal or trial for which it is sought"; and (2) "the availability of alternative devices that would fulfill the same functions as a transcript." Britt, 404 U.S. at 227, 92 S.Ct. at 433-34. Pursuant to Britt, resolution of the second factor is ultimately a "determination of need." Id. at 228, 92 S.Ct. at 434; see also Matthews, 295 N.C. at 289, 245 S.E.2d at 741 ("[T]he crucial test in any case is whether the requested transcript is 'needed for an effective defense or appeal,' a rule first enunciated in Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 76 S.Ct. 585, 100 L.Ed. 891 (1956).").

¶ 17 In Rankin, we held that because "there was no alternative available to the defendant which was substantially equivalent to a transcript, the defendant was entitled to a free transcript and therefore its denial was error." Rankin, 306 N.C. at 717, 295 S.E.2d at 420 (1982).

¶ 18 Determination of whether a trial court erred in denying a defendant's motion for a transcript is ordinarily reviewed for abuse of discretion. Matthews, 295 N.C. at 290, 245 S.E.2d at 742; see also United States v. Smith, 605 F.2d 839, 843 (5th Cir. 1979) (holding that it was within the trial court's "discretion to deny an indigent defendant's last minute request for a transcript" when the reason for the denial was an unnecessary...

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