State v. Hauser, 051920 NCCA, COA19-313

Docket Nº:COA19-313
Opinion Judge:MURPHY, JUDGE
Party Name:STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA v. DAQUEZZ SEMAJ HAUSER, Defendant.
Attorney:Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Victoria L. Voight, for the State. Erica W. Washington for defendant-appellant.
Judge Panel:Judges ZACHARY and ARROWOOD concur.
Case Date:May 19, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of North Carolina
 
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STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA

v.

DAQUEZZ SEMAJ HAUSER, Defendant.

No. COA19-313

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 19, 2020

Heard in the Court of Appeals 2 October 2019.

Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 3 October 2018 by Judge G. Bryan Collins, Jr. in Chatham County, No. 17 CRS 050502 Superior Court.

Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Victoria L. Voight, for the State.

Erica W. Washington for defendant-appellant.

MURPHY, JUDGE

A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling "is manifestly unsupported by reason or is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision." State v. Hennis, 323 N.C. 279, 285, 372 S.E.2d 523, 527 (1988). Defendant fails to show the court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial following the inadvertent display of an image to the jury that bore similarity to one which had been excluded from evidence. We evaluate the prejudicial effect of the erroneous evidence by considering the "nature of the evidence and the circumstances of the particular case." State v. Aldridge, 254 N.C. 297, 300, 118 S.E.2d 766, 768 (1961). In light of the nature of the erroneously displayed photograph, the trial court did not err in instructing the jury to disregard the image instead of declaring a mistrial.

However, we remand for correction of a clerical error in the written judgment to reflect a sentence of intermediate punishment, rather than community punishment, consistent with the trial court's intermediate punishments, as pronounced in Defendant's presence.

BACKGROUND

Daquezz Semaj Hauser, Defendant, was indicted for obtaining property by false pretenses by selling boxes purportedly containing iPhones that contained only lug nuts. At trial, the State attempted to introduce State's Exhibit 17, a photograph of Defendant taken from his personal Facebook page. The photograph depicted Defendant posing expressionless with three cell phones. Defendant objected to the admission of the photograph and the trial court sustained the objection, having applied the Rule 403 balancing test. The State then sought to introduce State's Exhibit 18, which included photographs of the vehicles of both Defendant and the individuals who had sought to purchase phones from him. Exhibit 18 was admitted without objection.

However, in attempting to publish Exhibit 18 on the courtroom's overhead video display to the jury, the desktop screen of the State was shown instead. The desktop screen displayed a picture of Defendant holding several phones, wearing gold necklaces, and standing in front of a mirror. The prosecutor's screen was visible for several seconds before being removed. At the bench conference that followed, Defendant moved for a mistrial based on the potentially prejudicial nature of the photograph and its similarity to State's Exhibit 17, which had been ruled inadmissible shortly before. The trial court denied the mistrial request but instructed the jury to "disregard anything that might have flashed up on the screen right then."

Defendant was found guilty of obtaining property by false pretenses and sentenced to a suspended sentence of 6 to 17 months, with 36 months probation. An 89-day active term was imposed as a special condition of Defendant's suspended sentence. Defendant appealed and later requested to amend the Record to include a more complete narrative regarding the projection of the desktop screen and the bench conference that followed. The trial court subsequently granted that motion, pursuant to N.C. R. App. P. 11(c), and agreed with Defendant's narrative summary.

ANALYSIS

A. Mistrial

"The decision to grant or deny a mistrial rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will be reversed on appeal only upon a clear showing that the trial court abused its discretion." State v. Hurst, 360 N.C. 181, 188, 624 S.E.2d 309, 316 (2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A mistrial should be granted only when there are improprieties in the trial so serious that they substantially and irreparably prejudice the defendant's case and make it impossible for the defendant to receive a fair and impartial verdict." State v. Warren, 327 N.C. 364, 376, 395 S.E.2d 116, 123 (1990); N.C. G.S. § 15A-1061 (2019). "[A] trial court's decision concerning a motion for mistrial will not be disturbed on appeal unless there is a clear showing that the trial court abused its discretion." State v. Bonney, 329 N.C. 61, 73, 405 S.E.2d 145, 152 (1991). "Abuse of discretion results where the court's ruling is manifestly unsupported by reason or is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision." Hennis, 323 N.C. at 285, 372 S.E.2d at 527. "The trial court's decision in this regard is to be afforded great deference since the trial court is in a far better position than an appellate court to determine whether the degree of influence on the jury was irreparable." State v. King, 343 N.C. 29, 44, 468 S.E.2d 232, 242 (1996).

"Our system of justice is based upon the assumption that trial jurors are women and men of character and of sufficient intelligence to fully understand and comply with the instructions of the court, and are presumed to have done so." State v. Hines, 131 N.C.App. 457, 462, 508 S.E.2d...

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