State v. Pinch, No. 43A81

Docket NºNo. 43A81
Citation292 S.E.2d 203, 306 N.C. 1
Case DateJune 02, 1982
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

Page 203

292 S.E.2d 203
306 N.C. 1
STATE of North Carolina
Michael Edward PINCH.
No. 43A81.
Supreme Court of North Carolina.
June 2, 1982.

[306 N.C. 8] Atty. Gen. Rufus L. Edmisten by Asst. Atty. Gen. Joan H. Byers, Raleigh, for the State.

Appellate Defender Adam Stein and Ann B. Peterson, Raleigh, pro hac vice for defendant-appellant.

COPELAND, Justice.

Defendant brings forward many assignments of error which he contends require a new trial of these crimes, or a new sentencing hearing, or both. We disagree and affirm the sentences of death imposed upon the jury's recommendations.

At the outset, we must note that defendant's appellate counsel filed a brief which is 109 pages long. 1 A defendant who stands convicted in a capital case is, of course, entitled to effective and diligent advocacy in the presentation of his appeal. However, defendant's brief seems unduly lengthy and quite repetitious. Common sense dictates that there must be an end to what can be said in behalf of any cause and that good judgment and prudence should prevail in the legal art of brief-writing. 2 Indeed, the volume of a brief should always be an accurate reflection of the substance of the arguments presented therein. We therefore exhort practitioners before this Court to seek excellence first, not excessiveness, in the preparation of briefs and remind them that the ability to be direct and concise is a

Page 213

formidable weapon in the arsenal of appellate advocacy. We now direct our attention to the merits of the case and address defendant's arguments in the order in which they appear in his brief.



Forty-two veniremen were examined over a period of five days before a jury of twelve was impanelled to try this case. During the selection process, the trial court excused eight prospective jurors for cause due to their stated opposition to the death [306 N.C. 9] penalty. Defendant contends that the trial court's action deprived him of his constitutional rights of due process and trial by jury. The record plainly refutes this argument.

The applicable constitutional standard permits the excuse of a potential juror for cause if it is established that he "would automatically vote against the imposition of capital punishment without regard to any evidence that might be developed at the trial of the case...." Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 522 at n. 21, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 1777 at n. 21, 20 L.Ed.2d 776, 785 at n. 21 (1968); see State v. Cherry, 298 N.C. 86, 257 S.E.2d 551 (1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 941, 100 S.Ct. 2165, 64 L.Ed.2d 796 (1980). It is unmistakably clear that seven of the eight potential jurors were properly excused according to this standard after they each stated unequivocally that, even before hearing any evidence in the case, they could not under any circumstances impose the death penalty upon this defendant. State v. Oliver, 302 N.C. 28, 39-40, 274 S.E.2d 183, 191 (1981). It is equally clear that the remaining juror, Mary Neal, was also correctly removed from the panel when, after some initial equivocation, she finally stated that she did not "believe" that she could impose the death penalty regardless of the evidence. The court thereupon asked her, "Do I understand that you could not even before you hear the testimony under any circumstances, impose the death penalty?" Ms. Neal replied, "No, I just don't think so." Considering her answers contextually, we find that Ms. Neal expressed a sufficient refusal to follow the law, that of capital punishment, which might become applicable to the case. State v. Avery, 299 N.C. 126, 137, 261 S.E.2d 803, 810 (1980); see State v. Taylor, 304 N.C. 249, 266, 283 S.E.2d 761, 773 (1981).

The excuse of these jurors for cause did not deprive defendant of his constitutional rights to trial by a jury representing a cross-section of the community or due process of law. State v. Avery, supra, 299 N.C. at 137-38, 261 S.E.2d at 810; State v. Cherry, supra, 298 N.C. at 106, 257 S.E.2d at 564. We would add, moreover, that the need for their excuse was manifest. It would have amounted to an absurdity and a mockery of our law to have permitted these jurors to sit on a case where imposition of the death penalty was an available sentencing option. For, if capital cases could be tried by juries which included persons firmly opposed to the maximum prescribed penalty sought by the State, the separate sentencing hearing mandated by G.S. 15A-2000 [306 N.C. 10] would almost certainly become a futile and meaningless exercise, contrary to the expressed will of our citizenry in the enactment of capital punishment legislation.


At trial, defendant contested the premeditation and deliberation elements of first degree murder primarily through the presentation of an intoxication defense. Defendant believes that he was unconstitutionally deprived of the substance of this defense by certain improper comments of the prosecutor and a series of erroneous rulings by the trial court. 3 We are not so persuaded and overrule these assignments of error.

Page 214

(a) In his closing argument to the jury, the district attorney stated, in pertinent part, the following:

E]ven if you want to conclude that Michael Pinch was drunk because he said in the statement sometime that he was, he's still guilty because drunkenness is no defense. You have to be so drunk as to be utterly and totally incapable, unable to form the intent to kill and to carry that out; so drunk as to be unable, incapable of understanding the nature and consequence of your act. That is not present here. There is no way you can conclude that anybody was intoxicated to that extent--not on these facts


You can't find it in your conscience and mind, your heart to dignify what happened out there and impartially excuse it on voluntary intoxication. It is not present on this evidence. I suggest to you that there is not even ample evidence to find that he was intoxicated or drunk.... No drugs in this case. Beer. Just beer. You just--you can't let him sell that to you. It is not there. It didn't happen. Nobody could have been intoxicated to the extent that the law requires and do what he did in the manner he did it. There just simply--it is offensive [306 N.C. 11] to reason and common sense. It stinks to high heaven. (Record at 241, 250).

We can perceive no error in this. Contrary to defendant's assertions, the district attorney correctly conveyed the substance of the law of intoxication to the jury. See State v. Goodman, 298 N.C. 1, 12-14, 257 S.E.2d 569, 578-79 (1979). In addition, although some of the foregoing comments were colorful in terminology, we find that as a whole the remarks were compatible with the evidence in the case and that the district attorney was certainly authorized to argue to the jury that the facts did not support a credible defense of intoxication. 4 See State v. Noell, 284 N.C. 670, 202 S.E.2d 750 (1974), death sentence vacated, 428 U.S. 902, 96 S.Ct. 3203, 49 L.Ed.2d 1205 (1976).

(b) We likewise believe that the trial court's instructions upon the intoxication defense were entirely correct. The record shows that the able judge carefully explained the law in every respect in accordance with the decisions of this Court. See State v. Propst, 274 N.C. 62, 161 S.E.2d 560 (1968); N.C.P.I.--Crim. 305.10 (1970). See also 4 Strong's N.C. Index 3d, Criminal Law § 6 (1976). We also reject defendant's argument that the judge improperly shifted the burden to defendant to disprove his capacity to form a specific intent to kill after premeditation and deliberation. Viewed as a whole, the judge's charge was not reasonably susceptible of such an erroneous interpretation.

(c) Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his pre-trial motion for an order directing the district attorney to make the State's eyewitnesses "available" for interviews with a medical expert who had been appointed to assist in the preparation and evaluation of an intoxication defense. It should be [306 N.C. 12] recognized at once that nothing in our statutory discovery provisions would require the State to compel its witnesses to submit to any form of interview or questioning by the defense prior to trial; in fact, the State does not even have to afford the defense pre-trial access to a list of its potential witnesses or copies of any statements they may have made. See G.S. 15A-903 and 15A-904; State v. Lake, 305 N.C. 143, 286 S.E.2d 541 (1982); State v. Abernathy, 295 N.C. 147, 244 S.E.2d 373 (1978). Nevertheless, it is true that a prosecutor has an implicit duty not to

Page 215

obstruct defense attempts to conduct interviews with any witnesses; however, a reversal for this kind of professional misconduct is only warranted when it is clearly demonstrated that the prosecutor affirmatively instructed a witness not to cooperate with the defense. State v. Mason, 295 N.C. 584, 587-88, 248 S.E.2d 241, 244 (1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 984, 99 S.Ct. 1797, 60 L.Ed.2d 246 (1979); State v. Covington, 290 N.C. 313, 343, 226 S.E.2d 629, 649 (1976).

This record contains no such showing. The only indication of possible prosecutorial misbehavior is the bare allegation of defense counsel in the motion that the district attorney had told him of his specific refusal to allow the interviews in question. We find nothing in the record to substantiate this claim nor any evidence tending to show that defense counsel actually approached the potential witnesses for the stated purpose only to be rejected on account of the district attorney's prior, direct instructions to them against their cooperation. Defendant has therefore failed to present adequate grounds for reversal. State v. Mason, supra. In addition, the bare summary of the proceedings held by the court upon the motion make it plain that the witnesses themselves refused to talk with the defense expert on the advice of their own individual attorneys. Record at 51. Under these...

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148 practice notes
  • People v. Brown
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 5, 1985
    ..."yes" and question (3) was answered "no," the jury had a duty to recommend death. (Pp. 323-324; see also State v. Pinch (N.C.1982) 292 S.E.2d 203, 226-227, cert. den., 459 U.S. 1056, 103 S.Ct. 474, 74 L.Ed.2d 622.) However, the court indicated, in answering the statutory questions, the jury......
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    ...cases considering the crime and the defendant." Id. at 11. Following prompting by Justice Exum in his dissenting opinion in State v. Pinch, 306 N.C. 1, 292 S.E.2d 203, 230, cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1056, 103 S.Ct. 474, 74 L.Ed.2d 622 (1982), the North Carolina Supreme Court articulated its me......
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    • June 5, 1984 this State in first-degree murder cases is constitutional. State v. Avery, 299 N.C. 126, 261 S.E.2d 803 (1980). See also State v. Pinch, 306 N.C. 1, 292 S.E.2d 203, cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1056, 103 S.Ct. 474, 74 L.Ed.2d 622 (1982), reh. denied, --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 839, 74 L.Ed.2d 10......
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    • March 5, 1984
    ...conviction or in the imposition of his sentence. Justice Exum (305 N.C. at 691), relying on the reasoning of his dissent in State v. Pinch, 306 N.C. 1, 49-56, 292 S.E.2d 203, 236-40 (1982), dissented on grounds that petitioner's death sentence had been unconstitutionally imposed in violatio......
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  • State v. Holden, No. 650A85
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 2, 1987
    ...which make it plain that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to correct the prejudicial matters ex mero motu. State v. Pinch, 306 N.C. 1, 292 S.E.2d 203, cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1056, 103 S.Ct. 474, 74 L.Ed.2d 622 One of the statements excepted to is as follows: "They put him in......
  • State v. Kirkley, No. 155A81
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    ...Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968). This issue has been raised many times before this Court. In State v. Pinch, 306 N.C. 1, 9, 292 S.E.2d 203, 213 (1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1056, 103 S.Ct. 474, 74 L.Ed.2d 622 (1982), we The applicable constitutional standard p......
  • State v. Cummings, No. 65A87
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