State v. Robinson

Decision Date06 May 1994
Docket NumberNo. 273A92,273A92
Citation336 N.C. 78,443 S.E.2d 306
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Dwight Lamont ROBINSON.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Michael F. Easley, Atty. Gen. by Ellen B. Scouten, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the State.

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr., Appellate Defender by Gordon Widenhouse, Asst. Appellate Defender, and Gretchen Engel, North Carolina Resource Center, Raleigh, for defendant-appellant.

MEYER, Justice.

On 17 March 1986, defendant, Dwight Lamont Robinson, was indicted by a Guilford County grand jury for the first-degree murder of Robert Page and for robbery with a dangerous weapon. On 6 April 1987, defendant was also indicted for two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury upon Gene Hill and Tammy Cotner. The offenses were joined for trial. On 17 September 1987, the jury returned verdicts of guilty of first-degree murder on the basis of malice, premeditation, and deliberation and under the felony murder rule. The jury also found defendant guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon, and guilty on both counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. Following a sentencing proceeding pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000, the jury recommended and the trial court, on 22 September 1987, imposed the sentence of death in the first-degree murder case. Defendant was also sentenced to forty years for the robbery with a dangerous weapon conviction and twenty years each for the two convictions of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.

On defendant's direct appeal, this Court affirmed the convictions for first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, but vacated the death sentence because of McKoy error, and the case was remanded for a new capital sentencing proceeding. State v. Robinson, 330 N.C. 1, 409 S.E.2d 288 (1991). At the new sentencing proceeding, conducted at the 18 May 1992 Special Criminal Session of Superior Court, Guilford County, the jurors returned a recommendation of death. Judge Thomas W. Ross, in accordance with the jury's recommendation, imposed a sentence of death.

Defendant has brought forth fifty-four assignments of error. After a careful and thorough review of the transcript, the record, the briefs, and oral arguments of counsel, we conclude that defendant received a fair resentencing hearing, free of prejudicial error.

Except where necessary to develop and determine the issues presented to this Court arising from defendant's resentencing hearing, we will not repeat the evidence supporting defendant's convictions, as that evidence is summarized in our prior opinion on defendant's direct appeal.

JURY SELECTION ISSUES

Defendant contends that his constitutional right to a jury selected without regard to race was violated by the prosecutor's discriminatory use of peremptory strikes against potential jurors of African-American descent. In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), the Supreme Court of the United States set forth a three-step process to determine if a prosecutor has impermissibly excluded jurors because of their race. First, a criminal defendant must make out a prima facie case of racial discrimination by the prosecutor in the exercise of peremptory challenges. Robinson, 330 N.C. at 15, 409 S.E.2d at 296.

In this case, the prosecutor voluntarily gave reasons for the dismissal of each of the jurors in question. Accordingly, we need not address the question of whether defendant has made a prima facie showing of discrimination and may proceed as if defendant has met this burden. See id. at 17, 409 S.E.2d at 296.

The second step in a determination of whether the State has used its peremptory challenges in a discriminatory manner requires the State to "articulate legitimate reasons which are clear and reasonably specific and related to the particular case to be tried which give a neutral explanation for challenging jurors of the cognizable group." State v. Jackson, 322 N.C. 251, 254, 368 S.E.2d 838, 840 (1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1110, 109 S.Ct. 3165, 104 L.Ed.2d 1027 (1989). It is then the trial court's responsibility to "determine whether the defendant has carried his burden of proving purposeful discrimination." Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 352, 111 S.Ct. 1859, 1862, 114 L.Ed.2d 395, 405 (1991).

Although the reasons offered by the State in support of its decision to exercise a peremptory challenge "need not rise to the level justifying exercise of a challenge for cause," Batson, 476 U.S. at 97, 106 S.Ct. at 1723, 90 L.Ed.2d at 88, they must demonstrate that the prosecutor was not excluding jurors "on account of their race or on the assumption that black jurors as a group will be unable impartially to consider the State's case against a black defendant," id. at 89, 106 S.Ct. at 1719, 90 L.Ed.2d at 83.

Factors to which this Court has looked in the past to help determine the existence or absence of purposeful discrimination include (1) " 'the susceptibility of the particular case to racial discrimination,' " State v. Porter, 326 N.C. 489, 498, 391 S.E.2d 144, 150 (1990) (quoting State v. Antwine, 743 S.W.2d 51, 65 (Mo.1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1017, 108 S.Ct. 1755, 100 L.Ed.2d 217 (1988)); (2) whether similarly situated whites were accepted as jurors, Robinson, 330 N.C. at 19, 409 S.E.2d at 298; (3) whether the State used all of its peremptory challenges, Jackson, 322 N.C. at 255, 368 S.E.2d at 840; (4) the race of the witnesses in the case, id.; (5) whether the early pattern of strikes indicated a discriminatory intent, State v. Smith, 328 N.C. 99, 124, 400 S.E.2d 712, 724 (1991); see also State v. Jackson, 322 N.C. at 255, 368 S.E.2d at 840; and (6) the ultimate racial makeup of the jury, Smith, 328 N.C. at 124, 400 S.E.2d at 712. In addition, "[a]n examination of the actual explanations given by the district attorney for challenging black veniremen is a crucial part of testing defendant's Batson claim." Id. at 125, 400 S.E.2d at 726. It is satisfactory if these explanations have as their basis a "legitimate hunch" or "past experience" in the selection of juries. State v. Thomas, 329 N.C. 423, 407 S.E.2d 141 (1991); see also Porter, 326 N.C. 489, 391 S.E.2d 144.

When evaluating the prosecutor's stated reasons for dismissal, the ultimate question to be decided by the trial court is whether the prosecutor was exercising his peremptory challenges with a discriminatory intent. The United States Supreme Court has acknowledged that, "[a]s with the state of mind of a juror, evaluation of the prosecutor's state of mind based on demeanor and credibility lies 'peculiarly within a trial judge's province.' " Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 365, 111 S.Ct. at 1869, 114 L.Ed.2d at 409 (quoting Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 428, 105 S.Ct. 844, 854, 83 L.Ed.2d 841, 854 (1985)). The findings of a trial court are not to be overturned unless the appellate court is "convinced that its determination was clearly erroneous." Id. at 369, 111 S.Ct. at 1871, 114 L.Ed.2d at 412. " 'Where there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder's choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous.' " Thomas, 329 N.C. at 433, 407 S.E.2d at 148 (quoting Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 574, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 1511-12, 84 L.Ed.2d 518, 528 (1985)).

In this sentencing hearing, defendant was black and his three victims were white. One of the key witnesses, Thomas Wood, was black. At the time of the sentencing hearing, defendant was thirty-one years old.

Defendant raised his first Batson challenge when the prosecutor struck jurors Lolita Page and Evelyn Lee. At this point, the State had examined twelve jurors, eight of whom were white and four black. The prosecutor accepted two of the black jurors and challenged two. As the basis for his exercise of the peremptory challenge, the prosecutor stated (1) that Ms. Page was a liberal arts teacher, she had a master's degree in education, and her husband was also a teacher and had been for twenty years; (2) that she had a male child sixteen years old and that she would have sympathy for defendant and not for the State; and (3) that she answered some of the questions with her arms folded and did not answer in a very direct manner. The prosecutor stated that he did not feel that she would be a juror who would be fair and impartial toward the State.

With regard to Evelyn Lee, the prosecutor noted that she had stated that she was eager to attend her granddaughter's graduation from Towson State University on Thursday, that she had a doctor's appointment the following Monday, and that she had back problems that she mentioned in response to the prosecutor's question whether anyone on the jury had any problems that would interfere with his or her service as a juror. She had a male child twenty-eight years of age and another forty-one years of age. When asked if she had ever been a witness in a civil case, she confused being a witness with being a juror. In addition, she listed her age as fifty-nine but appeared to the prosecutor to be much older than that. The prosecutor concluded by stating that, given her age, her family obligations, the male children in her family, and her somewhat confused state in answering the questions, she would not be a completely fair and impartial juror in the case.

Before overruling defendant's Batson objection, the trial court noted that there was no prima facie showing of discrimination, that two of the ten jurors passed to the defendant were black, and that four of the ten passed to the State had been black. Defendant made no further showing at trial regarding jurors Page and Lee. We hold that the trial court did not err in overruling defendant's objection to the State's use of its peremptory challenges for jurors Page and Lee.

In his second Batson...

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