NC Court of Appeals Reverses Decision to Vacate Murder Conviction


courtIn a recent decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a trial court’s decision to vacate a defendant’s sentence for first-degree murder after considering the defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Following the trial, which was decided by a Randolph County jury in March 2003, Defendant Jeremy Marsh claimed the verdict was improperly influenced by jurors’ comments regarding the defendant’s possible sentence and a fear of future retribution.  Specifically, the defendant claimed the comments were “extraneous prejudicial information,” which provided grounds for counsel’s inquiry under Rule 606(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence.

While in deliberations, according to the testimony of juror Kathleen Newsom, “one of the gentlemen began making comments like… would you want Jeremy Marsh to come shoot your son.  Or how would you feel if you give him second-degree murder, he’ll be out in eight years, and he will come after your son.”  In response to those comments Juror Newsom testified, “I voted against my conscience.”

Upon review, Judge Donna S. Stroud found that the comments were “general and nonspecific” and that defendant’s trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to raise the issue.  Because trial counsel was not ineffective in this regard, Stroud held, the defendant’s appellate counsel was not ineffective in failing to raise the issue on appeal.

The court found that only “specific extraneous factual information” about the particular defendant or case at issue provides counsel grounds for inquiry into the validity of a jury’s verdict under Rule 606(b).  While jurors’ beliefs, ideas, and impressions “may at times be incorrect in the legal sense or without any basis in fact,” impeaching the jury’s verdict because of such internal influences “is not supported by case law, nor is it sound public policy,” according to the court’s 17-page decision.

Stroud, along with Judges Ann Maria Calabria and Mark A. Davis concurring, determined that “[e]ven assuming arguendo that had Juror Newsom been polled she would have dissented and revealed the jury’s discussion regarding defendant’s possible sentence, this information would still not be considered extraneous…”  By way of example, the court posited, “if a juror told the other jurors that he got an anonymous phone call the prior evening from a caller who said that defendant told him he would kill the juror’s son if he ever got out of prison, this would be specific information regarding defendant, and thus extraneous information.”

Based on that reasoning, the court reversed the trial court’s decision to vacate the defendant’s conviction of first-degree murder, remanding the case with instructions to consider the defendant’s claims not previously addressed by the trial court.

The decision is State v. Marsh, — S.E.2d — (N.C.App. 2013).  The full text of the decision can be found at http://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=MjAxMy8xMy0xOTAtMS5wZGY.

~Shannon Reid~

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