ROCKINGHAM — The N.C. Court of Appeals has overturned a Richmond County woman’s conviction for stonewalling sheriff’s deputies because prosecutors switched charging documents between her trials.
A unanimous three-judge appellate panel on Tuesday set aside an October 2013 jury verdict finding Shaneequah Nicole Wall guilty of misdemeanor resisting a public officer. The Court of Appeals ruled that prosecutors missed the deadline to file a statement of charges and she should have been tried on the magistrate’s order that initially accused her of the offense.
“We hold that the Richmond County Superior Court lacked legal authority and, therefore, was without subject matter jurisdiction to try defendant on the offense alleged in the misdemeanor statement of charges when defendant was appealing from the judgment entered in district court after a conviction on a magistrate’s order,” Judge Rick Elmore wrote in the court’s Tuesday opinion. “We vacate defendant’s conviction.”
Richmond County deputies charged Wall with resisting a public officer after she allegedly refused to say whether a 20-month-old child was her relative’s son. Deputies arrived at a home on Logan Park outside Rockingham to serve William Wall Sr. with a warrant for arrest and enforce an emergency child custody order for his son on Sept. 19, 2012.
Deputy Cory Jones asked Shaneequah Wall, “Whose baby is that?” and Wall would not provide a direct answer, according to court testimony quoted in the appellate opinion.
After about two hours, the authorities in Florida who issued the child custody order for the boy sent a picture to Richmond deputies. They were able to match the child to the photo and placed him in county Department of Social Services custody.
The Court of Appeals opinion does not say how Shaneequah Wall and William Wall Sr. are related.
Deputies later obtained a magistrate’s order charging Shaneequah Wall with resisting a public officer and giving fictitious information to a public officer. Prosecutors dismissed the fictitious information charge and brought Wall to trial.
Wall was convicted in district court on Dec. 6, 2012, and appealed the verdict to superior court.
Prosecutors filed a misdemeanor statement of charges in superior court on July 2, 2013, and that statement was the charging document used in her October 2013 trial, replacing the magistrate’s order initially accusing her of the same offense.
A jury convicted Wall of the misdemeanor charge and Superior Court Judge Mark E. Klass imposed a suspended 45-day prison sentence and 12 months of supervised probation.
Wall argued on appeal that she should not have gone to trial on the statement of charges when she had been convicted under the magistrate’s order.
“The crux of defendant’s issue is that the state’s filing of the misdemeanor statement of charges was untimely and therefore impermissible,” Elmore wrote. “We agree.”
N.C. General Statute 15A-922 provides that prosecutors can file a statement of charges “upon his own determination at any time prior to arrignment in the district court. It may charge the same offenses as the citation, criminal summons, warrant for arrest or magistrate’s order or additional or different offenses.”
A provision of that law allows the state to amend a charging document before or after a judgment is entered, but Elmore notes that prosecutors can’t change the type of document itself.
“(T)his does not grant the state authority to change the form of the charging instrument, i.e., the state cannot ‘amend’ a magistrate’s order by filing a misdemeanor statement of charges,” he wrote. “Doing so would change the nature of the original pleading entirely. Accordingly, the state has a limited window in which it may file a statement of charges on its own accord, and that is prior to arraignment.”
The appeals court notes that state law allows prosecutors to file a statement of charges to replace a previous charging document when a defendant objects to the sufficiency of the charging document. Wall did not raise such an objection during court proceedings.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert T. Hargett represented the state in a June 3 hearing before the appellate panel in Raleigh. Whiteville attorney Michelle FormyDuval Lynch represented Wall.
Court of Appeals judges Linda McGee and Robert C. Hunter joined Elmore’s unanimous opinion.
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @RCDailyJournal.