State v. Antone, 2015 N.C. App Lexis 265

Rule(s): the trial court must consider all mitigating factors in determining whether a juvenile should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and must include findings of fact on the absence or presence of any mitigating factor

The defendant was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon and first degree murder. The defendant was 16 years old and a ninth grade student when the crime occurred. The jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder based upon both felony murder and malice, premeditation and deliberation. The trial court was required to decide whether the defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, or life imprisonment with parole pursuant to Part 2A of Article 81B of Chapter 15A of the North Carolina General Statutes. The trial court entered an order and subsequently a judgment sentencing defendant to life imprisonment without parole. Judgment was arrested on the robbery with a dangerous weapon conviction.

On appeal the defendant argued that the trial court erred by imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole where it failed to identify any mitigating factors present in the case. The Court agreed.

N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.19C(a) states that when sentencing a minor who has been convicted of first degree murder that was not solely based on the theory of felony murder “the court shall consider any mitigating factors” in determining whether a defendant should be sentenced to life without parole. Further, the statute says that “the order adjudging the sentence shall include findings on the absence or presence of any mitigating factors and such other findings as the court deems appropriate to include in the order.”

The Court of Appeals has held that the “use of the language ‘shall’ is a mandate to trial judges, and that failure to comply with the statutory language is a reversible error. The NC Supreme Court has further held that mere recitations of evidence “cannot substitute for findings of fact resolving material conflicts.”

In the present case, the Court found that the trial court’s findings of fact and order failed to comply with the mandate set forth in N.C.G.S. 15A-1340.19C. The trial court’s order made cursory, but adequate findings of fact as to the mitigating circumstances set forth in N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.19B(c)(1), (4), (5), and (6), but the order did not address factors (2), (3), (7), or (8). The Court stated that factor (8), the likelihood of whether a defendant would benefit from rehabilitation in confinement, was a significant factor.

The Court went on to find that portions of the findings of fact were more recitations of testimony, stating that “the better practice is for the trial court to make evidentiary findings of fact that resolve any conflicts in the evidence, and then to make ultimate findings of fact that apply the evidentiary findings to the relevant mitigating factors as set forth in N.C.G.S. § 15A- 1340.19B(c). If there is no evidence presented as to a particular mitigating factor, then the order should so state, and note that as a result, that factor was not considered.”

Accordingly, the Court vacated the order and judgment of the trial court and remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. http://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=32541

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