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All opinions are subject to modification and technical correction prior to official publication in the North Carolina Reports and North Carolina Court of Appeals Reports. In the event of discrepancies between the electronic version of an opinion and the print version appearing in the North Carolina Reports and North Carolina Court of Appeals Reports, the latest print version is to be considered authoritative.
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA v. SHAHEEDAH DARINA RUSHDAN
Filed: 15 May 2007
Judges--no expression of opinion or bolstering of witness testimony--failure to show
prejudice--totality of circumstances
A totality of circumstances test revealed that the trial court did not commit prejudicial
error in a multiple obtaining property by false pretense, multiple attempting to obtain property by
false pretense, and breaking and entering a vehicle case by asking defendant questions and
clarifying witnesses's testimony, because: (1) the trial court did not express an opinion or bolster
witness testimony, nor did it prejudice defendant by clarifying witness testimony; and (2)
defendant failed to show any of the court's comments throughout the trial prejudiced her in light
of the overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt.
Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 27 January 2006 by
Judge Michael E. Helms in Guilford County Superior Court. Heard in
the Court of Appeals 24 April 2007.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General
Dennis Myers, for the State.
Kevin P. Bradley, for defendant-appellant.
Shaheedah Darina Rushdan (defendant) appeals from judgment
entered after a jury found her to be guilty of four counts of
obtaining property by false pretense, five counts of attempting to
obtain property by false pretense, and one count of breaking and
entering a vehicle. We find no prejudicial error.
A. State's Evidence
On 16 August 2004, defendant drove a red van containing her
daughter and a friend, Adrienne Williams, (Williams) to a finance
company parking lot. Defendant parked in an adjoining parkingspace occupied by Vanessa Sykes's (Sykes) car and said, I ought
to take [that] pocketbook for . . . pulling in this close to me.
Williams helped defendant's daughter out of the car. Defendant
told Williams to [p]ut [her daughter] back in the car [and to] .
. . . [g]et back in the car. Defendant put the car in reverse
and . . . skidded out of the parking lot.
Sykes walked out of the finance company and noticed a red van
leaving the lot real fast. Sykes had left her purse on her car's
front seat and discovered it was missing. Sykes's purse contained
her checkbook, credit cards, and her North Carolina driver's
license. Sykes reported the theft to law enforcement. Defendant
stopped the van a few minutes later and went through Sykes's
A few days later, Williams watched as defendant taped a color
picture of herself over Sykes's driver's license's photograph.
Defendant told Williams she wanted to use the license and the
checks. Defendant later told Williams the license had worked and
she had used it as identification to purchase merchandise from
Target. Defendant asked Williams to accompany her to the mall, but
Defendant went to the mall with two of her children and
Williams's daughter. Defendant returned with several bags of
merchandise, including a Belk's bag. Defendant left the Belk's bag
with merchandise therein at Williams's home.
On 22 August 2004, defendant attempted to negotiate a check
using Sykes's altered license at the Finish Line and Foot Locker atOak Hollow Mall. On 29 August 2004, defendant attempted, but
failed, to negotiate a check using Sykes's altered license as
identification at Food Lion. Defendant exited the store and left
a check and her wallet inside. The wallet contained Sykes's
altered license and defendant's identification. It also contained
carbon copies of checks written on 22 August 2004, payable to
Belk's, Dillard's, Motherhood Maternity, and Gold & Diamond, and
checks dated 25 August 2004 and 29 August 2004, payable to Food
Lion, after Sykes's purse was stolen. Food Lion videotaped the 29
August 2004 attempted transaction and defendant was identified as
the person who left the wallet inside Food Lion.
On 9 September 2004, defendant was arrested. Defendant
provided and signed a statement that she had found Sykes's
pocketbook on the ground, not inside her car. She admitted
altering Sykes's license and using it and the stolen checks to
obtain merchandise from various stores. Williams was also arrested
after defendant told law enforcement officers that Williams was
involved in the crimes. Williams told police officers about a
taped conversation between Williams and defendant. During that
conversation, defendant told Williams, there's no chance that they
can convict you of it, because it was my ID, it's my name on the
checks, it's my signature. I'm the one who did it.
B. Defendant's Evidence
Defendant's evidence consisted solely of her testimony. She
testified she found the pocketbook on the ground and did not remove
it from Sykes's car. She denied altering Sykes's license anddenied writing any checks. Defendant stated Williams had altered
Sykes's license, had written checks, and that she did not know how
her wallet was left at Food Lion. She admitted she had written the
checks and signed the statement with the police, but claimed she
had written down what the police had suggested in hopes of
receiving favorable treatment.
On 23 January 2006, a jury found defendant to be guilty of
four counts of obtaining property by false pretense, five counts of
attempting to obtain property by false pretense, and one count of
breaking and entering a vehicle. Defendant pled guilty to
attaining the status of an habitual felon. Defendant was sentenced
in the presumptive range as a Prior Record Level II offender to two
consecutive terms of 100 months minimum active imprisonment and 129
months maximum active imprisonment. Defendant appeals.
Defendant argues the trial court erred when the trial judge
clarified witnesses' testimony and evidence presented at trial.
III. Standard of Review
The judge may not express during any stage of the trial, any
opinion in the presence of the jury on any question of fact to be
decided by the jury. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1222 (2005). In
evaluating whether a judge's comments cross into the realm of
impermissible opinion, a totality of the circumstances test is
utilized. State v. Larrimore, 340 N.C. 119, 155, 456 S.E.2d 789,
IV. Trial Court's Statements
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1222 has been interpreted to prohibit a
trial judge from expressing any opinion regarding the weight or
credibility of any competent evidence presented before the jury.
State v. Harris, 308 N.C. 159, 167, 301 S.E.2d 91, 97 (1983). All
facts and attendant circumstances must be considered and the
judge's remarks must be considered in context. State v. Brady, 299
N.C. 547, 560, 264 S.E.2d 66, 74 (1980).
[I]t is well settled that it is the duty of the trial judge
to supervise and control the course of a trial so as to insure
justice to all parties. State v. Blackstock, 314 N.C. 232, 236,
333 S.E.2d 245, 248 (1985). A trial judge may question a witness
for the purpose of clarifying his testimony and promoting a better
understanding of it. State v. Whittington, 318 N.C. 114, 125, 347
S.E.2d 403, 409 (1986). In so doing the court may question a
witness in order to clarify confusing or contradictory testimony.
Id. The trial court maintains a duty to control the examination of
witnesses, both for the purpose of conserving the trial court's
time and to protect the witness from prolonged, needless, or
abusive examination. State v. White, 340 N.C. 264, 299, 457 S.E.2d
841, 861, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 994, 133 L. Ed. 2d 436 (1995). A
new trial is not required if, considering the totality of the
circumstances under which a remark was made, defendant fails to
show prejudice. State v. King, 311 N.C. 603, 618, 320 S.E.2d 1, 11
A. Williams's Testimony
Defendant argues the trial court mischaracterized Williams's
testimony. Williams testified she could not recall the exact time
when she recorded a telephone conversation with defendant. In the
jury's presence, the trial judge clarified that Williams was unsure
when she recorded the telephone conversation. The trial judge
stated, That conversation, the witness says, was prior to the
conversation that this witness says she taped. However, she does
not - - - she is not sure that the conversation she taped was after
her second arrest. So I hope that clears up any misunderstanding.
The trial judge's clarification was not prejudicial to
defendant. The trial judge did not express an opinion on or
bolster Williams's testimony. After a review of the totality of
the circumstances, the trial court did not err when it clarified
B. Food Lion Manager's Testimony
Defendant argues the trial court expressed an opinion on or
bolstered the Food Lion manager's testimony. The Food Lion manager
testified he could not determine whether defendant's proffered
check was dated 27 August or 29 August and stated, it looks like
the loop didn't quite get fully rounded. The trial judge then
asked, But whatever the date that it looks like on the check, the
check was passed or attempted to be passed on August 29th. The
witness responded, Yes, and that date is stamped on the back from
the register. The trial judge did not express an opinion upon the
testimony and merely clarified the manager's testimony regarding
the date of the check. The manager also testified that the woman pictured in the
surveillance video had slightly darker hair than defendant had at
trial. The trial judge stated, [T]his person's hair seemed to be
darker at the time, perhaps, in the video, but then he said things
get darker over time. So I believe - - was that your testimony?
I don't mean to be testifying for you. The manager responded,
The trial court clarified the manager's testimony that the
woman's hair in the video was slightly darker than defendant's hair
color. The trial court did not express an opinion upon or bolster
the manager's testimony. After review of the totality of the
circumstances, the trial judge's clarification of the Food Lion
manager's testimony and its question did not prejudice defendant.
C. Defendant's Confession
Defense counsel attempted to impeach a witness on whether
defendant had written and signed her confession at 10:00 a.m. or
10:02 a.m. The trial court asked the witness, Is there a big
clock on the wall - - The trial judge questioned the witness to
clarify that defendant's waiver of her rights was signed before her
statement began. The trial court did not express an opinion upon
or bolster the witness's testimony and did not prejudice defendant.
D. Trial Judge's Comments
Defendant argues the trial judge made several other comments
throughout her trial that prejudiced her, including: (1)
clarifying whether a witness was involved in her bond-setting
process; (2) clarifying that it would be customary for a detectiveto report whether defendant denied committing the offenses; (3)
stating, all right, after a detective's testimony; (4) correcting
himself when he stated Williams's mother would help pay for an
attorney instead of Williams's mother would help pay for a car; (5)
asking about the tone of the recorded telephone conversation
between defendant and Williams; and (6) stating, I know, after
defendant explained the Belk's merchandise was new and not worn.
Defendant has failed to show any of the trial judge's comments
throughout the trial prejudiced her to award a new trial.
Overwhelming evidence shows defendant: (1) took Sykes's purse out
of her car; (2) altered Sykes's license; and (3) purchased and
attempted to purchase merchandise using Sykes's altered driver's
license and stolen checks. Defendant confessed she altered Sykes's
license and used it and Sykes's checks to purchase merchandise.
The trial court did not express an opinion upon or bolster any
witnesses' testimony and did not prejudice defendant by clarifying
witnesses' testimony. This assignment of error is overruled.
The trial judge did not prejudice defendant when he asked
questions and clarified witnesses' testimony. Defendant received
a fair trial, free from prejudicial errors she preserved, assigned,
No Prejudicial Error.
Judges WYNN and CALABRIA concurs.
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