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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. THEODORE JERRY WILLIAMS
Filed: 2 October 2007
1. Obstruction of Justice_attempted intimidation of witness_letter from
prison_evidence not sufficient
The evidence of attempted intimidation of a witness was not sufficient where it consisted
of a letter defendant wrote from jail to a witness in another case. The letter was not threatening,
coercive, or menacing, does not hint at bodily harm or violence, contains no cursing, vulgarity,
threatening language, maintains a courteous tone throughout, asks the witness to think things
over and talk with an attorney, and urges her to follow the law.
2. Attorneys_unauthorized practice of law_letter from prison_evidence not sufficient
Evidence of unauthorized practice of law was not sufficient where it consisted of a letter
defendant wrote from jail to a witness in someone else's case, with an attached suggested
affidavit. Among other points, defendant did not hold himself out as an attorney, repeatedly
urged the witness not to rely on him and to seek advice from an attorney, and the affidavit was a
blank handwritten form accompanied by a handwritten paragraph suggested for inclusion, with
cross-outs and corrections.
Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 22 February 2006 by
Judge Mark E. Klass in Stanly County Superior Court. Heard in the
Court of Appeals 22 August 2007.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General
Derrick C. Mertz,, for the State.
Richard E. Jester for defendant-appellant.
Theodore Williams (defendant) appeals from judgment entered on
his convictions of attempting to intimidate a witness, practicing
law without a license, and having the status of an habitual felon.
On 13 November 2003 defendant was arrested on criminal charges
unrelated to the present appeal, and was placed in the StanlyCounty jail. While in jail awaiting trial, defendant became
friendly with a man he knew as Dennis Scott or James Scott
Dennis (hereinafter Scott). Scott was in jail on charges of
second degree kidnapping and rape of Lea Andrea Blackwell. On 19
December 2003 defendant wrote Blackwell a letter discussing Scott's
case. A jail employee read defendant's letter to Blackwell, and
gave a copy to the Stanly County District Attorney. On the basis
of this letter, defendant was indicted on charges of solicitation
of perjury, intimidation of a witness, and practicing law without
a license. Before trial, the State dismissed the charge of
solicitation of perjury. The State later filed a superceding
indictment that amended the charge of intimidating a witness to a
charge of attempted intimidation of a witness. Additionally, by a
separate indictment, defendant was charged with being a habitual
Defendant was tried before a Stanly County jury in February
2006. Shortly before the trial, defendant's attorney was
disbarred, and defendant elected to represent himself. Following
the presentation of evidence, defendant was convicted of attempting
to intimidate a witness, practicing law without a license, and
having the status of a habitual felon. He received an active
sentence of 121 to 155 months imprisonment. From these convictions
and judgment, defendant timely appealed.
 Defendant argues first that the trial court erred by
denying his motion to dismiss the charges against him ofunauthorized practice of law and attempting to intimidate a
witness, on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient to
submit the charges to the jury. We agree.
When a criminal defendant moves for dismissal on the grounds
that the evidence is legally insufficient:
The trial court must determine only whether
there is substantial evidence of each
essential element of the offense charged and
of the defendant being the perpetrator of the
offense. Evidence is substantial if it is
relevant and adequate to convince a reasonable
mind to accept a conclusion. In considering a
motion to dismiss, the trial court must
analyze the evidence in the light most
favorable to the State and give the State the
benefit of every reasonable inference from the
evidence. The trial court must also resolve
any contradictions in the evidence in the
State's favor. The trial court does not weigh
the evidence, consider evidence unfavorable to
the State, or determine any witness'
State v. Parker
, 354 N.C. 268, 278, 553 S.E.2d 885, 894 (2001)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
In the instant case, the physical evidence against defendant
consisted entirely of the letter defendant wrote to Blackwell.
Defendant does not dispute that he wrote the letter and addressed
it to Blackwell. Therefore, the only question is whether the
letter provided a legally sufficient basis to convict defendant of
the charged offenses. The letter was handwritten on paper provided
by the Stanly County jail, and reads as follows:
Hello, I hope this letter finds you in good health and
spirits. First of all, please let me apologize for
intruding into your affairs, but please let me assure you
I mean no harm in any way, and I'm simply trying to helpyou and another person whom I have recently established
a friendship with.
Lea, I'm writing this letter because I've unfortunately
been dealing with the law for more than 20 years and let
me testify and I don't like to see it ruin people's
lives. So please don't get angry or upset, and please
hear me out before you render a decision. Lea, Scott is
in jail for some very serious charges, charges of which
if he is convicted could seriously ruin the rest of his
life, not to mention cause him to spend the next 10 to 15
years in prison. So no matter how angry you are, let me
ask you a question. Is that what you want?
Even if Scott is not convicted, he could easily spend the
next two or three years in jail awaiting a trial. That
will most likely be the case. Because if you don't show
up for court, the district attorney will just keep asking
the Judge for a continuance until he gets you served with
a subpoena. All the while, Scott will be kept in jail.
Now, if you don't show up after being subpoenaed, the
Judge can order you arrested and then held in jail until
Scott's trial, which is the law, meaning you will not
have a bond, but rather held in jail until the State's
through with you or until Scott's next court date.
Further, Lea, I haven't known Scott that long, but he
just doesn't strike me as the rapist type. Now, I don't
know what happened, I wasn't there, and I am not
disputing what you said. But Scott swears he didn't do
what you said, and several people are prepared to testify
he didn't either.
What I'm trying to say is, if you take the stand and get
caught in a lie, it's called perjury. I also understand
you have quite a record yourself. Well, if you get
convicted of perjury, it could mean you have to do five
to seven years in prison mandatory. I'm sure you don't
want that. Neither does Scott. Nor do I, for that
matter. Prison is a terrible place to waste away. Lea,
Scott tells me you're not a bad person at all. In fact,
Scott still loves you and doesn't understand how things
got so out of control to where neither of you can
possibly benefit from all this. The best you guys can
hope for is to stop this before it gets worse.
So Lea, I'm asking you to help yourself and Scott. I'm
not asking you to trust me blindly, but rather go see
Scott's attorney, Patrick Currie in Oakboro or call him
at 983-6116 and find out for yourself if what I'm saying
isn't the best course of action for you both. Lea, the
best way to get Scott out of jail and not get in troubleyourself is to go to Scott's lawyer and get an affidavit.
I am gonna enclose with this letter a handwritten
affidavit form and a brief paragraph to what you should
write on the form. This affidavit has to be notarized.
If you are scared, just write the affidavit and lay low.
Lea, I hope you will listen to me. I know I don't know
you, nor do you know me. But I love God and I really do
wish you well. Please think about what I said and do
some investigating. If you doubt me, Scott's lawyer will
talk to you. Or if not that lawyer, at least find
Take care. Thank you. And God bless.
Sincerely, Ted Williams.
The letter separately contained a handwritten outline of the
heading of a pleading, as follows:
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL COURT OF JUSTICE
SUPERIOR COURT DIVISION
COUNTY OF STANLY CASE #
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA )
Vs. ) AFFIDAVIT
JAMES SCOTT DENNIS )
I ______________________________ do hereby depose and say
[Blank for several lines.]
This the ____ day of ________________
The letter also included this handwritten paragraph:
That James Dennis has not forced me in any [way] into
having sexual relations with him. Myself and Mr. Scott
have lived together for approximately three years during
this time we have enjoyed mutual consensual sex for the
duration of our relationship. The only reason I made the
statement that lead to Mr. Dennis arrest is because I
made the statement under duress and was somewhat coerced
into doing so by the Detective. If called to testify in
that case I will exercise my right under the 5th
Amendment in order to prevent self incrimination.
We first consider whether this letter constituted sufficient
evidence to support the charge of attempted intimidation of awitness. Intimidation of a witness is defined in N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 14-226(a) (2005), which provides that:
If any person shall by threats, menaces or in
any other manner intimidate or attempt to
intimidate any person who is summoned or
acting as a witness in any of the courts of
this State, or prevent or deter, or attempt to
prevent or deter any person summoned or acting
as such witness from attendance upon such
court, he shall be guilty of a Class H felony.
Review of the relevant case law addressing the sufficiency of
evidence to sustain a conviction for intimidating a witness shows
that such cases generally involve a threat by the defendant to
inflict bodily harm on the witness. See, e.g., In re R.D.R., 175
N.C. App. 397, 400, 623 S.E.2d 341, 344 (2006) (juvenile stood up,
turned toward [witness] and mouthed the words 'I'm going to kick
your a--'); State v. Isom, 52 N.C. App. 331, 278 S.E.2d 327 (1981)
(defendant telephoned witness and threatened to kill her daughter
if witness did not drop charges); State v. Neely, 4 N.C. App. 475,
166 S.E.2d 878 (1969) (defendant threatened witness; Court notes
that language used would indicate physical violence).
We also find the holding of State v. Braxton, 183 N.C. App.
36, 643 S.E.2d 637 (2007), to be instructive. The defendant in
Braxton was indicted on eleven counts of intimidating a witness by
means of threats. Id. at 43, 643 S.E.2d at 642. This Court held
that, inasmuch as the indictments were based on a theory of
threats, the State was required to produce evidence of threats.
The evidence showed one instance where defendant left a vulgar,
angry voice mail message for the witness, with abusive language and
explicit threats of bodily harm. This Court held that this wassufficient to show an attempt to intimidate by means of threats,
and thus to submit one count to the jury. However, the balance of
the evidence on this issue showed that defendant had:
encouraged Russell to dismiss the charges
against him, to not show up in court, and to
write an affidavit to the District Attorney
saying that she made everything up and that
the charges were false. Defendant
specifically instructed Russell as to what to
include in the affidavit, and that it must
state that he did not choke her and that he
never intimidated her.
Id. at 44, 643 S.E.2d at 643. This Court held that such evidence
was insufficient to show the use of threats:
[W]e hold that the voice mail message . . . is
the only incident from which the jury could
have found that defendant committed the
offense of intimidating a witness.
Defendant's strong and harsh language, coupled
with the evidence of their volatile and
violent relationship, constituted sufficient
evidence such that a reasonable mind could
find the message to be threatening. Russell's
testimony that defendant told her at least
ten times not to testify is not sufficient to
show that defendant threatened her in any
In the instant case, the indictment alleged that defendant had
by menaces and coercive statements attempt[ed] to deter and
prevent Andrea Blackwell from attending court by sending Andrea
Blackwell a letter[.] Accordingly, as in Braxton, the State was
required to prove that defendant attempted to intimidate Blackwell
by menaces and coercive statements. Menace is defined in the
Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary 902 (Judy Pearsall and Bill
Trumble, eds., Oxford University Press 2d ed. 1995) as a noun
meaning a threat and as a verb meaning to threaten, especiallyin a malignant or hostile manner. Coerce is defined in the
Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary 280 as a verb meaning
persuade or restrain (an unwilling person) by force (parentheses
in original); and in Black's Law Dictionary 252 (7th ed. 1999) as
a verb meaning to compel by force or threat. Thus, the words
menace and coerce are defined as basically synonymous with
We have examined defendant's letter and find it neither
threatening, coercive, or menacing. It opens with an apology for
intruding and reassurance that defendant means no harm. Defendant
acknowledges that he was not present when the relevant events
occurred, and that his view of the situation is derived from his
brief acquaintance with Scott. He admits that he does not know
Blackwell, and therefore is not disputing what [she] said. The
letter cautions Blackwell to honor a subpoena if one is issued, and
warns her that perjury is a criminal offense that may result in a
significant prison sentence. Defendant also suggests that if
Blackwell wants to end legal proceedings against Scott, she should
execute an affidavit, rather than ignoring a subpoena. The letter
also asks Blackwell not to rely on defendant's word, but to consult
with an attorney before doing anything, gives the name and number
of Scott's attorney, and asks that if not that lawyer, at least
find another lawyer. Defendant ends by asking Blackwell to think
things over and to talk with an attorney.
Significantly, defendant's letter nowhere hints at bodily harm
or violence against Blackwell, contains no cursing, vulgarity, orthreatening language, and maintains a courteous tone throughout.
Defendant's admonitions to Blackwell to honor any subpoena that
might be issued and to avoid perjury are not presented as personal
threats. Indeed, defendant urges Blackwell to follow the law. Our
review of defendant's letter in the context of Braxton and other
pertinent jurisprudence leads us to conclude that the letter did
not constitute sufficient evidence of defendant's intentional
attempt to intimidate a witness, and his conviction for this
offense must be reversed.
 We next determine whether the letter and accompanying
pages that defendant sent to Blackwell constituted the unauthorized
practice of law. The unauthorized practice of law is barred by
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 84-4 (2005), which provides in relevant part
. . . [I]t shall be unlawful for any person or
association of persons, except active members
of the Bar of the State of North Carolina
admitted and licensed to practice as
attorneys-at-law, to appear as attorney or
counselor at law in any action . . . and it
shall be unlawful for any person . . . except
active members of the Bar . . . to prepare . .
. any will or testamentary disposition, or
instrument of trust, or . . . any other legal
document. . . .
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 84-8 (2005) makes violation of G.S. § 84-4 a
Class 1 misdemeanor, and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 84-2.1 (2005) defines
practice law in relevant part as follows:
The phrase practice law as used in this
Chapter is defined to be performing any legal
service for any other person . . . including
the preparation or aiding in the preparationof deeds, mortgages, wills, trust instruments,
inventories, accounts or reports of guardians,
trustees, administrators or executors, . . .
or assisting by advice, counsel, or otherwise
in any legal work; and to advise or give
opinion upon the legal rights of any person[.]
. . . [T]he above reference to particular acts
. . . shall not be construed to limit the
foregoing general definition of the term, but
shall be construed to include the foregoing
particular acts, as well as all other acts
within the general definition.
The proper application of G.S. § 84-4 most often arises in
commercial contexts, and has been held to bar a corporation from
representing itself, see Lexis-Nexis v. Travishan Corp
., 155 N.C.
App. 205, 209, 573 S.E.2d 547, 549 (2002) (in North Carolina a
corporation must be represented by a duly admitted and licensed
attorney-at-law); to bar an attorney working for an insurance
corporation from representing an insured of the corporation, see
Gardner v. North Carolina State Bar
, 316 N.C. 285, 341 S.E.2d 517
(1986); and to prevent a corporation from offering legal services
to its clients, Seawell v. Carolina Motor Club, Inc
., 209 N.C. 624,
184 S.E. 540 (1936). However, [i]t was not the purpose and intent
of the statute to make unlawful all activities of lay persons which
come within the general definition of practicing law . . . its
purpose is for the better security of the people against
incompetency and dishonesty in an area of activity affecting
general welfare. State v. Pledger
, 257 N.C. 634, 637, 127 S.E.2d
337, 339 (1962).
In the instant case, defendant was charged in an indictment
alleging that he had give[n] unsolicited legal advice to Andrea
Blackwell and prepare[d] a legal document, an affidavit[.] Weconclude that defendant's letter did not constitute the
unauthorized practice of law. Defendant did not hold himself out
as an attorney, or as having a law degree, conceding that his
information on the law was acquired through twenty years of being
in trouble. His legal counsel was limited to general advice to
come to court, tell the truth, and consider executing an affidavit.
This letter did not constitute preparation of a legal document as
we interpret the statute. The legal document was a blank
affidavit form accompanied by a paragraph defendant suggested
Blackwell might include in her affidavit. Both the blank affidavit
and the paragraph were hand-written on sheets of paper supplied by
the jail, and the paragraph contained cross-outs and corrections.
It is also significant that defendant repeatedly urged
to rely on him and to seek advice from an attorney.
Defendant provided the name and number of Scott's lawyer, and
stressed that if she did not want to call that attorney, she should
at least find another lawyer. We further note that the sole
letter that defendant wrote Blackwell does not include any
suggestion of further contact between them; defendant nowhere asks
her to answer his letter or suggests that he might follow up on his
Defendant took it upon himself to write a letter from jail to
a witness in another case, and to offer his opinions and views on
the matter. In this, he was a meddlesome busybody, and may have
wanted to display his wisdom on various matters. However, such
behavior does not rise to the level of a criminal offense. TheState has cited no cases, and we find none, wherein a criminal
defendant was convicted of either attempted intimidation of a
witness or practicing law without a license on the basis of a
single letter in the nature of the letter at issue herein. We
conclude that the letter was insufficient evidence to submit the
charged offenses to the jury, and that defendant's convictions must
be reversed. Further, as defendant's conviction of being a
habitual felon was dependent upon the felony conviction of
attempted intimidation of a witness, this also must be reversed.
Our resolution of this issue makes it unnecessary to address
defendant's other arguments. For the reasons discussed above, we
conclude that defendant's convictions must be
Judges McGEE and STEPHENS concur.
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