Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 18 May 2004 by Judge
Michael E. Beale in Superior Court, Union County. Heard in the
Court of Appeals 10 October 2006.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Jonathan P. Babb, for the State.
Attorney Glover & Petersen, P.A., by James R. Glover for
ffenses that are committed on separate dates cannot be
joined for trial, even when they are of like character, unless the
circumstances of each offense are so distinctly similar that they
serve almost as a fingerprint.
(See footnote 1)
Here, the trial court joined
three robbery offenses separated by thirty-five days between the
first and second offense and committed at different times of day.
We hold that any error by the trial court in joining the offenses
was harmless. On 25 January 2002, Brandon Anderson and David Byrd worked at
a Subway restaurant in the Hilltop Plaza in Monroe, North Carolina.
Around 9:00 p.m., four men entered the building carrying a handgun
and a shotgun. The men demanded that the safe be opened, but
neither Anderson nor Byrd had the code. One robber then opened the
cash register and took approximately $52.00. The robbers took the
contents of Anderson's wallet and locked Anderson and Byrd in the
freezer. Afterwards, Anderson and Byrd called 9-1-1 from a cell
During the robbery, three of the four robbers wore ski masks;
Byrd identified the man without the mask as Calbert Luckey. At
trial, Luckey identified the other robbers as Thomas Grant Cousin,
Terie Smith, and Defendant Marcus Streater.
On 1 March 2002, Chris Salinas Vanderhost worked at the front
desk at the Hilltop Motel in Monroe, North Carolina. About 10:20
a.m., a man armed with a pistol and wearing a mask entered and
demanded money. Vanderhost took out the cash drawer and placed it
on the counter. The robber took the money from the cash drawer and
put it in his pockets. The robber then asked for the safe, but
Vanderhost told him the inn did not have one. The robber ran out
the back door.
That same day at approximately 11:00 p.m., Sergeant Davey
Plyer of the Monroe Police Department was dispatched to the Village
Square Apartments in Monroe, North Carolina. When he arrived, he
found Alejandro Cruz lying partially in the bushes. Cruz had been
shot in the hip, and was taken to the hospital. Sergeant Plyerrecovered a .25 caliber shell casing on the sidewalk and a spent
.25 caliber bullet near the front door of an apartment.
On the night of 4 March 2002, Perrie Middleton and Tim Mojzik
worked at Wendy's restaurant in Marshville, North Carolina. About
1:30 a.m. Middleton left, leaving Mojzik alone. At 6:30 a.m. the
next morning, General Manager Kathy Sherman found Mojzik slumped
over a desk. According to the North Carolina Medical Examiner's
report Mojzik died as a result of a single gun shot wound that
passed through his aorta and lodged in his back. A spent .25
caliber shell casing was found on the floor just outside the
An SBI ballistics examiner opined that the .25 caliber bullet
found at the Village Square Apartments and the bullet taken from
Mojzik as well as the shell casings collected at each crime scene
were fired from the same .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol.
As a result of information from a confidential informant and
further police investigation, a magistrate issued an arrest warrant
for Thomas Grant Cousin. Police officers also looked for Defendant
Marcus Streater as well as a brown or gold Nissan Maxima that he
and Cousin reportedly rode around in and had been used after the
shooting on 1 March 2002.
At a gas station, police officers found Cousin and Michael
Todd McClain in a brown Nissan Maxima and Anthony Hammond pumping
gas. The officers informed Cousins he was under arrest and told
him to get out of the vehicle. As Cousins exited the vehicle,
several rounds of rifle ammunition fell out of his right pant leg. Inside the Maxima, the officers found twelve gauge shotgun shells,
a roll of duct tape, a ski mask, a pair of black gloves and a dark
As police officers placed Cousins under arrest, Defendant
walked out of the gas station convenience store. An officer asked
Defendant if the car belonged to him. Defendant said that it did.
An officer asked Defendant where the guns for the ammunition were,
and Defendant stated they were in the trunk. The officer asked if
he could search Defendant's trunk and Defendant said to go ahead.
In the trunk, officers found a 7.62 mm rifle, a twelve gauge
shotgun with a sawed off barrel measuring less than eighteen
inches. Defendant was arrested for possession of a shotgun with a
barrel of less than eighteen inches, a weapon of mass destruction.
During interrogation by police, Defendant confessed to
participating in the robbery of the Subway restaurant and being the
'wheelman' during the robbery of the Hilltop Inn, the shooting of
Alejandro Cruz, and the shooting of Tim Mojzik.
At trial, Defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder,
felony conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, three
counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, and two counts of second
degree kidnapping. From these convictions, Defendant appeals
arguing that trial court erred by (I) joining for a single trial
charges arising out of three disparate transactions and (II)
requiring that Defendant surrender his right to silence at the
Regarding Defendant's first argument, North Carolina General
Statutes (2005) Section 15A-926(a) permits a trial court to join
two or more offenses in one pleading or for trial when the
offenses, whether felonies or misdemeanors or both, are based on
the same act or transaction or on a series of acts or transactions
connected together or constituting parts of a single scheme or
On appeal, we review a trial court's ruling on a joinder
under the abuse of discretion standard.
State v. Neal
N.C. App. 518, 520, 333 S.E.2d 538, 539 (1985).
To show an abuse
of discretion by the trial court, a defendant must show that the
ruling was so arbitrary it could not have been the result of a
reasoned decision. See State v. Campbell
, 359 N.C. 644, 673, 617
S.E.2d 1, 19 (2005).
The determination of [w]hether an abuse of
discretion occurred must be determined as of the time of the order
of consolidation . . . . Neal
, 76 N.C. App. 518, 520, 333 S.E.2d
538, 540 (1985).
Despite our adherence to an abuse of discretion standard of
review on the joinder of offenses for one trial, the determination
that a transactional connection exists so that the offenses may be
joined for trial is a fully reviewable question of law. State v.
, 355 N.C. 501, 529, 565 S.E.2d 609, 626 (2002). In
considering whether a 'transactional connection' exists, we
consider such factors as the nature of the offenses charged,
commonality of facts, the lapse of time between offenses, the
unique circumstances of each case as well as
invictims, location, time, motive,
modus operandi. E.g., State
, 303 N.C. 112, 277 S.E.2d 390 (1981)
; State v. Herring
74 N.C. App. 269, 273, 328 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1985)
Where there is no
transactional connection between charges joined for trial, joinder
is improper as a matter of law. See State v. Silva
, 304 N.C. 122,
126 282 S.E.2d 449, 452 (1981) (citation omitted).
Here, the charges joined for trial arose from three separate
offenses -- the first on 25 January 2002 at the Subway restaurant
in Monroe, North Carolina, the second on 1 March 2002 at the
Hilltop Inn also in Monroe, and the third on 5 March 2002 at the
Wendy's restaurant in Marshville, North Carolina. In the trial
court's order to join offenses for trial, the trial court noted the
incident at the Subway restaurant occurred at approximately 9:15
p.m., the incident at the Hilltop Inn at approximately 10:20 a.m.,
and the incident at the Wendy's restaurant at approximately 1:30
a.m. The Subway restaurant and the Hilltop Inn were located within
several hundred yards of each other while the Wendy's restaurant
was located approximately eight miles away. The motive in each
case was apparently robbery. In each case the robbers surprised
their victims, wore masks, gloves, carried a gun, and attempted to
open or asked about a safe. The trial court also noted that in
each incident Defendant Streater was involved.
In absence of a charge that acts as an umbrella,
that are committed on separate dates cannot be joined for trial,
even when they are of like character, unless the circumstances of
each offense are so distinctly similar that they serve almost as afingerprint.
State v. Williams
, 74 N.C. App. 695, 697, 329 S.E.2d
(1985). Here, the execution of these offenses took place
on three different dates, 25 March 2002, 1 March 2002, and 5 March
2002; at various times during the day, 10:20 a.m., 9:20 p.m., and
1:30 a.m.; and in two different towns, Monroe and Marshville, North
Carolina. The modus operandi
of the robbers could only generally
be described as they surprised their victims, wore masks, gloves,
used a handgun and attempted to open the business safe. In
addition, the offenses were separated by a substantial gap in time:
thirty-five days elapsed between the first and second incidents.
74 N.C. App. 269, 328 S.E.2d 23 (1985) (forty days
between factually similar offenses was a
substantial time and
rendered the offenses too distinct for joinder). Considering the
substantial temporal gap between the first and second offense, the
inconsistency in regard to the times of day in which the offenses
were carried out, and the general description of the robber's
outfits and gun, we find these facts do not amount to circumstances
so distinctly similar that a transactional connection can
reasonably be established between them.
Nonetheless, though joinder was improper, it does not
automatically follow that it was prejudicial. Under North Carolina
Rule of Evidence 404(b) evidence of other crimes may be admissible
for proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan,
knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake, entrapment or accident.
Here, evidence from any two of the offenses joined would be
admissible in the trial for the remaining offense to show intent orknowledge; therefore, the trial court's joinder of charges for
trial was not prejudicial to Defendant. Accordingly, we hold the
joinder of charges for trial was harmless error.
Next, Defendant argues that the trial court deprived Defendant
of his due process right to a meaningful hearing by improperly
requiring that Defendant surrender his right to silence in order to
offer testimony in support of motions to suppress. We disagree.
In U.S. v. Simmons
390 U.S. 377, 88 S. Ct. 967
United States Supreme Court held that where a defendant surrendered
his constitutional right to remain silent in order to testify in a
suppression hearing on an alleged violation of the defendant's
constitutional fourth amendment right against an unreasonable
search and seizure, the State could not at trial use the
defendant's testimony against him. In Simmons
, the defendant
sought to suppress the admission of a suitcase as fruit of an
illegal search, but at the suppression hearing first had to
establish his standing to contest the suitcase seizure. Id.
the residence in which the suitcase was found did not belong to the
defendant, the Court noted that a connection between the defendant
and the suitcase may have been difficult for the State to prove at
trial if the defendant did not incriminate himself, and at the
suppression hearing, the most natural way for the defendant to
substantiate his standing was to claim ownership of the suitcase.
The defendant established standing, but was unsuccessful in
suppressing the admission of the suitcase. Id.
At trial, theprosecution used the defendant's suppression hearing testimony
claiming ownership of the suitcase as evidence of the defendant's
The United States Supreme Court considered the deterrent
affect of admissibility of testimony from a suppression hearing at
trial on a defendant's decision to bring a claim of suppression
based on a constitutional right. The Court reasoned that [i]
such circumstances, a defendant with a substantial claim for the
exclusion of evidence may conclude that the admission of the
evidence, together with the Government's proof linking it to him,
is preferable to risking the admission of his own testimony
connecting himself with the seized evidence.
at 393, 88 S.
76. The United States Supreme Court concluded that in such a
scenario, the surrender of one constitutional right for the
assertion of another was an intolerable compromise. Id
. As such,
the Court held that
when a defendant testifies in support of a
motion to suppress evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds, his
testimony may not thereafter be admitted against him at trial on
the issue of guilt unless he makes no objection.
at 394, 88
S. Ct. 9
Here, based on Defendant's motion and affidavit, the trial
court conducted a suppression hearing for evidence received as a
result of a search of Defendant's car and a statement made by
Defendant to police. At the hearing, the only witnesses to testify
were a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Officer and a
detective with the Marshville Police Department. Both witnessestestified for the State. After the close of the State's evidence,
the trial court instructed Defendant the defense had put forth no
evidence and that if Defendant wanted to personally put on
evidence, Defendant must be sworn and testify. At which point,
Defendant moved to withdraw his affidavit. Defendant through
counsel stated that he withdrew his affidavit to avoid cross
examination from the State. Only after that did the trial court
instruct Defendant that if he chose to testify he would be subject
to cross examination by the State and anything he said might and
could be used against him in the trial of the case. Defendant
informed the trial court that he had consulted with his attorney,
he understood his rights and then again declined to testify.
Thus, the facts of this case are distinctive from those in
indeed, on the facts before us, we find instructive State
303 N.C. 112, 277 S.E.2d 390 (1981). There, our Supreme
Court interpreted the holding of Simmons
in the context of the use
of a defendant's testimony for impeachment purposes. The Court
stated that the defendant's testimony from an unsuccessful
suppression hearing was not introduced as evidence in the State's
case in chief. Instead, defendant was questioned on cross-
examination about his bad or illegal acts including the use of the
illegal drug, PCP. This impeachment use, as opposed to using it to
establish guilt, is permissible under Simmons
at 120, 277
S.E. 2d at 396.
Likewise in this case, if Defendant had testified, the
evidence adduced from his statements at the suppression hearingcould not have been used to establish his guilt but it may have
been admissible for other purposes, such as impeachment. Thus,
while it would have been error for the trial court to allow
Defendant's statements at the suppression hearing to establish his
guilt, we construe the statement of the trial court in this case to
mean that Defendant's statements at the suppression hearing would
have been admissible for purposes other than to establish his
guilt. We note further that Defendant had prior to the trial
court's statement communicated his decision not to testify.
Accordingly, we hold the trial court's instruction that Defendant's
testimony given during a suppression hearing was consistent with
the law that such statements could be used against defendant for
purposes other than to establish his guilt.
No prejudicial error.
Judges MCGEE and MCCULLOUGH concur.
Report per rule 30(e).