Winning Appeal: State v. Yates

The Law Office of Mark L. Hayes recently won a new trial for his client on appeal in State v. Yates, No. COA18-158 on the grounds that the right to a meaningful appeal was denied. After a 2016 trial, the jury returned eight guilty verdicts against Mr. Hayes’ client. Mr. Hayes’ client made a motion for the verdicts to be set aside and for a new trial, but it was denied by the trial court. The court consolidated the offenses into three judgments, sentencing Mr. Hayes’ client to 35 to 45 months’ imprisonment for the first judgment, a concurrent term of 336 to 464 months’ imprisonment for the second judgment, and a third judgment of 336 to 464 months’ imprisonment to begin at the expiration of second judgment.

On appeal, Mr. Hayes was unable to get the full transcript of his client’s trial court proceedings due to a malfunction with the recording equipment which left out an important chunk of the trial. Mr. Hayes argued that his client was denied a meaningful appeal due to the missing portion of the transcript and the trial court erred in denying his client’s motions to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence. To first determine whether the right to a meaningful appeal was denied, the Court applied a three-part test:

(1) has the defendant “made sufficient efforts to reconstruct the [proceedings] in the absence of a transcript?”;

(2) have those “reconstruction efforts produced an adequate alternative to a verbatim transcript—that is, one that would fulfill the same functions as a transcript . . . ?”; and

(3) “whether the lack of an adequate alternative to a verbatim transcript of the [proceedings] served to deny any [defendant] meaningful appellate review such that a new [trial] is required.”

First, Mr. Hayes argued sufficient efforts were made to reconstruct the missing portion of the transcript by preparing a narrative form script of the missing time, but that was still an inadequate replacement. The Court agreed with Mr. Hayes on the first prong, for Mr. Hayes contacted the presiding trial judge, the prosecutor, the court reporter, and defense attorneys requesting their recollection of the portion of the trial missing from the transcript. None of those parties responded and Mr. Hayes again attempted to obtain a response which he never received. On the first prong, the Court found Mr. Hayes’ repeated efforts to pursue the content of the missing transcript was “better practice” necessary to satisfy the burden of reconstruction. Yates, No. COA 18-158 at 8.

The Court also found for Mr. Hayes’ client on the second prong in that the reconstruction efforts did not produce an alternative which would function as if the transcript were not missing parts. The failures to communicate by trial counsel, et. al. resulted in Mr. Hayes being unable to produce a reconstructed alternative to the official transcript.  

Lastly, Mr. Hayes argued, and the Court agreed, that the incomplete transcript denied his client meaningful appellate review because the missing part included cross-examination of the alleged victim. Mr. Hayes argued that without that testimony, the State could not present a prima facie case. Mr. Hayes also raised multiple issues regarding pretrial motions, testimony, and closing arguments which could not be pursued on appeal without the missing transcript content. The State argued because Mr. Hayes’ client was unable to identify specific issues, his argument was speculative. However, the Court found Mr. Hayes’ client had demonstrated he was prejudiced because he was unable to identify those specific errors due to the lack of the full transcript and awarded Mr. Hayes’ client a new trial.

Please been advised, however, that success in this case should not be construed as an indication this firm will be successful in any given future case, and you should consult with a license attorney to determine the viability of your own case.

Posted on: 8 Apr, 2021