As Judge, Cheri Beasley Wanted Lighter Sentence for Career Criminal Who Possessed 'Weapon of Mass Death'

Beasley, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice, argued 'attempted assault with a deadly weapon' is 'not a crime'

Cheri Beasley (Getty Images)
September 13, 2022

Democratic North Carolina Senate nominee Cheri Beasley voted to vacate a career criminal's habitual felon status just after the man was caught with a "weapon of mass death," a move that would have seen him receive a lighter sentence if he committed another crime.

In October 2013, a North Carolina jury found 35-year-old Corey Deon Floyd guilty of possessing a "weapon of mass death and destruction" and possessing a gun as a convicted felon. Those convictions—which came after Floyd was spotted "hanging" around the streets of Kinston, N.C., with a sawed-off shotgun in his pants—led to Floyd being designated with habitual felon status, which prosecutors in the state apply to a person who commits felonies in three separate cases. Under North Carolina law, habitual felons are sentenced to harsher penalties for any subsequent crimes they commit.

If Beasley got her way, however, the career criminal would have lost his habitual felon status. As a state Supreme Court justice in 2016, Beasley voted to vacate Floyd's habitual felon conviction, arguing that one of Floyd's past felonies prosecutors used to justify the designation—attempted assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury—"is not a crime in North Carolina." A majority of Beasley's fellow justices rejected the Democrat's opinion, and as such, Floyd's convictions were upheld. In addition to his attempted assault and illegal gun convictions, Floyd was found guilty of felony cocaine possession on at least two occasions, court documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show.

Beasley's vote is at odds with her pledge to "[keep] North Carolina communities safe" in her campaign to replace retiring North Carolina Republican senator Richard Burr. That race has seen Beasley attempt to sidestep GOP criticism on her public safety record as a judge by denouncing the movement to defund police, which caught fire in the summer of 2020 following George Floyd's death. But at that time, Beasley partly defended the Black Lives Matter riots that swept the nation after the event—during a June 2020 press conference, the Democrat said Americans "must recognize the legitimate pain and weight of years of disparate treatment that fuels these demonstrations." Roughly three months later, Beasley said she was "excited about the fact that, since the death of George Floyd and so many others, we have been thinking differently about how we do our work."

Beasley's campaign did not return a request for comment.

Floyd's habitual felon status conviction came after local police received a tip that the criminal was carrying a "sawed-off shotgun in his pants" in public. Officers reached the scene and quickly recognized Floyd, citing their "frequent face-to-face contact" with the felon. Floyd fled when the officers approached, eventually throwing his weapon "into a nearby yard," according to court documents obtained by the Free Beacon.

Prosecutors subsequently sought to label Floyd a habitual felon, using in part his attempted assault conviction—which came in 2005—to justify the charge. Jurors agreed, finding Floyd "guilty of obtaining the status of habitual felon" in 2013. 

Floyd appealed the conviction, arguing that "attempted assault is not a recognized criminal offense in North Carolina." Prosecutors, however, did not initially charge Floyd with attempted assault—instead, they charged the felon with robbery with a dangerous weapon and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, charges they only watered down as part of a plea deal. Still, both Beasley and North Carolina's appeals court sided with Floyd through opinions that a majority of state Supreme Court justices rejected in 2016, with Beasley ultimately contending that "attempted assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury is not a cognizable offense in North Carolina."

Beasley, who served on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 2012 to 2020, has already faced criticism from Republicans over controversial opinions she issued during her judicial career. In 2019, Beasley was part of a Democratic majority on the court that sided with a child pornography offender who used a technicality to reduce his sentence.

After a stint on North Carolina's appeals court, Beasley was appointed by former Democratic governor Beverly Perdue to the state Supreme Court in 2012. Voters elected Beasley to a full eight-year term in 2014—five years later, Democratic governor Roy Cooper appointed Beasley chief justice following Republican Mark Martin's retirement from the post. Beasley lost her run for a second eight-year term to Republican justice Paul Newby in 2020 and joined international firm McGuireWoods as a partner in January 2021.

Just months later, in June 2021, Beasley launched her Senate run, which will see her face Republican congressman Ted Budd in November after both candidates won their party's primaries by double digits in May. Beasley has raised $16 million to Budd's $6.5 million.