§ 15A‑928.  Allegation and proof of previous convictions in superior court.

(a) When the fact that the defendant has been previously convicted of an offense raises an offense of lower grade to one of higher grade and thereby becomes an element of the latter, an indictment or information for the higher offense may not allege the previous conviction. If a reference to a previous conviction is contained in the statutory name or title of the offense, the name or title may not be used in the indictment or information, but an improvised name or title must be used which labels and distinguishes the offense without reference to a previous conviction.

(b) An indictment or information for the offense must be accompanied by a special indictment or information, filed with the principal pleading, charging that the defendant was previously convicted of a specified offense. At the prosecutor's option, the special indictment or information may be incorporated in the principal indictment as a separate count. Except as provided in subsection (c) below, the State may not refer to the special indictment or information during the trial nor adduce any evidence concerning the previous conviction alleged therein.

(c) After commencement of the trial and before the close of the State's case, the judge in the absence of the jury must arraign the defendant upon the special indictment or information, and must advise him that he may admit the previous conviction alleged, deny it, or remain silent. Depending upon the defendant's response, the trial of the case must then proceed as follows:

(1) If the defendant admits the previous conviction, that element of the offense charged in the indictment or information is established, no evidence in support thereof may be adduced by the State, and the judge must submit the case to the jury without reference thereto and as if the fact of such previous conviction were not an element of the offense. The court may not submit to the jury any lesser included offense which is distinguished from the offense charged solely by the fact that a previous conviction is not an element thereof.

(2) If the defendant denies the previous conviction or remains silent, the State may prove that element of the offense charged before the jury as a part of its case. This section applies only to proof of a prior conviction when it is an element of the crime charged, and does not prohibit the State from introducing proof of prior convictions when otherwise permitted under the rules of evidence.

(d) When a misdemeanor is tried de novo in superior court in which the fact of a previous conviction is an element of the offense affecting punishment, the State must replace the pleading in the case with superseding statements of charges separately alleging the substantive offense and the fact of any prior conviction, in accordance with the provisions of this section relating to indictments and informations. Any jury trial in superior court on the misdemeanor  must be held in accordance with the provisions of subsections (b) and (c).

(e) Nothing contained in this section precludes the State from proving a prior conviction before a grand jury or relieves the State from the obligation or necessity of so doing in order to submit a legally sufficient case. (1973, c. 1286, s. 1; 1975, c. 166, s. 27.)