Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

About

This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

Instructions

Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 06/29/2022
E.g., 06/29/2022

The defendant was close friends with older couple in Pamlico County. They considered each other family. When the husband of the couple unexpectedly died, the defendant offered to assist the surviving widow. She ultimately turned over complete control of her finances to the defendant. Two months later, she signed a power of attorney making the defendant her attorney in fact and named the defendant as the primary beneficiary of her will. Money was withdrawn from the widow’s accounts and deposited into new bank accounts opened jointly in the names of the widow and the defendant. The defendant then used the widow’s funds to make personal purchases and pay individual debts. Additionally, some of the widow’s funds were automatically withdrawn by the bank from the joint accounts to cover overdrafts owed by the defendant on his individual bank accounts.  After the discovery that more than $100,000.00 had been withdrawn from the widow’s accounts, the defendant was charged with embezzlement and multiple counts of exploitation of an older adult. At trial, the defense requested a special jury instruction regarding the rights of joint account holders based on provisions in Chapter 54C (“Savings Banks”) of the North Carolina General Statutes. The trial court declined to give the proposed instruction, the jury convicted on all counts, and the defendant was sentenced to a minimum 73-months imprisonment.

On appeal, a unanimous Court of Appeals found no error. (1) The defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence was properly denied. The evidence showed a fiduciary relationship existed between the defendant and the widow, even before the execution of the power of attorney. “[T]he evidence sufficiently established that a fiduciary relationship existed between Defendant and Mrs. Monk prior to that point, when he ‘came into possession of the funds in Mrs. Monk’s bank accounts.’” Steele Slip op. at 10. The defendant also argued that, as a joint account holder with the widow, the money in the accounts was properly considered his property. The court disagreed. While joint account holders may be presumed to be the owners of the money in a joint account, that presumption can be overcome when ownership is disputed. Then, ownership of the funds is determined by examining the history of the account, the source of the money, and whether one party intended to gift money to the other joint account holder (among other factors). It was clear here that the widow was the source of the funds in the joint accounts and that she did not intend to make any gift to the defendant. “[T]here was sufficient evidence that the funds taken were the property of Mrs. Monk, and that she did not have the requisite ‘donative intent’ to grant Defendant the money to withdraw and use for his personal benefit.” Id. at 14 (citation omitted). There was also sufficient evidence that the defendant intended to embezzle an amount exceeding $100,000. While more than $20,000 of the missing funds had been automatically withdrawn by a bank to cover the defendant’s preexisting overdraft fees and the defendant denied being aware of this, the overdraft repayments occurred over a 9-month period of time. The defendant received bank statements recounting the repayments each month during that time frame. The total amount deducted as overdraft repayments exceeded $20,000, more than one-fourth of the defendant’s yearly salary. There was also evidence of the defendant’s financial problems. This was sufficient circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s fraudulent intent to embezzle over $100,000. The defendant’s various sufficiency arguments were therefore all properly rejected.

(2) The trial court did not err in failing to give the jury a special instruction on joint accounts and joint tenancy. The proposed instruction was based on the language of G.S. 54C-165 and related laws regarding banking regulations. These laws are intended to protect banks, and allows them to disburse joint funds to either party listed on the account. The laws do not allow a joint account holder to wrongfully convert the funds to their own use simply by virtue of being a joint account holder. The proposed instruction therefore would have been confusing and misleading to the jury. In the words of the court:

Because the requested special instruction could have misled the jury and was likely to create an inference unsupported by the law and the record—that Defendant’s lawful access to the funds in the joint accounts entitled him to freely spend the money therein—the trial court properly declined to deliver Defendant’s requested special jury instruction. Steele Slip op. at 19.

An embezzlement indictment was not fatally defective. The indictment alleged that the defendant:

unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did embezzle three thousand nine hundred fifty seven dollars and eighty one cents ($3,957.81) in good and lawful United States currency belonging to AMPZ, LLC d/b/a Interstate All Battery Center. At the time the defendant was over 16 years of age and was the employee of AMPZ, LLC d/b/a Interstate All Battery Center and in that capacity had been entrusted to receive the property described above and in that capacity the defendant did receive and take into her care and possession that property.

The defendant argued that the indictment failed to allege that she acted with fraudulent intent. The court determined that “the concept of fraudulent intent is already contained within the ordinary meaning of the term ‘embezzle,’” as used in the indictment. The court noted that the defendant did not argue that she was prejudiced in her ability to prepare a defense because of this issue. It further noted that to convict the defendant of embezzlement, the State must prove that she fraudulently or knowingly and willfully misapplied or converted the property. Here, the indictment can fairly be read to allege that the defendant “knowingly and willfully” embezzled from her employer.

            The court also rejected the argument that the indictment was defective for failing to specify the acts constituting embezzlement. The indictment alleges that the defendant embezzled a specific sum of money entrusted to her in a fiduciary capacity as an employee of the company. The court “fail[ed] to see how these allegations would not adequately apprise Defendant as to the charges facing her or prejudice her ability to prepare a defense.”

The evidence was sufficient to sustain the defendant’s convictions for embezzlement under G.S. 14-90. The defendant, a director of accounting for a Foundation, transferred over $400,000 from the Foundation’s account into her personal account. The defendant asserted that she was not entrusted with the funds in the course of her employment. To access the funds, her employer’s bank required the defendant to use both her own security device, which they referred to as a “key fob,” along with her supervisor’s key fob. Because the bank issued the key fobs to each employee individually, the defendant asserted that she was not entrusted with the funds. Here however the defendant’s employer entrusted her with both key fobs, even if the bank intended otherwise. She had lawful possession or control of both her own key fob and her supervisor’s key fob when she obtained the funds. Although the bank intended for two employees to participate in each transaction as a security measure, the Foundation did not require its employees to use the key fobs as the bank intended. Instead, it entrusted the entire process to the defendant.

There was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of larceny by employee. The victim brought her vehicle in for repairs at an auto shop. The defendant, who was the shop manager, provided an estimate for the work, which the victim accepted. When she was told her vehicle was ready, the victim paid the defendant in cash and took her vehicle, later learning that the work had not been done. The defendant deposited a portion of the cash paid by the victim to the shop’s account and kept the remaining amount. As soon as the victim tendered payment to the defendant as the shop’s manager and agent, the funds became the property of the shop for purposes of larceny by employee.

The evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant embezzled funds from a school. The defendant contended that the State failed to offer substantial evidence that she used the school system’s property for a wrongful purpose. The defendant’s responsibilities included purchasing food and non-food items for school meetings and related events. The State’s evidence showed numerous questionable purchases made by the defendant, consisting of items that would not be purchased by or served at school system events. Also, evidence showed that the defendant had forged her supervisors’ signatures and/or changed budget code information on credit card authorization forms and reimbursement forms at least 29 times, and submitted forms for reimbursement with unauthorized signatures totaling $6,641.02. This evidence showed an intent to use the school’s property for a wrongful purpose, even if the forged signatures did not constitute embezzlement.

There was sufficient evidence of embezzlement where the defendant, a bookkeeper controller for the victim company, was instructed to close the company’s credit cards but failed to do so, instead incurring personal charges on the cards and paying the card bills from company funds. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was insufficient because it did not show that she had been physically entrusted with the credit cards. The evidence also showed that the defendant embezzlement funds by paying for her personal insurance with company funds without making a required corresponding deduction from her personal paycheck.

(1) In an embezzlement case in which the defendant was alleged to have improperly written company checks to herself, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant was an agent of the company and not an independent contractor. Two essential elements of an agency relationship are the authority of the agent to act on behalf of the principal and the principal’s control over the agent. Here, the defendant had authority to act on behalf of the corporation because she had full access to the company’s checking accounts, could write checks on her own, and delegated the company’s funds. Evidence of the company’s control over the defendant included that she was expected to meet several responsibilities and that a member of the company communicated with her several times a week. (2) There was sufficient evidence that the defendant had constructive possession of the corporation’s money when she was given complete access to the corporation’s accounts and was able to write checks on behalf of the corporation and to delegate where the corporation’s money went.

Show Table of Contents