Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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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.

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E.g., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss charges of possession of stolen goods (a debit card) and possession of marijuana. The State presented substantial evidence establishing constructive possession of both the items. The items were found in close proximity to the defendant and his vehicle. Because of their proximity to the items, the defendant and his accomplices had the ability to exercise control over the contraband. Additionally, an officer spotted the defendant’s car and the suspects about one minute after receiving information from the Sheriff’s department about a robbery related to the charges at issue. The brief period between the robbery and locating the suspects with the stolen card supports an inference that the defendant knew of the robbery and the presence of the card. Based on the totality of the circumstances, there was substantial evidence that the defendant had constructive possession of the items.

In this possession of a stolen motor vehicle case, the trial court’s jury instruction did not contain an incorrect statement of law regarding the element of possession. The evidence tended to show that an officer saw an individual driving a vehicle that was reported stolen. After an accident, the officer saw an individual wearing a white T-shirt flee from the vehicle’s driver side. An officer at the scene observed that only the driver’s door had been left open. Officers maintained almost constant visual contact with the defendant as he fled. The defendant was apprehended shortly afterwards wearing a white T-shirt. Instructing the jury on possession, the trial court stated that a person has actual possession of a vehicle if the person is aware of its presence, is in the car, such as driving, and has both the power intent to control its disposition or use. The court held that the instruction provided an accurate statement of law arising from the evidence presented and that the defendant’s argument that the instruction shifted the burden of proof to the defendant was without merit. The evidence was sufficient for the jury to infer that the defendant operated the stolen vehicle and was not merely a passenger.

The evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant constructively possessed two stolen firearms found in a van he had rented. The defendant was convicted of two counts of possession of stolen goods in violation of G.S. 14-71.1. The weapons in question were stolen during two separate home invasions. Officers learned that a van spotted on the premises of the second home was rented to Shirelanda Clark. Clark informed officers that she had re-rented the vehicle to the defendant and an individual named Dezmon Bullock. At the request of the police, Clark arranged a meeting with the defendant and Bullock. The two arrived in the van and consent was given to search the vehicle. As the search began, officers found a new basketball goal still in its box. After claiming ownership of the basketball goal, the defendant abruptly left the scene, leaving the item behind. The search continued, and the two stolen weapons were discovered. On appeal the court rejected the defendant’s contention that the evidence was insufficient to establish constructive possession of the weapons, reasoning that although the defendant did not have exclusive possession of the van, other incriminating circumstances existed to establish constructive possession. Those circumstances included: the defendant’s “nervous disposition;” the fact that the defendant “admitted ownership of the basketball goal in proximity to the stolen firearms;” the fact that the defendant had rented the van from Clark; and that the defendant “exhibited irrational conduct tending to indicate he was fearful that the firearms would be discovered during the course of the search — specifically his sudden and abrupt departure from the area when [officers] began the search of the van . . . leaving behind his personal property for which he did not return.”

In a possession of stolen property case, the evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendant constructively possessed the jewelry at issue. The necessary “other incriminating circumstances” for constructive possession could not be inferred from the fact that the defendant was a high-ranking member of a gang to which the others involved in a robbery and subsequent transfer of the stolen goods belonged; the defendant accompanied a person in possession of stolen property to an enterprise at which a legitimate transaction occurred; and the defendant and his wife made ambiguous references to “more scrap gold” and “rings” unaccompanied by any indication that these items were stolen. At most the State established that the defendant had been in an area where he could have committed the crimes.

In a case involving felonious breaking or entering, larceny, and possession of stolen goods, there was sufficient evidence of possession. The defendant’s truck was parked at the residence with its engine running; items found in the truck included electronic equipment from the residence; a man fitting the defendant’s description was seen holding items later identified as stolen; items reported as missing included electronic equipment and a large quantity of loose change; the police dog’s handler observed evidence that someone recently had been in a muddy area behind the residence; the side door of the residence showed pry marks; the defendant was found wearing muddy clothing and shoes and in possession of a Leatherman tool and a large quantity of loose change. A reasonable juror could conclude that the defendant possessed goods stolen from the residence, either as the person standing in the yard holding electronic equipment, through constructive possession of the items in his truck, or through actual possession of the loose change.

In a possession of stolen property case, the trial court committed reversible error by instructing the jury on constructive possession. The property, a vehicle stolen from a gas station, was found parked on the street outside of the defendant’s residence. The defendant claimed that unknown to him, someone else drove the vehicle there. The State argued that evidence of a surveillance tape showing the defendant at the station when the vehicle was taken, the defendant’s opportunity to observe the running, unoccupied vehicle, the fact that the vehicle was not stolen until defendant left the station, and the later discovery of the vehicle near the defendant’s residence was sufficient to establish constructive possession. The court concluded that although this evidence showed opportunity, it did not show that the defendant was aware of the vehicle’s location outside his residence, was at home when it arrived, that he regularly used that location for his personal use, or that the public street was any more likely to be under his control than the control of other residents. The court concluded that the vehicle’s location on a public street not under the defendant’s exclusive control and the additional circumstances recounted by the State did not support an inference that defendant had “the intent and capability to maintain control and dominion over” the vehicle. Based on the same analysis, the court also agreed with the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motions to dismiss as there was insufficient evidence that he actually or constructively possessed the stolen vehicle and by accepting the jury verdict as to possession of stolen goods because it was fatally inconsistent with its verdict of not guilty of larceny of the same vehicle.

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for possession of stolen property. The defendant challenged only the sufficiency of the evidence that he knew or had reasonable grounds to believe that the items were stolen. Here, the defendant had possession of stolen property valued at more than $1,000, which he sold for only $114; although the defendant told a detective that he obtained the stolen property from a “white man,” he could not provide the man’s name; and the defendant did not specifically tell the detective that he bought the items from this unidentified man and he did not produce a receipt.

The court held that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the defendant’s conviction for possession of a stolen vehicle, rejecting the defendant’s argument that he did not have reason to believe the vehicle was stolen, in part because the defendant’s own statements indicated otherwise.

In a possession of stolen goods case, the evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendant knew that the item at issue, a four-wheeler, was stolen. Distinguishing State v. Lofton, 66 N.C. App. 79 (1984), the court noted, among other things, that the cosmetic changes to the four-wheeler were minimal,the defendant openly drove the four-wheeler, and the defendant did not flee from police. Additionally, there was no evidence regarding how the defendant got possession of the four-wheeler.

The evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendant knew a gun was stolen. Case law establishes that guilty knowledge can be inferred from the act of throwing away a stolen weapon. In this case, shortly after a robbery, the defendant and an accomplice went to the home of the accomplice’s mother, put the gun in her bedroom, and left the house. These actions were not analogous to throwing an item away for purposes of inferring knowledge that an item was stolen.

Reversing State v. Nickerson, 208 N.C. App. 136 (2010), the court held that unauthorized use of a motor vehicle is not a lesser included offense of possession of stolen goods. The court applied the definitional test and concluded that unauthorized use of a motor vehicle contains at least one element not present in the crime of possession of stolen goods and that therefore the former offense is not a lesser included offense of the latter offense.

Following State v. Nickerson, 365 N.C. 279 (2011), the court held that unauthorized use is not a lesser included offense of possession of stolen property.

As a matter of legislative intent, the court held that a defendant may not be convicted for both armed robbery and possession of stolen goods taken during the robbery.

The trial court erred by sentencing the defendant for both felony larceny and felony possession of stolen goods when both convictions were based on the same items.

The trial court erred in convicting the defendant of two counts of possession of a stolen firearm under G.S. 14-71.1. It stated: “While defendant did possess the two separate stolen firearms, we hold that defendant may not be convicted on separate counts for each firearm possessed.

A defendant may not be convicted of both felony larceny and felonious possession of the same goods.

A defendant may not be sentenced for both robbery and possession of stolen property taken during the robbery.

State v. Tanner, 364 N.C. 229 (June 17, 2010)

Reversing the Court of Appeals and overruling State v. Marsh, 187 N.C. App. 235 (2007), and State v. Goblet, 173 N.C. App. 112 (2005), the Supreme Court held that a defendant who is acquitted of underlying breaking or entering and larceny charges may be convicted of felonious possession of stolen goods on a theory that the defendant knew or had reasonable grounds to believe that the goods were stolen. 

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