State v. Angram, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Feb. 18, 2020)

The basic facts of this case are as follows: Marvin Price closed his account at the Mountain Credit Union, withdrawing $25,000 in cash. He put $300 to $400 in his wallet and the remainder in an envelope. When he arrived home and got out of his car, he was robbed at gunpoint by Michael Angram, who asked Price, “Where is the $25,000?” Price claimed that he deposited it at another bank, although he had not actually done so, and Michael Angram took the wallet only. In a separate case, Michael Angram was convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon. The defendant in this case is Michael Angram’s brother. He was tried jointly with Ms. Robinson, who worked at the credit union and with whom the defendant had a child, on charges of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and aiding and abetting robbery with a dangerous weapon. They were acquitted of conspiracy and found guilty of aiding and abetting. This appeal concerned the defendant only.

The question addressed by the Court of Appeals was whether the State offered sufficient evidence to withstand the defendant’s motion to dismiss, which the trial judge had denied. At trial, the State called Michael Angram, who testified that he did not remember the robbery and did not know why he had been convicted. He did not testify to anything incriminating about the defendant. The State then called a detective to impeach Michael Angram. The detective testified that Michael Angram said that the defendant told him about the $25,000 bank withdrawal and drove him to Price’s home. The Court of Appeals recognized that the detective’s testimony was limited to impeaching Michael Angram’s credibility. The only substantive evidence offered by the State was that Ms. Robinson had a relationship with the defendant, that she was working at the credit union along with three other employees when Price withdrew the $25,000, and that she talked on the phone with the defendant while Price was at the credit union. The State argued that the jury could infer from this evidence that Ms. Robinson told the defendant of the withdrawal and that the defendant then arranged with his brother to rob Price. The Court found that while circumstantial evidence may support conviction of a crime, the State’s argument was speculative. The Court concluded that without the information from the detective’s testimony, which was not admitted for substantive purposes, there was not substantial evidence to withstand the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The Court concluded that the trial judge should have granted the defendant’s motion and reversed the judgment. [Note: The Court found it unnecessary to address the defendant’s other issue on appeal—that the trial judge erred in permitting the detective to testify about Michael Angram’s statements because the State was aware that Michael Angram would not be forthcoming as a witness; the real purpose of the detective’s testimony was to get otherwise inadmissible hearsay before the jury in violation of State v. Hunt, 324 N.C. 343 (1989); and the testimony was unduly prejudicial and not cured by the trial judge’s limiting instruction.]