State v. Campbell, 373 N.C. 216 (Dec. 6, 2019)

In a larceny case, the State failed to present sufficient evidence that the defendant was the perpetrator.  The State’s evidence at trial showed that audio equipment had been taken from Manna Baptist Church after the church doors were inadvertently left unlocked following a Wednesday evening service.  The doors were locked by a church secretary the next morning and remained locked until Sunday morning.  The church’s pastor discovered that the equipment was missing following the Sunday service.  The defendant’s wallet was found near where some of the equipment had been stored.  In an interview with an investigator, the defendant admitted to being at the church on the night the doors were left unlocked but claimed to not remember anything that he had done while he was there.  At trial he testified that while at the church he did “a lot of soul searching” and drank a bottle of water but that he “did not take anything away from the church.”  An EMT who interacted with the defendant soon after he left the church testified that the EMT did not see him carrying anything at that time.

The court reviewed “well-settled caselaw” establishing that “evidence of a defendant’s mere opportunity to commit a crime is not sufficient to send the charge to the jury.”  Reviewing the evidence, the court said that while it “may be fairly characterized as raising a suspicion of defendant’s guilt of larceny,” crucial gaps existed in that “[t]he State failed to actually link defendant to the stolen property or to prove that he was in the church at the time when the equipment—which was never recovered—was stolen.”  The court noted that the evidence showed a four-day time span over which the theft could have occurred and that a number of other persons had access to the interior of the church during that period.  It further noted that the State was unable to show how the defendant would have been physically able to carry away the cumbersome audio equipment at issue.  The evidence presented was, in the court’s words, “simply not enough to sustain a conviction for larceny.”