State v. Cox, 375 N.C. 165 (Aug. 14, 2020)

The defendant, along with two others, went to the home of an individual to whom they paid cash to provide them with controlled substances. The individual neither obtained the illegal drugs nor returned any of the drug purchase money to the defendant. At the home of the individual, the individual was assaulted, accompanied by a demand for the return of the money. While leaving, the defendant fired a shot into the residence. The defendant was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, and discharging a weapon into an occupied property. At trial, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges against him for insufficiency of the evidence, and the trial court denied the motion. The defendant was found guilty on all charges.

The Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and felonious breaking or entering. The Court of Appeals relied on State v. Spratt, 265 N.C. 524 (1965), and State v. Lawrence, 262 N.C. 162 (1964), in concluding that the defendant could not be guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon because the defendant did not have the requisite felonious intent when attempting to take property from the individual, under a bona fide claim of right to the money which had been given on defendant’s behalf. The Court of Appeals also held that the lack of felonious intent negated the defendant’s ability to be convicted of the offense of felonious breaking or entering, and remanded the matter in order for the trial court to enter judgment against defendant for misdemeanor breaking or entering, which does not require felonious intent.

The Supreme Court held that the case precedent on which the Court of Appeals relied did not apply to the facts at hand. The Court concluded that “neither Spratt, nor Lawrence, nor any other case in this state has heretofore authorized a party to legally engage in ‘self-help’ by virtue of the exercise of a bona fide claim of right or title to property which is the subject of an illegal transaction,” and therefore held that there was no error in the defendant’s convictions of the offense of conspiracy to commit armed robbery with a dangerous weapon and the offense of felonious breaking or entering.