State v. Golder, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Apr. 3, 2020)

The defendant in this case was not a licensed bondsman, but over a period of five to six years he paid an employee at the clerk’s office to make entries into a computer record system indicating that the defendant had filed motions to set aside the bond forfeiture in numerous cases, even though no motions had been filed. Since no motions were actually filed or served on the district attorney or board of education, neither agency was on notice to file a response within the statutorily required 20-day period, meaning the bond forfeitures would be set aside automatically. The clerk was eventually fired for his role in the scheme and began cooperating with the State Bureau of Investigation. The defendant was ultimately convicted of aiding and abetting obtaining property by false pretenses, accessing a government computer, and altering court records, as well as unlicensed bail bonding.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motions to dismiss on the grounds that the state had failed to present sufficient evidence that he (i) aided and abetted the commission of the felony offenses, or (ii) obtained property in excess of $100,000, since at the time the false representations were made the interests of the state and the school board in the bonds to be forfeited were only speculative. The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments, finding that they were not properly preserved at trial. The aiding and abetting argument was never specifically raised in the defendant’s motions, and while the defendant did raise the property argument in his first motion to dismiss, his later motion to dismiss at the close of all the evidence only challenged the dollar value of the property rather than the issue of whether it qualified as a thing of value at all, so the court ruled that the second argument was likewise barred on appeal.

The North Carolina Supreme Court disagreed and held that the defendant properly preserved both arguments for appeal. Distinguishing objections and constitutional challenges which must be specifically argued at trial to be preserved, the arguments challenging the sufficiency of the evidence in this case were properly preserved under Rule 10(a)(3) of the Rules of Appellate Procedure. A motion to dismiss “places an affirmative duty upon the trial court to examine the sufficiency of the evidence against the accused for every element of each crime charged,” so the “simple act of moving to dismiss at the proper time preserved all issues related to the sufficiency of the evidence for appellate review.” The jurisprudence of the Court of Appeals that has attempted to distinguished between general and specific motions to dismiss for sufficiency of the evidence “and to assign different scopes of appellate review to each category, is inconsistent with Rule 10(a)(3).”

Turning to the merits of the defendant’s arguments, the court held that the state presented sufficient evidence to withstand a motion to dismiss on both issues. First, viewed in the light most favorable to the state, the evidence established that the defendant aided and abetted the clerk’s actions by meeting with him and agreeing to the scheme, sending him text messages with instructions and case names, and paying him for entering the fraudulent motions. Second, G.S. 14-100 covers both obtaining and attempting to obtain a thing of value, so the defendant’s efforts to reduce the amount he would have to pay on the forfeited bonds constituted a “thing of value” within the broad scope of the statute.