State v. Irvins, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-143 (Apr. 20, 2021)

The defendant was found guilty at trial in Mecklenburg County of habitual larceny and pled guilty to habitual felon status. On appeal, he argued that a prior conviction for attempted misdemeanor larceny did not qualify as a predicate offense for purposes of the habitual larceny statute. The Court of Appeals agreed.

Under G.S. 14-72(b)(6), a defendant is eligible to be punished for habitual larceny when the defendant commits a larceny after having been convicted of larceny on four previous occasions. Qualifying prior convictions include any larceny offense under G.S. 14-72, any offense “deemed or punishable as” larceny, and substantially similar offenses from other jurisdictions. Attempted larceny is not a larceny and is not deemed or punishable as larceny because it is not a completed larceny and is punished at a lower classification than the completed offense. See G.S. 14-72 and G.S. 14-2.5 (punishment for attempts not otherwise classified). The attempted larceny conviction was from North Carolina and did not therefore qualify as a substantially similar offense from another jurisdiction. Thus, the defendant’s conviction for attempted larceny did not qualify as a valid predicate offense supporting the habitual larceny conviction. That the defendant had previously been convicted of habitual larceny was not sufficient to overcome this defect, as an indictment for habitual larceny must state the four predicate offense relied upon to establish the habitual status. The court observed that a conviction for habitual larceny counts as one conviction for purpose of future habitual larceny prosecutions. Here, because the indictment failed to allege four valid predicate larceny convictions, it was fatally flawed and failed to confer jurisdiction on the trial court.

The normal remedy for a defective indictment is to vacate the conviction. However, the indictment here adequately charged the defendant with misdemeanor larceny and the jury, by convicting the defendant of the habitual offense, found that the defendant was responsible for the misdemeanor offense. Accordingly, the court remanded for entry of a judgment finding the defendant guilty of misdemeanor larceny and for resentencing on that offense. Because the defendant’s habitual felon conviction rested on the habitual larceny conviction, that conviction was reversed and remanded for dismissal.