State v. Jones, 369 N.C. 631 (Jun. 9, 2017)

The evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s convictions for three counts of felony larceny. The defendant, a truck driver who worked as an independent contractor, was overpaid because a payroll processor accidentally typed “$120,000” instead of “$1,200” into a payment processing system, resulting in an excess deposit in the defendant’s bank account. Although the defendant was informed of the error and was asked not to remove the excess funds from his bank account, he made a series of withdrawals and transfers totaling over $116,000. In connection with one of the withdrawals, the defendant went to a bank branch. The teller who assisted him noted the large deposit and asked the defendant about it. The defendant replied that he had sold part of the business and requested further withdrawals. Because of the defendant’s actions, efforts to reverse the deposit were unsuccessful. The defendant was convicted of three counts of larceny on the basis of his three withdrawals of the erroneously deposited funds. The Court of Appeals vacated the defendant’s convictions, finding that he had not committed a trespassory taking. The Supreme Court reversed. The court noted that to constitute a larceny, a taking must be wrongful, that is, it must be “by an act of trespass.” A larcenous trespass however may be either actual or constructive. A constructive trespass occurs when possession of the property is fraudulently obtained by some trick or artifice. However the trespass occurs, it must be against the possession of another. Like a larcenous trespass, another’s possession can be actual or constructive. With respect to construing constructive possession for purposes of larceny, the court explicitly adopted the constructive possession test used in drug cases. That is, a person is in constructive possession of the thing when, while not having actual possession, he has the intent and capability to maintain control and dominion over that thing. The court found that the depositor retained constructive possession of the excess funds even after they had been transferred to the defendant’s account. Specifically, the depositor had the intent and capability to maintain control and dominion over the funds by affecting a reversal of the deposit. The fact that the reversal order was not successful does not show that the depositor lacked constructive possession. The court went on to conclude that the defendant did not simultaneously have possession of the funds while they were in his account, a fact that would have precluded a larceny conviction. The court concluded that the defendant “was simply the recipient of funds that he knew were supposed to be returned in large part. He therefore had mere custody of the funds, not possession of them.” It reasoned that when a person has mere custody of a property, he or she may be convicted of larceny when the property is appropriated to his or her own use with felonious intent.