State v. McDaniel, 372 N.C. 594 (Aug. 16, 2019)

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 6 (2018), the Supreme Court determined that the evidence presented at trial supported the defendant’s conviction under the doctrine of recent possession. Pursuant to a tip, a detective discovered stolen property from the victim’s house at another house on nearby Ridge Street. Several days later, another detective saw the defendant across from the Ridge Street house, sitting in a white pickup truck. The truck matched the description of one that had reportedly been used to deliver the previously discovered property to the Ridge Street house, and now contained more items from the victim’s house. After the trial judge denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence and instructed the jury on the doctrine of recent possession, the jury found the defendant guilty of felony breaking or entering and felony larceny for the first incident, and guilty of felony larceny for the second incident.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to send the charges to the jury as to both her culpable possession of the items allegedly stolen in the first incident and the recency of her possession of those items. Considering the trial court ruling on a motion to dismiss de novo and with all evidentiary conflicts resolved in favor of the State, the court determined that the defendant’s acknowledgment that she had been in control of the victim’s items found at the Ridge Street house two weeks after the first incident brought her within the doctrine of recent possession. Though she claimed to have been acting at the direction of another man—a co-defendant also charged in connection with the initial offense—“exclusive possession” within the meaning of the doctrine of recent possession can, the court said, include joint possession of co-conspirators or persons acting in concert. As a result, the court concluded that there was substantial evidence of exclusive possession, and that the Court of Appeals majority erred by holding to the contrary and vacating the defendant’s convictions. The court thus reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of the defendant’s remaining arguments. 

Justice Earls dissented, writing that the evidence to support the defendant’s conviction was insufficient in that the defendant was never found in possession of the items allegedly stolen in the first incident. To the contrary, she only admitted to having the items at the behest of her employer (the co-defendant), and her possession was therefore not that of herself but of her employer.