State v. McDaris, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Nov. 17, 2020)

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on January 1, 2018, the defendant woke Mr. and Mrs. Ridenhour by loudly banging on the front door of their residence. Mr. Ridenhour, thinking a neighbor was at the door, went to the front door and flipped the deadbolt. The defendant violently pushed the front door open, knocking Mr. Ridenhour backwards. The defendant entered the house and began beating Mr. Ridenhour, who shouted for his wife to call the police and grab his pistol. The defendant struck Mr. Ridenhour multiple times, causing him to fall down a flight of stairs and knocking him unconscious. Mrs. Ridenhour entered the hall, pointed a gun at the defendant, and told him to leave. The defendant then left the house, and Mr. Ridenhour regained consciousness and locked the door. The defendant briefly walked in the front yard but returned and began banging on the front door again. Caldwell County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived at the scene and detained the defendant at the front door. The defendant was indicted for first-degree burglary and the lesser included offense of felonious breaking and entering.

During a bench trial, the defendant twice moved to dismiss, arguing that the State had not presented sufficient evidence of his intent to commit an underlying felony when he entered the Ridenhour house, as required for first-degree burglary. The trial court denied both motions. In a subsequent charge conference, the trial court stated it was considering larceny, attempted murder, and a violation of G.S. 14-54(a1) (breaking or entering a building with intent to terrorize or injure an occupant) as potential underlying felonies for the first-degree burglary charge. However, the trial court, as finder of fact, convicted the defendant of first-degree burglary solely on the basis of G.S. 14-54(a1), stating that “the defendant . . . committed first-degree burglary by committing the felony of [G.S. 14-54(a1)] when he broke and entered into the building with the intent to terrorize and injure the occupant, because that’s what happened.” Slip op. at 5.

On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, specifically arguing that G.S. 14-54(a1) cannot be an underlying felony for first-degree burglary because “grammatically and logically, the initial breaking and entering must be distinct from the crime which a burglar subsequently intends to commit therein.” Slip op. at 6. The Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant, reasoning that “for G.S. 14-54(a1) to satisfy the felonious intent element of first-degree burglary, a defendant must (1) break and enter a dwelling (2) with the intent to therein (3) break or enter a building (4) with the intent to terrorize or injure an occupant” Slip op. at 8–9. (emphasis in original). The Court held that sufficient evidence was not presented to support the inference that the defendant broke and entered the Ridenhours’ residence with the intent to subsequently break or enter another building within the residence and therein terrorize the Ridenhours and as a result, the defendant’s motion to dismiss should have been granted. Moreover, the Court explained that in determining that the first-degree burglary charge was only supported by the defendant’s intent to violate G.S. 14-54(a1), the trial court acquitted the defendant of the other potential underlying felonies, including attempted murder, assault inflicting serious bodily injury, and larceny. The Court reversed the defendant’s first-degree burglary conviction and remanded for entry of judgment for misdemeanor breaking or entering, a lesser included offense that does not require proof of intent to commit an underlying felony.