State v. Rice, ___ N.C. App. ___, 798 S.E.2d 432 (Apr. 4, 2017)

The evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant constructively possessed two stolen firearms found in a van he had rented. The defendant was convicted of two counts of possession of stolen goods in violation of G.S. 14-71.1. The weapons in question were stolen during two separate home invasions. Officers learned that a van spotted on the premises of the second home was rented to Shirelanda Clark. Clark informed officers that she had re-rented the vehicle to the defendant and an individual named Dezmon Bullock. At the request of the police, Clark arranged a meeting with the defendant and Bullock. The two arrived in the van and consent was given to search the vehicle. As the search began, officers found a new basketball goal still in its box. After claiming ownership of the basketball goal, the defendant abruptly left the scene, leaving the item behind. The search continued, and the two stolen weapons were discovered. On appeal the court rejected the defendant’s contention that the evidence was insufficient to establish constructive possession of the weapons, reasoning that although the defendant did not have exclusive possession of the van, other incriminating circumstances existed to establish constructive possession. Those circumstances included: the defendant’s “nervous disposition;” the fact that the defendant “admitted ownership of the basketball goal in proximity to the stolen firearms;” the fact that the defendant had rented the van from Clark; and that the defendant “exhibited irrational conduct tending to indicate he was fearful that the firearms would be discovered during the course of the search — specifically his sudden and abrupt departure from the area when [officers] began the search of the van . . . leaving behind his personal property for which he did not return.”