State v. Wright, 273 N.C. App. 188 (Aug. 18, 2020)

aff’d per curiam, 379 N.C. 93, 2021-NCSC-126 (Oct. 29, 2021)

In this larceny and possession of stolen property case, (1) the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss where there was sufficient evidence of the value of the stolen goods; (2) the trial court did not err in jury instructions on felonious larceny; and (3) the trial court erred by sentencing the defendant on both felonious larceny and felonious possession of the goods stolen during the larceny. 

(1) At trial, a witness testified that the value of a stolen propane tank, which was the basis for both the charges of felonious larceny and felonious possession of stolen goods, was “roughly $1,330.”  In moving to dismiss, the defendant argued that removing the cost of two regulators and the amount of propane necessary to fill the tank, items which there was some testimony about, dropped the value of the tank below the $1,000 threshold for the felony versions of the offenses.  The court rejected this argument, largely because of precedent establishing that the State is merely required to present some competent evidence of the fair market value of stolen property, which the jury may then consider.  The witness’s testimony of the roughly $1,330 value of the tank was sufficient on this issue and the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

(2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury with respect to larceny that the defendant carried away “another person’s property” instead of “a propane tank,” an instruction taken verbatim from the relevant pattern jury instruction and which the defendant characterized as permitting the jury to find him guilty of felonious larceny based on the value of additional items not included in the indictment.  Noting that “the better practice may have been to designate the specific property taken,” the court found no reason to assume that the jury based its verdict on any consideration other than the value of the tank alone and concluded that the trial court did not err.

(3) The State conceded and the court agreed that the trial court erred in sentencing the defendant for both larceny and possession of the property stolen during the larceny.

Judge Collins concurred, writing separately to add additional analysis on the jury instruction issue.  Judge Murphy concurred in part and dissented in part, expressing the view that the State’s evidence of the value of the propane tank was insufficient because the testimony concerning valuation was in reference to the combined value of the propane tank, the unknown quantity of propane it contained, and associated regulators.