State v. Wynn, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-103 (Apr. 6, 2021)

The defendant in this case previously appealed his convictions for possession of a firearm by a felon, trafficking in heroin, PWISD cocaine, and attaining habitual felon status. The Court of Appeals found no error in State v. Wynn, 264 N.C. App. 250 (2019) (unpublished) (“Wynn I”).

The state Supreme Court granted a petition for discretionary review and remanded to the Court of Appeals for the limited purpose of reconsideration in light of State v. Golder, 347 N.C. 238 (2020) (holding that a motion to dismiss made “at the proper time preserved all issues related to the sufficiency of the evidence for appellate review”). Applying Golder to the case at hand, the appellate court reconsidered defendant’s argument challenging the sufficiency of the evidence at trial, which the court in Wynn I had ruled was not preserved at the trial level. The court began by rejecting the state’s argument that Golder was inapplicable because defense counsel in this case moved for a directed verdict, rather than making a motion to dismiss; the court held that in criminal cases the terms are used interchangeably and are reviewed in the same manner.

Turning to the substantive offenses, the court held that the motion to dismiss the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon should have been granted. No firearm was found in this case; the state’s primary evidence for possession of a firearm was the defendant’s statement to the officers that he had one before they arrived but he had dropped it. Applying the corpus delicti principle, the court held that a confession alone cannot support a conviction unless there is substantial independent evidence to establish the trustworthiness of the confession, including facts which strongly corroborate the essential facts and circumstances in the confession. In this case, the police found a 9mm magazine in a home the defendant had broken into, and also found 9mm shell casings and bullet holes in the defendant’s own home; however, the court pointed out that a magazine is not a firearm, and it was unknown who caused the bullet holes or when. Without some additional evidence (such as recovering the firearm, testimony from a witness who saw a firearm or heard gunshots, or evidence of injury to a person or property), the court concluded that there was insufficient corroboration of the confession and vacated the conviction.

On his convictions for trafficking heroin and PWISD cocaine, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence that he possessed the drugs, but the appellate court held that there was sufficient evidence to establish constructive possession. The drugs were found inside a house where the defendant was seen actively moving from room to room, indicating that had dominion over the space, and the drugs were packaged in red plastic baggies that the defendant was known to use for selling drugs. When the defendant exited the house he also had over $2,000 in cash on him and a white powdery substance in and on his nose. Taken together, these facts presented sufficient evidence to withstand a motion to dismiss regarding the defendant’s constructive possession of the controlled substances, and the convictions were affirmed. 

Finally, the court declined to revisit its earlier ruling on defendant’s argument concerning the admissibility of evidence under Rule 403 and 404, since the case was only remanded for reconsideration in light of Golder. “As such, the Supreme Court left, and we shall too, leave intact our prior analysis, regarding defendant’s second argument of evidence of other wrongs.”