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North Carolina v. Williams

Filed: March 2, 1982.

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
DARRELL GENE WILLIAMS



Appeal by defendant from DeRamus, Judge. Judgment entered 9 April 1981 in Superior Court, Stanly County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 February 1982.

Becton, Judge. Judge Hedrick and Judge Hill concur.

Becton

I

Defendant states his first argument thusly: "The trial court erred in denying defendant's motions to dismiss the charges because there was not sufficient evidence from which a rational trier of fact could find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was the person who committed the offenses."

In order for the evidence to support the charge, there must be "substantial evidence . . . of every essential element that goes to make up the crime charged," State v. Allred, 279

N.C. 398, 404, 183 S.E.2d 553, 557 (1971), or evidence from which a rational jury may find beyond a doubt the existence of such elements. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979).

State v. McCoy, 303 N.C. 1, 24, 277 S.E.2d 515, 532 (1981). And how are trial courts to view the evidence? The principles are well established: The evidence is to be viewed in the light most favorable to the State; every reasonable inference is to be drawn in favor of the State; all contradictions and discrepancies in the evidence are to be resolved in the State's favor; and the defendant's evidence may be considered if it merely explains or clarifies and is not inconsistent with the State's evidence. State v. McCoy.

These general principles apply in every case, whether the evidence is circumstantial or direct, or both. And while it may be proper in a wholly circumstantial evidence case to instruct the jury that the circumstances must be inconsistent with innocence and must exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt, it is improper for the trial judge to use this standard at the nonsuit stage. As stated by Justice Higgins in State v. Stephens, 244 N.C. 380, 383-84, 93 S.E.2d 431, 433-34 (1956):

It is immaterial whether the substantial evidence is circumstantial or direct, or both. To hold that the court must grant a motion to dismiss unless, in the opinion of the court, the evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence would in effect constitute the presiding judge the trier of the facts. Substantial evidence of guilt is required before the court can send the case to the jury. Proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is required before the jury can convict. What is substantial evidence is a question of law for the court. What that evidence proves or fails to prove is a question of fact for the jury. [Citations omitted.]

To connect defendant to the crime charged in the case sub judice, the State presented evidence (1) that, on 6 February 1981, defendant was seen standing outside the oil company's fence where empty oil drums are stored and where, according to the State's theory, defendant jumped over the fence to gain entrance to the oil company's compound on 14 February 1981;*fn1 (2) that

within minutes after defendant had been seen outside the oil company's fenced-in-area, defendant visited the office that was subsequently broken into and had an opportunity to see that money was kept in the filing cabinet and in a can on the refrigerator; (3) that on 14 February 1981 the defendant was arrested for driving under the influence after first being observed at a site 3/4 of a mile from the oil company (this was approximately 11 hours after the last time the office had been observed unentered and approximately a day and a half before the break-in was discovered); (4) that when he was arrested, defendant had $13 in bills and $5.81 in change while the amount last known to have been in the can at the oil company was between $6 and $10 worth of change and three $1 bills; (5) that a tire tool found in the car defendant had been driving had paint flecks on it that were of the same origin as the paint on the broken ...


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