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North Carolina v. Darroch

Filed: March 3, 1982.


On appeal of right pursuant to G.S. 7A-27(a) from life sentence imposed by Farmer, Judge, on verdict of guilty of accessory before the fact to murder. The judgment was entered at the 30 March 1981 Criminal Session of Superior Court, Harnett County.

Carlton, Justice. Justice Mitchell took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


The State's evidence tended to show that defendant, a Virginia resident, while in Virginia, hired two persons to murder her estranged husband and that he was murdered in this state by the persons so hired. Defendant was convicted as an accessory before the fact to the murder. The most important question raised by this appeal is whether the State of North Carolina may constitutionally assert jurisdiction over a defendant who commits the crime of accessory before the fact to a felony committed within the state when the counselling, procuring or commanding took place without the state. We affirm the trial court's ruling that such an assertion of jurisdiction is constitutional. We also address other arguments presented by defendant and find no error in her trial for the crime of accessory before the fact to murder.


At trial the State presented the testimony of the two principals to the crime. Defendant's sister, Barbara Jean Crowder, and nephew, James Donald Wells, testified pursuant to an arrangement which allowed each of them to plead guilty to second degree murder. Crowder was told she would receive a forty-year prison sentence and Wells was told he would receive a sixty-year sentence for murder and a concurrent ten-year sentence for conspiracy.

At the time of the murder defendant and her husband, Raeford Mitchell Darroch, were separated. Defendant lived in Danville, Virginia, and her husband lived in Bunnlevel, North Carolina. Mr. Darroch was killed on or about 10 November 1979.

In September of 1979 defendant asked Wells if he would kill her husband. She told Wells that she wanted him killed because he had a drinking problem and was harassing her and her boyfriend.

She also mentioned that he had not been paying child support, that he was going to lose his job, and that if he lost his job he would lose his life insurance. Wells told her that he would do it. Some two weeks later, defendant and Wells again discussed the matter and Wells told defendant that if she got some Valium that he would use it to kill Mr. Darroch. This conversation took place at defendant's home in Danville.

On the Tuesday following this conversation, Wells went to defendant's home. She gave him twenty Valium pills which she had obtained from a doctor. Wells purchased two pint bottles of liquor. He poured out half of one of the bottles, put the Valium in that bottle of liquor and drove to Mr. Darroch's house in Harnett County. He and Mr. Darroch drank the liquor from the full bottle and watched a ball game. When the ball game was over, Wells poured out the liquor containing the Valium because he "just couldn't kill Raeford." He drove back to Virginia that night. A few days after his return he informed defendant that he had gone to Mr. Darroch's home but couldn't do it.

Wells saw defendant again during the first weekend in November of 1979. He, defendant and Crowder took a drive and discussed killing Mr. Darroch. Wells again agreed to kill him and Crowder agreed to help. They decided to use a shotgun so the projectile could not be traced. Defendant stated that the killing of her husband would be "profitable for everybody." Defendant mentioned that she was going to give Wells an acre of land.

Wells obtained a .12 guage shotgun from a friend. On Friday night, 9 November 1979, after talking with defendant, Wells and Crowder drove to Mr. Darroch's home in Bunnlevel. They left Danville at approximately 11 p.m. They stopped near Fuquay-Varina to call defendant to ask if she still wanted Mr. Darroch killed. She told them that she still wanted it done. They drove on to Mr. Darroch's house. He was asleep on the living room sofa. Wells entered the house by climbing through a kitchen window and Crowder handed him the shotgun. Crowder waited in the car while Wells shot Mr. Darroch in the head. Wells exited the house with the shotgun and Mr. Darroch's wallet.

He and Crowder then drove back to Danville to the motel where defendant was working. They arrived at approximately

5:30 or 6:00 a.m. and told defendant that Wells had killed her husband.

Wells was arrested on 28 April 1980 and Crowder on 6 August 1980. They were both charged with first degree murder of Raeford Darroch and with conspiracy and were told that they faced the death penalty. Both were allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder in exchange for their testimony against defendant; Wells also pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy.

Raeford Darroch's life was insured by a policy obtained through his employer in the amount of $27,000 which provided double indemnity benefits for a violent death other than one self-inflicted. Had Mr. Darroch lost his job, the policy would have terminated thirty-one days after his last day of employment. By the terms of the policy the benefits were payable to the insured's widow, the defendant. Defendant applied for those benefits on 27 November 1979.

The personnel manager for defendant's employer testified that the deceased had worked only two weeks between June 1979 and the date of his death. A conference had been held with Mr. Darroch to discuss his attendance and he was told that if he did not return to his job he would be terminated.

Defendant took the stand in her own behalf. She denied that she had ever talked with Wells or Crowder about killing her estranged husband. She testified that she knew that her husband had some life insurance but that she did not learn until after his death that she was entitled to the benefits.

Defendant was found guilty by a jury of accessory before the fact to murder, G.S. § 14-5 (1969),*fn1 and was given the mandatory life sentence, G.S. § 14-6 (Cum. Supp. 1979).*fn2


Defendant's primary contention on this appeal is that a portion of the statute under which she was convicted, former G.S. 14-5,*fn3 is unconstitutional because it purports to assert jurisdiction over actions which occur outside the state in violation of the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution. Defendant timely raised this issue by a motion to dismiss in the trial court prior to trial.

Former G.S. 14-5 made criminal in this state the counselling, procuring or commanding outside the state of another to commit a felony within the state. Thus, under this statute, a person could

be guilty of the crime of accessory before the fact within this state if the principal offense occurred here. According to defendant, this result contravenes the sixth amendment, which provides that "In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed . . . ." U.S. Const. amend. VI. The thrust of defendant's argument is that this state, by virtue of the sixth amendment, cannot exercise jurisdiction over crimes occurring beyond its territorial limits. Since all of her acts on which the charge of accessory before the fact is based took place in Virginia, defendant contends, this state had no jurisdiction to try her for her crime. We disagree and hold that regardless of where the accessorial acts take place this state may constitutionally assert jurisdiction over that crime as long as the principal felony occurs here.


Defendant's argument that this state may not assert jurisdiction over her crime is based on the territorial principle of jurisdiction. Under this theory, a state's jurisdiction over criminal matters cannot extend beyond its territorial boundaries. The Apollon, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 362, 370, 6 L. Ed. 111, 113 (1824); Berge, Criminal Jurisdiction and the Territorial Principle, 30 Mich. L. Rev. 238 (1932). Under the historical strict territorial principle, a state court had jurisdiction only over those crimes which occurred entirely within that state's boundaries; if any essential element occurred in another state, neither possessed jurisdiction over the criminal offense. 1 M. Hale, The History of the Pleas of the Crown 426 (1778); see United States v. McGill, 4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 426 (1806). Under this view of jurisdiction, only one state could have jurisdiction over a particular crime. See Schooner Exchange v. M'Faddon, 11 U.S. (7 Cranch) 116, 136, 3 L. Ed. 287, 293 (1812).

This strict theory of territorial and exclusive jurisdiction has been gradually relaxed by appellate courts over the years to afford a more elastic, and more practical, jurisdictional theory. One such example of relaxation is the localization theory.

When faced with a situation in which the constituent acts of a crime occur in different states, many courts have sought to "localize" the entire crime in the state where the ultimate harm occurred. In ...

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