Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 13 January 1997 by Judge Robert H. Hobgood in Orange County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 February 1998.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walker, Judge.
On 16 September 1996, the defendant was indicted on charges of embezzling $478,579.42 from the Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church from 8 January 1993 through 21 February 1996 in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-90. During this time period, while serving as financial secretary for the church, the defendant wrote some 141 checks to himself, forged the name of an associate priest of the church to the checks and deposited the money in his personal account. At the time of sentencing none of the money had been recovered and no restitution had been made to the church.
On 13 January 1997, pursuant to a plea agreement with the State, the defendant entered a plea of guilty to a single count of embezzlement. Prior to entering judgment, the trial court heard arguments of counsel as to whether sentencing should be imposed pursuant to Chapter 15A, Article 81A of our General Statutes (Fair Sentencing) or under Article 81B (Structured Sentencing). The trial court then found the following:
The indictment alleges acts from January 8, 1993 through February 21, 1996. The Court finds that this time period falls under both the Fair Sentencing Act and the Structured Sentencing Act. The Court further finds that only one judgment may be entered in this one case.
And the Court rules in its discretion that the sentencing shall be under the Fair Sentencing Act. Therefore, the maximum punishment on the class H felony is ten years, and the presumptive sentence on the class H felony is three years.
Subsequent to this ruling, the trial court inquired of the defendant, "[n]ow, with that ruling, how does the defendant plead?" Counsel for the defendant responded that the defendant pleads guilty.
The trial court found the following two aggravating factors: (1) that the offense involved an actual taking of property of great monetary value; and (2) that the defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the offense. The trial court also found five mitigating factors, but ultimately concluded that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors and sentenced defendant to ten years in prison, the maximum term allowed for a Class H felony under the Fair Sentencing Act.
Under Structured Sentencing, the maximum possible term of imprisonment for a Class H felony is thirty months. Moreover, for a defendant with no prior criminal record, the maximum term of imprisonment for a Class H felony is ten months. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.17(d)(1997).
The defendant argues that where the crime is begun prior to the effective date of Structured Sentencing and is completed after the effective date that he must be sentenced under Structured Sentencing.
North Carolina's Structured Sentencing Act begins by defining the scope of its application: "This Article applies to criminal offenses in North Carolina...that occur on or after October 1, 1994." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.10 (1997). Defendant contends that because he pled guilty to an indictment charging a single crime which occurred over a period of years, 1993 through 1996, he therefore pled guilty to a crime which occurred "on or after October 1, 1994." Therefore, he argues that the plain language of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.10 requires that he be sentenced under Structured Sentencing and that the trial court erred in sentencing him under Fair Sentencing. The defendant's argument would have merit where the elements necessary to constitute a criminal act began before 1 October 1994 but were not completed until after that date. However, I conclude that separate crimes of embezzlement occurring over a period of time are not a "continuing offense."
Defendant relies on Christ Lutheran Church v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 122 N.C. App. 614, 471 S.E.2d 124, aff'd per curiam, 344 N.C. 732, 477 S.E.2d 33 (1996) and State v. Williams, 101 N.C. App. 412, 399 S.E.2d 348 (1991) in support of his argument. Neither case deals specifically with whether the crime of embezzlement is a continuing offense and both are distinguishable from the instant case.
In Christ Lutheran, this Court held that for the purposes of an insurance policy, the plaintiff's employee's embezzlement, which took place over the course of several weeks, constituted one "occurrence" as defined by the policy. Id. at 618, 471 S.E.2d at 126. In State v. Williams, this Court interpreted a statute which required at least a $400.00 loss to make food stamp fraud a felony. There the Court found that the trial court erred by refusing to combine successive acts of misrepresentation by the defendant to reach the threshold level of $400.00. Id. at 415, 399 S.E.2d at 350. Neither case held that where a defendant engages in a series of actions (each one meeting the statutory definition of embezzlement) the crime is not consummated until the last action is complete.
I have found no authority which supports the Conclusion that multiple acts of embezzlement occurring over a period of time would constitute one continuing offense. In fact, our courts have previously allowed defendants to be charged with multiple counts of embezzlement for multiple acts within a continuous series of actions. See State v. Rupe, 109 N.C. App. 601, 428 S.E.2d 480 (1993)(Defendant was indicted on 40 counts of embezzlement which occurred within a continuous series of actions over a period of years).
Here, the defendant does not challenge the validity of the indictment. Moreover, it is evident from the terms of the plea agreement that the defendant was aware that he could be charged with multiple counts of embezzlement as he agreed to plead guilty to one count to avoid prosecution on any "joinable offenses." Therefore, although the indictment charges defendant with one count of embezzlement taking place between 8 January 1993 and 21 February 1996, it does not charge a "continuing offense" ...