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State v. Mostafavi

Supreme Court of North Carolina

April 6, 2018

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
SEID MICHAEL MOSTAFAVI

          Heard in the Supreme Court on 9 January 2018.

          Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 802 S.E.2d 508 (2017), affirming in part and vacating in part judgments entered on 9 June 2016 by Judge Anderson D. Cromer in Superior Court, Forsyth County.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Brent D. Kiziah, Assistant Attorney General, for the State-appellant.

          Joseph P. Lattimore for defendant-appellee.

          NEWBY, Justice.

         In this case we decide whether an indictment charging defendant with obtaining property by false pretenses is fatally flawed because it described the property obtained as "United States Currency" and whether the State presented sufficient evidence of defendant's false representation of ownership to support his conviction for those charges. An indictment for obtaining property by false pretenses must describe the property obtained in sufficient detail to identify the transaction by which defendant obtained money. The indictment here sufficiently identifies the crime charged because it describes the property obtained as "United States Currency" and names the items conveyed to obtain the money. As such, the indictment is facially valid; it gives defendant reasonable notice of the charges against him and enables him to prepare his defense. Furthermore, we conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence of defendant's false representation that he owned the stolen property he conveyed. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

         The State presented evidence at trial showing that in July 2015, a homeowner hired a family friend to housesit for her while she was on vacation. On 10 July 2015, the house sitter contacted police to report that during the time she was housesitting someone had broken into the home. That same day, the house sitter and police contacted the homeowner to tell her about the alleged break-in. The next day, however, the house sitter confessed that she and defendant had stolen the items from the home.

         Earlier in the week, the house sitter stole certain items from the home and conveyed them to a local pawnshop in exchange for cash to pay for drugs. She confided in defendant, and defendant requested to go to the victim's home. Defendant visited the home, then later returned with the house sitter, pulled his car into the garage, closed the door, and loaded various items into his vehicle before leaving the premises. Defendant obtained, inter alia, an Acer laptop, a Vizio television, a computer monitor, and jewelry, all belonging to the homeowner. Later, defendant conveyed the stolen items to several local stores, including a pawnshop.

         Defendant was charged by indictment with, inter alia, two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses. The indictment at issue stated in relevant part:

I. The jurors for the State upon their oath present that . . . the defendant . . . knowingly and designedly with the intent to cheat and defraud obtain[ed] UNITED STATES CURRENCY from CASH NOW PAWN by means of a false pretense which was calculated to deceive and did deceive. The false pretense consisted of the following: BY PAWNING AN ACER LAPTOP, A VIZIO TELEVISION AND A COMPUTER MONITOR AS HIS OWN PROPERTY TO SELL, when in fact the property had been stolen from [the homeowner] and the defendant was not authorized to sell the property.
II. [T]he jurors for the State upon their oath present that . . . the defendant . . . knowingly and designedly with the intent to cheat and defraud obtain[ed] UNITED STATES CURRENCY from CASH NOW PAWN by means of a false pretense which was calculated to deceive and did deceive. The false pretense consisted of the following: BY PAWNING JEWELRY AS HIS OWN PROPERTY TO SELL when in fact the property had been stolen from [the homeowner] and the defendant was not authorized to sell the property.

         At trial the house sitter testified that at no point had she told defendant that she owned the house or the items, or that she purported to sell them to defendant. Defendant testified, however, that the house sitter claimed she owned the stolen items and that he had purchased the items from the house sitter at an agreed upon price.

         The pawnshop employee who completed defendant's transaction testified that, consistent with every loan or sale transaction, he requested defendant's identification. The State introduced two pawn tickets, initialed by the employee but unsigned by defendant, that described the specific items defendant conveyed and included defendant's name, address, driver's license number, and date of birth. Both tickets contained language indicating that, by conveying the items, "[y]ou are giving a security interest in the below described goods."

         Defendant unsuccessfully moved to dismiss all charges but did not challenge the indictment at issue as fatally defective. Ultimately, the trial court found defendant guilty of, inter alia, two counts of ...


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