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State v. McDaniel

Supreme Court of North Carolina

August 16, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
MOLLIE ELIZABETH B. McDANIEL

          Heard in the Supreme Court on 8 April 2019.

Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, 817 S.E.2d 6');">817 S.E.2d 6 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2018), vacating defendant's convictions on appeal from judgments entered on 24 January 2017 by Judge J. Thomas Davis in Superior Court, McDowell County.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Deborah M. Greene, Assistant Attorney General, and Lauren Lewis Ikpe, Assistant Attorney General, for the State-appellant.

          Gilda C. Rodriguez for defendant-appellee.

          MORGAN, JUSTICE.

         This appeal by the State of North Carolina, which comes to this Court on the basis of a dissenting opinion which was issued in the disposition of this case by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, requires consideration of the doctrine of recent possession and its utilization here to prove the charges of breaking and entering and the charge of larceny. In the appellate court below, the majority and the dissent disagreed on the issue of whether the State presented sufficient evidence to establish that defendant in this case actually possessed the allegedly stolen property pursuant to the cited legal doctrine in order to survive a motion to dismiss. In light of our conclusion that the evidence presented at trial concerning defendant's possession of goods was sufficient to support defendant's conviction under the doctrine of recent possession, we reverse the Court of Appeals' decision and remand the case for consideration of defendant's arguments not addressed therein.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         The charges in this matter arose from at least two apparent break-ins and thefts of items from an unoccupied house located at 30 Woody Street in Marion. Daniel Patrick Sheline, Sr. had inherited the three-bedroom house and a trailer on five acres of land upon his father's death in February 2014. Sheline lived in Black Mountain and neither he nor anyone else resided at the 30 Woody Street address after his father's death. On 20 March 2014, Sheline spent time at 30 Woody Street, sorting through the personal property that had belonged to his father and to Sheline's deceased brother. Sheline had paid particular attention to the items in the house on that date, forming a "sort of . . . inventory in [his] mind" of the items inside the house, including those stored in the basement. When Sheline left the house, he engaged the lock on the knob of the front door, but did not employ the deadbolt lock. Sheline secured the basement door from the inside of the house by inserting a screwdriver through a padlock such that the door could not be opened from the outside. The only other door entering the house, which was located on the side of the building, had been nailed shut. Sheline had not given anyone permission to enter 30 Woody Street or to remove any items from the property.

         On 1 April 2014, Sheline returned to 30 Woody Street, accompanied by his wife on this occasion. He discovered that someone had tampered with the front door, because its deadbolt lock was now engaged. Sheline further found that the basement door was ajar, the padlock that had secured the basement door was missing, and an adjacent window had been pried open. A number of items were missing from the house, including a monitor heater, copper tubing, an aluminum ladder, a lawnmower, and a cuckoo clock, as well as electrical wiring and various plumbing fixtures. Sheline's wife reported the theft to the McDowell County Sheriff's Office ("MCSO"). Lieutenant Detective Andy Manis of the MCSO initiated an investigation. On 2 April 2014, Manis's captain received a tip that some of the property which had been removed from 30 Woody Street could be found at a house located at 24 Ridge Street in Marion, about a quarter of a mile from 30 Woody Street. In following up on the tip, Manis went to 24 Ridge Street and discovered outside of the house a monitor heater, some copper tubing, an aluminum ladder, a lawnmower, pipes, and wiring. Sheline subsequently identified the items as those which were taken from 30 Woody Street. When Manis knocked on the door of 24 Ridge Street, a woman who identified herself as Stephanie Rice answered and reported that two people in a white Chevrolet pickup truck with an extended cab had unloaded the items earlier that day. Following this phase of the investigation, warrants were issued for defendant Mollie Elizabeth B. McDaniel and Michael Nichols in connection with the 2 April break-in and theft at 30 Woody Street.

         On 4 April 2014, MCSO Detective Jason Grindstaff received a report that an unauthorized person had again entered the house at 30 Woody Street and was seen departing that location in a white pickup truck that turned onto Ridge Street. Grindstaff drove to 24 Ridge Street and saw defendant sitting in the driver's seat of a white pickup truck which was parked in the driveway of the house located across the street from the 24 Ridge Street address. Defendant gave Grindstaff permission to search the truck, and Grindstaff discovered an Atari gaming system, glassware, china, and an antique clock radio in the bed of the vehicle. Grindstaff then arrested defendant, who was subsequently charged with one count of felonious breaking and entering and one count of felonious larceny based upon events that allegedly occurred on or about 20 March 2014, and one count of felonious breaking and entering and one count of felonious larceny based upon events that allegedly occurred on or about 4 April 2014.

         The charges arising from the events of 20 March and 4 April 2014 were joined for trial. Sheline, Manis, and Grindstaff testified at trial to the facts recounted above. In addition, Grindstaff testified that defendant had admitted to him that she had taken the property which was found in the white pickup truck at the time of her arrest from a house on Woody Street, but defendant claimed that she had permission to remove the property. Grindstaff further testified that defendant told Grindstaff that Michael Nichols had asked her to help remove items from the house at 30 Woody Street after an unidentified neighbor had given Nichols permission to enter the premises.

         At the close of the State's evidence, defendant entered a general motion to dismiss all of the charges which arose from the alleged 20 March 2014 and 4 April 2014 occurrences. While defendant did not offer any legal argument in support of her dismissal motion, defendant emphasized her position on the dismissal of the 20 March charges. After a brief discussion, the trial court agreed with defendant and allowed the motion to dismiss the 20 March charges, reasoning as follows:

I don't see any connection between being across the street except in the proximity of it.
As to the file number 14 CRS 50512, which is the indictment from March 20, 2014, which based on the evidence is the first breaking and entering and larceny, the Court is going to allow your motion. As to the other one on April 4, 2014, which is file 14 CRS 50509, the Court is going to deny your motion there. You basically got an admission that she went to the house and got that stuff out of that house. You have problems with that one.

         After a recess for lunch, the trial court expressed confusion about its previous decision regarding defendant's motion to dismiss:

THE COURT: Let's go back to this motion for directed verdict. Let me go back and revisit that a little bit. The way I see the evidence is [that] we have got evidence of one breaking and entering, then we have this defendant with the property at a particular time with an admission that she went in there and took some of that property. I'm not sure-I may have dismissed the wrong one because basically what it comes down to is you have one breaking and entering. The one I dismissed was alleged on April 4.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I thought you dismissed the other one.
THE COURT: I did dismiss the other one, but what I am telling you is I may have gotten them backwards. I should have dismissed the April 4 one and left the March 20 one in place based on this evidence. I want to make sure I have time to correct that since nothing has happened at this point in time.
I want to revisit that, but I want to see-I understand your continuing evidence of two breaking and enterings. The way I see it is the only testimony as to opening the window, the door, all the situations are from one incidence. We don't have any testimony there was any sort of entry that second time, and that admission that she makes was not peculiar to [when].
The evidence that you brought out about somebody reported seeing the car, I think all that does is goes to the state of mind of this officer. I think it's only offered for that purpose. If it's offered for any other purpose I think it would violate the hearsay rule. I think that's the only reason it comes in; therefore, it cannot be used as substantive evidence of any particular crime.
As a result thereof, I may have dismissed-by dismissing the April 4 allegation, I am basically-I may have committed error to the State because that's the later one, and it would be hard for you to relate the original breaking and entering that was testified to today to that indictment because it was the wrong date.
I may have [dis]missed the wrong one. I want to hear from you, at least from that analysis, what your position is. I can correct it right now without any prejudice to the defendant. I was thinking it over ...

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