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State v. Stephenson

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

September 17, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
JEFFREY LYNN STEPHENSON, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 21 August 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 22 February 2018 by Judge Phyllis M. Gorham in Wayne County Superior Court. No. 16 CRS 53458

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General M. Shawn Maier, for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Amanda S. Hitchcock for defendant-appellant.

          YOUNG, JUDGE.

         The trial court lacked jurisdiction to try Stephenson for larceny of motor vehicle parts because the indictment failed to allege the cost of repairing a single motor vehicle. Therefore, we vacate the judgment and we need not address appellant's other arguments as to larceny of motor vehicle parts. The trial court did not err in admitting Detective Pierce's testimony, nor did it err in instructing the jury. The trial court also did not err in admitting a document to support the restitution order. Furthermore, the trial court did not err in what it ordered Stephenson to pay in the restitution order, but did have a clerical error which should be corrected on remand. Therefore, we affirm in part, dismiss in part, vacate in part, and remand.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         In the Spring of 2016, employees at Green's Auto Salvage ("Green's") noticed that fuel injectors and other parts were disappearing from working engines and that engines were being damaged. Green's is a family owned business started by Debbie Green Lassiter's ("Mrs. Lassiter") father. Mrs. Lassiter works at Green's, along with her husband Jeffrey Lin Lassiter ("Mr. Lassiter") and other employees. Mrs. Lassiter estimated that the fuel injectors had been removed from five to ten engines, possibly more. Each engine had six fuel injectors, and Green's sold the individual injectors for $175 each.

         Mrs. Lassiter testified that there was a hole cut in the fence and tools appeared that did not belong to any of the salvage yard employees. Green's installed five motion-activated cameras. One camera's footage showed a man entering the salvage yard through the hole in the fence on two occasions. Jeffrey Lynn Stephenson ("Stephenson") admitted that it was him. On both occasions, Stephenson was seen with a backpack and a bucket. Green's installed another camera in an attempt to get the license plate number from a vehicle that had been parking near the salvage yard. However, the camera went missing and there was no further surveillance.

          Green's provided the footage to the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and on 18 April 2016 reported to the office that approximately 60 fuel injectors had been seized and six engines had been damaged. After several months, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office received information from the Wilson County Sheriff's Office about a crime involving stolen fuel injectors.

         The Wayne County Sheriff's Office contacted Stephenson, who admitted to being present at the salvage yard on the two nights when he was captured on surveillance. Stephenson admitted to the Wayne County Sheriff's Office that he stole twenty to thirty Caterpillar-brand fuel injectors in total from the salvage yard, eight to ten of which he stole on 12 April 2016. Stephenson sold the injectors to an individual in Virginia. To prevent his arrest, Stephenson contacted Mrs. Lassiter and offered between $1, 500.00 and $2, 000.00 if she would not press charges, and she declined.

         On 3 July 2017, a Wayne County grand jury indicted Stephenson for larceny of motor vehicle parts, felony possession of stolen goods, injury to personal property, and first-degree trespass. On 20 February 2018, Stephenson pled guilty to the misdemeanors of injury to personal property and first-degree trespass.

         After a jury trial on the two felonies, the jury found Stephenson guilty of larceny of motor vehicle parts and felony possession of stolen goods. The trial court imposed a sentence of six to seventeen months imprisonment for each of the two felonies, 45 days imprisonment for the injury to personal property charge, and thirty days imprisonment for the first-degree trespass charge. These sentences were suspended for thirty-six months of supervised probation. Stephenson was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $26, 315. Stephenson filed notice of appeal on 22 January 2019.

         II. Larceny of Motor Vehicle Parts

         A. Standard of Review

         "[W]here an indictment is alleged to be invalid on its face, thereby depriving the trial court of its jurisdiction, a challenge to that indictment may be made at any time, even if it was not contested in the trial court." State v. Wallace, 351 N.C. 481, 503, 528 S.E.2d 326, 341, cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1018, 148 L.Ed.2d 498 (2000). "A valid bill of indictment is essential to the jurisdiction of the Superior Court to try an accused for a felony and have the jury determine his guilt or innocence, 'and to give authority to the court to render a valid judgment.'" State v. Marshall, 188 N.C.App. 744, 748, 656 S.E.2d 709, 712 (2008). "Whether a trial court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law, reviewed de novo on appeal." McKoy v. McKoy, 202 N.C.App. 509, 511, 689 S.E.2d 590, 592 (2010).

         B. Analysis

         In his first argument, Stephenson contends that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to try him for larceny of motor vehicle parts because the indictment failed to allege the cost of repairing any motor vehicle required by statute. We agree.

         Stephenson was indicted for larceny of motor vehicle parts under N.C. Gen. ...


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