State v. Cox (Lawyers Weekly No. 13-06-1106, 14 pp.) (Mark Martin, J.) Appealed from Wayne County Superior Court (Charles H. Henry, J.) On discretionary review from the Court of Appeals. N.C. S. Ct.
Holding: When a warm, dry gun was found in the cool, wet grass outside the car in which defendant was a passenger, there was substantial independent evidence supporting defendant’s confession to possessing the gun. Under State v. Parker, 315 N.C. 222, 337 S.E.2d 487 (1985), this was sufficient to go to the jury on the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon.
We reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision, which held that the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion to dismiss.
An extrajudicial confession, standing alone, is not sufficient to sustain a conviction of a crime. Our traditional corpus delicti rule requires the state to present corroborative evidence, independent of the defendant’s confession, tending to show that (a) the injury or harm constituting the crime occurred and (b) this injury or harm was done in a criminal manner. The corroborative evidence need not show that the defendant was the guilty party.
In Parker, we held that the state no longer needs to provide independent proof so long as the accused’s confession is supported by substantial independent evidence tending to establish its trustworthiness.
Here, the state’s evidence tended to show that a Chevrolet Impala attempted to avoid a DWI checkpoint by pulling into a residential driveway. The driver fled on foot as Officer VanLenten’s patrol car approached. Officer VanLenten observed that defendant was one of three remaining passengers in the car.
Officers thereafter found the firearm in question within 10 to 12 feet of the driver’s open door. Even though the night was cool and the grass was wet with condensation, the firearm was dry and warm, indicating that it came from inside the car. Near the firearm officers found marijuana packaged in a manner consistent with packaging for sale. The officers also found a firearm at the feet of one of the other passengers.
These facts link defendant temporally and spatially to the firearm. Thus, the circumstances preceding defendant’s confession establish the trustworthiness of the confession.
In addition, while the officers were completing their paperwork, the four men discussed among themselves how they might prevent defendant’s younger brother from being charged. Officer VanLenten also testified that he observed the four men’s conversation and noted their concern that defendant’s younger brother might be charged. Defendant confessed only after Officer VanLenten informed him of his Miranda rights. The trustworthiness of defendant’s confession is thus further bolstered by the evidence that defendant made a voluntary decision to confess.
For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s confession is supported by substantial independent evidence tending to establish its trustworthiness. The state has therefore met its burden under the Parker articulation of the corpus delicti rule.
Because the corpus delicti rule is satisfied, defendant’s confession provides substantial evidence that he possessed the firearm. Taken with the undisputed evidence of defendant’s prior felony conviction, the evidence was sufficient for the state to survive defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon.