State v. Roof

Decision Date02 January 1941
Docket Number15194.
Citation12 S.E.2d 705,196 S.C. 204
PartiesSTATE v. ROOF.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Norbert A. Theodore, of Columbia, for appellant.

A F. Spigner, Sol., of Columbia, for respondent.


The defendant was convicted upon a bill of indictment charging him with the larceny of an automobile, the property of Edward Hartley, on Wednesday, the 30th day of August, 1939. From this judgment the defendant appeals, assigning error.

It is first contended that proof of the corpus delicti had not been established, and that the Court erred in refusing to direct a verdict on this ground.

There was evidence tending to show that Edward Hartley, the owner of the automobile, who lived at Batesburg, accompanied by J D. Crouch, drove to Smith's Stock Yard, in the city of Columbia, on August 30, 1939, to attend a stock sale. He parked the car there and left it for a while. But because it had been left in a spot somewhat isolated, and fearing that certain articles therein might be stolen--including a leather coat and a little dog belonging to Mr. Crouch--he returned to the car and moved it nearer to the place where the sale was being held. When he approached the automobile for this purpose he saw the defendant, whom he did not then know, walk close to the automobile, peek through the windows, and then pass on. Shortly thereafter, when Hartley went back to the place to which he had moved the car it was no longer there. He immediately notified the State Highway Department and the police officers of the city of Columbia.

Four days later the officers with a search warrant, according to the evidence of the state, found the automobile--a 1931 Ford Coach--in a garage of the defendant on his farm about fifteen miles from Batesburg. The wheels and tires had been removed from the automobile, and were found beneath the floor of the garage, and they had been replaced by others of a different kind. The leather coat belonging to Mr. Crouch was likewise discovered underneath the garage. The little dog could not be found, but chicken bones and other remnants of food were in a pan in the garage, from which it could be inferred that some animal had been fed there. Certain tools left in the automobile, belonging to Hartley and upon which he had punched his initials, were also found in the defendant's garage, and identified. A short distance below the house of the defendant, on a blind road, were found the distinctive tracks made by the tires originally on the stolen automobile; and at a spot where the car had apparently been parked was found a grease rag, recognized by the prosecuting witness as his. Empty boxes which had contained old spark plugs were also found and identified. The tracks referred to led from the woods toward the defendant's house.

When the case was tried, Mr. Hartley, who saw the defendant shortly after he had been arrested, identified him as the same person he had seen loitering around and looking into his automobile at Smith's Stock Yard. Another witness, a negro, likewise testified that he saw him there, and that the defendant had requested him to move the Hartley car to another location, farther removed from the Stock Yard.

The accused testified, and gave this explanation of the way in which he became possessed of the car. He said that two strangers visited his place, one driving a Buick, and one driving the car in question, and offered to sell both cars to him. After some negotiations he purchased the 1931 Ford coach for $60. Not having the entire amount at the time, he paid $10 in cash, and it was agreed that the parties would return the next morning and he would then pay them the balance of $50. The defendant was not given, nor did he request, a bill of sale, or a registration card transferring the title of the automobile to him, although it was shown that the accused was a licensed dealer in automobiles, experienced in their purchase and sale, and that he sold more than thirty cars a year.

The defendant denied removing the wheels from the automobile, and denied all knowledge of the articles found under his garage. He likewise denied changing the motor number of the engine, and otherwise disfiguring the car, as to which there was evidence. He said that the two strangers did not return the next morning to receive the balance of the purchase money; that he had never seen them before the time he claims to have bought the automobile from them, and had never seen them since. This latter testimony is reminiscent of what the Court said in Thomason v. State, Tex.Cr.App., 41 S.W. 638: "This is the same ubiquitous stranger who so often figures in the records of this court in theft of cattle cases. Like the Wandering Jew, he is always on the go, but, when the time of trial comes, is always inaccessible, and cannot be found."

The corpus delicti in larceny is constituted of two elements--that the property was lost by the owner, and that it was lost by a felonious taking. It is, of course, necessary that the corpus delicti should be established, as it is clearly not permissible that anyone should be adjudged guilty until it is shown that a larceny has been committed. The record is replete with evidence tending to show the commission of the crime by the defendant--not only that the property was lost by the owner, but that it was lost by a felonious taking by the defendant. The corpus delicti, like any other fact, may be established by circumstantial evidence, and it is clear that the evidence adduced in this case made a jury question.

The appellant suggests that ownership was not sufficiently proved because the state did not introduce in evidence the license plate or the license number issued by the State Highway Department to Mr. Hartley. While the introduction of such evidence would have tended to prove ownership in Hartley, this method of proof is not...

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2 cases
  • State v. Baker
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • March 29, 1946
    ... ... with his innocence; otherwise, the law presumes him to be the ... thief. State v. Winter, 83 S.C. 153, 65 S.E. 209; ... State v. Rowe, 122 ... [37 S.E.2d 527] ... S.C. 448, 115 S.E. 586; State v. Campbell et al., ... 131 S.C. 357, 127 S.E. 439; State v. Roof, 196 S.C ... 204, 12 S.E.2d 705. Appellant recognizes this ... well-established principle, but earnestly contends that the ... evidence as to identity is insufficient ...           [208 ... S.C. 200] Accepting as true the testimony of the State, as we ... are required to do in ... ...
  • State v. Lyles
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • November 12, 1947
    ... ... evidence was offered by the state connecting him with the ... crime of grand larceny other than the fact of his possession ... of the stolen property, which standing alone was not ... sufficient upon which to base a conviction ...           We ... said in State v. Roof, 196 S.C. 204, 12 S.E.2d 705, ...          'The ... presumption that the possessor is the thief which arises from ... the possession of recently stolen goods is a presumption of ... fact. This presumption is to be considered by the jury merely ... as an evidential fact, along with the ... ...

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