Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

After a consensual encounter with the defendant, reasonable suspicion supported the officer’s later detention of the driver. During the voluntary encounter the officer noticed the odor of alcohol coming from the defendant and observed an unopened container of beer in his truck. These observations provide a sufficient basis for reasonable suspicion to support the subsequent stop. 

In Re V.C.R., 227 N.C. App. 80 (May. 7, 2013)

(1) An officer had reasonable suspicion that a juvenile was violating G.S. 14-313(c) (unlawful for person under 18 to accept receipt of cigarettes) and thus the officer’s initial stop of the juvenile was proper. 

While parked on the side of the road, a trooper saw a truck pass by and believed that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt. After the trooper stopped the truck and approached the passenger side, he realized that passenger was wearing his seat belt, but the gray belt had not been visible against the passenger’s gray shirt. The passenger stated that he was wearing his seat belt the whole time, and the trooper did not cite him for a seat belt infraction.

However, upon approaching the window, the trooper had also immediately noticed an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle. The trooper asked the passenger and the driver (the defendant) if they had been drinking, and both men said yes. The trooper asked the men to step out of the truck, and saw that the defendant’s eyes were red, glassy, and bloodshot. After further investigation, the trooper determined the defendant was impaired and charged him with DWI. The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing there was no reasonable suspicion to support the initial or extended vehicle stop. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the trooper had a mistaken but lawful basis for the initial stop, and he developed reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity that warranted an extension of the stop. The defendant proceeded to trial, was convicted of DWI, and appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the findings and rulings denying the suppression motion. First, the trial court’s findings of fact were adequately supported by the trooper’s testimony. Second, even though the trooper’s initial belief that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt turned out to be mistaken, it was nevertheless objectively reasonable (“failing to see a gray seat belt atop a gray shirt is one a reasonable officer could make”) and the extension of the stop was permissible based on the trooper “instantaneously” smelling an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle, raising a reasonable suspicion of DWI. Defendant’s related constitutional arguments concerning the extension of the stop and probable cause to arrest were not properly raised at the trial level, so they were dismissed on appeal. As to defendant’s remaining arguments regarding his trial (denial of motion to dismiss at close of evidence, allowing a “positive” PBT reading into evidence, and qualifying the trooper as an expert in HGN), the appellate court likewise found no error.

In a case in which the court determined that the defendant received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, it considered whether the officers’ mistake of fact regarding a basis for a traffic stop was reasonable and concluded that it was not. Having found that appellate counsel’s performance was deficient, the court moved on to the prejudice prong of the ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The analysis required it to evaluate how it would have ruled on direct appeal with respect to the defendant’s claim that the officers’ mistake of fact regarding his vehicle registration invalidated the traffic stop. Here, the officers argued that the stop was justified because the vehicle had an expired registration. Although the vehicle’s registration was in fact valid at the time, the trial court had found that the officers’ mistake was reasonable and did not invalidate the stop. The DMV record indicated that the registration was valid and the officers stopped the vehicle “for a registration violation despite having intentionally neglected to read the very sentence in which the relevant expiration date appeared.” Under the circumstances the court found that there is a reasonable probability that it would have determined that the facts do not constitute the sort of objectively reasonable mistake of fact tolerable under the fourth amendment.

State v. Jackson, 368 N.C. 75 (June 11, 2015)

Reversing the decision below, State v. Jackson, 234 N.C. App. 80 (2014), the court held that an officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The stop occurred at approximately 9:00 pm in the vicinity of Kim’s Mart. The officer knew that the immediate area had been the location of hundreds of drug investigations. Additionally, the officer personally had made drug arrests in the area and was aware that hand to hand drug transactions occurred there. On the evening in question the officer saw the defendant and another man standing outside of Kim’s Mart. Upon spotting the officer in his patrol car, the two stopped talking and dispersed in opposite directions. In the officer’s experience, this is typical behavior for individuals engaged in a drug transaction. The officer tried to follow the men, but lost them. When he returned to Kim’s Mart they were standing 20 feet from their original location. When the officer pulled in, the men again separated and started walking in opposite directions. The defendant was stopped and as a result contraband was found. The court found these facts sufficient to create reasonable suspicion to justify the investigatory stop. The court noted that its conclusion was based on more than the defendant’s presence in a high crime and high drug area.

State v. Mello, 364 N.C. 421 (Oct. 8, 2010)

The court affirmed per curiam State v. Mello, 200 N.C. App. 437 (Nov. 3, 2009) (holding, over a dissent, that reasonable suspicion supported a vehicle stop; while in a drug-ridden area, an officer observed two individuals approach and insert their hands into the defendant’s car; after the officer became suspicious and approached the group, the two pedestrians fled, and the defendant began to drive off).

Reasonable suspicion supported the stop. An officer patrolling a “known drug corridor” at 4 am observed the defendant’s car stopped in the lane of traffic. An unidentified pedestrian approached the defendant’s car and leaned in the window. The officer found these actions to be indicative of a drug transaction and thus conducted the stop.

Reasonable suspicion supported the stop of the defendant’s vehicle. The vehicle was stopped after the defendant left premises known as “Blazing Saddles.” Based on his experience making almost two dozen arrests in connection with drug activity at Blazing Saddles and other officers’ experiences at that location, the officer in question was aware of a steady pattern the people involved in drug transactions visit Blazing Saddles when the gate was down and staying for approximately two minutes. The defendant followed this exact pattern: he visited Blazing Saddles when the gate was down and stayed approximately two minutes. The court distinguished these facts from those where the defendant was simply observed in a high drug area, noting that Blazing Saddles was a “notorious” location for selling drugs and dealing in stolen property. It was an abandoned, partially burned building with no electricity, and there was no apparent legal reason for anyone to go there at all, unlike neighborhoods in high drug or crime areas where people live and naturally would be present.

In this drug case, the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The officer, who was in an unmarked patrol vehicle in the parking lot of a local post office, saw the defendant pull into the lot. The officer knew the defendant because he previously worked for the officer as an informant and had executed controlled buys. When the defendant pulled up to the passenger side of another vehicle, the passenger of the other vehicle rolled down his window. The officer saw the defendant and the passenger extend their arms to one another and touch hands. The vehicles then left the premises. The entire episode lasted less than a minute, with no one from either vehicle entering the post office. The area in question was not known to be a crime area. Based on his training and experience, the officer believed he had witnessed hand-to-hand drug transaction and the defendant’s vehicle was stopped. Based on items found during the search of the vehicle, the defendant was charged with drug crimes. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. Although it found the case to be a “close” one, the court found that reasonable suspicion supported the stop. Noting that it had previously held that reasonable suspicion supported a stop where officers witnessed acts that they believed to be drug transactions, the court acknowledged that the present facts differed from those earlier cases, specifically that the transaction in question occurred in daylight in an area that was not known for drug activity. Also, because there was no indication that the defendant was aware of the officer’s presence, there was no evidence that he displayed signs of nervousness or took evasive action to avoid the officer. However, the court concluded that reasonable suspicion existed. It noted that the actions of the defendant and the occupant of the other car “may or may not have appeared suspicious to a layperson,” but they were sufficient to permit a reasonable inference by a trained officer that a drug transaction had occurred. The court thought it significant that the officer recognized the defendant and had past experience with him as an informant in connection with controlled drug transactions. Finally, the court noted that a determination that reasonable suspicion exists need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.

In this drug trafficking case, the trial court did not commit plain error by finding that officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. The court began by rejecting the State’s argument that the defendant’s evasive action while being followed by the police provided reasonable suspicion for the stop. The court reasoned that there was no evidence showing that the defendant was aware of the police presence when he engaged in the allegedly evasive action (backing into a driveway and then driving away without exiting his vehicle). The court noted that for a suspect’s action to be evasive, there must be a nexus between the defendant’s action and the police presence; this nexus was absent here. Nevertheless, the court found that other evidence supported a finding that reasonable suspicion existed. Immediately before the stop and while preparing to execute a search warrant for drug trafficking at the home of the defendant’s friend, Travion Stokes, the defendant pulled up to Stokes’ house, accepted 2 large boxes from Stokes, put them in his car, and drove away. The court noted that the warrant to search Stokes’ home allowed officers to search any containers in the home that might contain marijuana, including the boxes in question.

State v. Ellison, 213 N.C. App. 300 (July 19, 2011) aff'd on other grounds, 366 N.C. 439 (Mar 8 2013)

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. An informant told the officer that after having his prescriptions for hydrocodone and Xanax filled, Mr. Shaw would immediately take the medication to defendant Treadway’s residence, where he sold the medications to Treadway; Treadway then sold some or all of the medications to defendant Ellison. Subsequently, the officer learned that Shaw had a prescription for Lorcet and Xanax, observed Shaw fill the prescriptions, and followed Shaw from the pharmacy to Treadway’s residence. The officer watched Shaw enter and exit Treadway’s residence. Minutes later the officer observed Ellison arrive. The officer also considered activities derived from surveillance at Ellison’s place of work, which were consistent with drug-related activities. Although the officer had not had contact with the informant prior to this incident, one of his co-workers had worked with the informant and found the informant to be reliable; specifically, information provided by the informant on previous occasions had resulted in arrests.

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, the court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals in State v. Goins___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 466 (July 5, 2016). In that case, the Court of Appeals held, over a dissent, that a stop of the defendant’s vehicle was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The stop occurred in an area of high crime and drug activity. The Court of Appeals majority concluded that the defendant’s mere presence in such an area cannot, standing alone, provide the necessary reasonable suspicion for the stop. Although headlong flight can support a finding of reasonable suspicion, here, it determined, the evidence was insufficient to show headlong flight. Among other things, there was no evidence that the defendant saw the police car before leaving the premises and he did not break any traffic laws while leaving. Although officers suspected that the defendant might be approaching a man at the premises to conduct a drug transaction, they did not see the two engage in suspicious activity. The officers’ suspicion that the defendant was fleeing from the scene, without more, did not justify the stop. The dissenting judge concluded that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The dissenting judge criticized the majority for focusing on a “fictional distinction” between suspected versus actual flight. The dissenting judge concluded: considering the past history of drug activity at the premises, the time, place, manner, and unbroken sequence of observed events, the defendant’s actions upon being warned of the police presence, and the totality of the circumstances, the trial court correctly found that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop.

State v. Jackson, 368 N.C. 75 (June 11, 2015)

Reversing the decision below, State v. Jackson, 234 N.C. App. 80 (2014), the court held that an officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The stop occurred at approximately 9:00 pm in the vicinity of Kim’s Mart. The officer knew that the immediate area had been the location of hundreds of drug investigations. Additionally, the officer personally had made drug arrests in the area and was aware that hand to hand drug transactions occurred there. On the evening in question the officer saw the defendant and another man standing outside of Kim’s Mart. Upon spotting the officer in his patrol car, the two stopped talking and dispersed in opposite directions. In the officer’s experience, this is typical behavior for individuals engaged in a drug transaction. The officer tried to follow the men, but lost them. When he returned to Kim’s Mart they were standing 20 feet from their original location. When the officer pulled in, the men again separated and started walking in opposite directions. The defendant was stopped and as a result contraband was found. The court found these facts sufficient to create reasonable suspicion to justify the investigatory stop. The court noted that its conclusion was based on more than the defendant’s presence in a high crime and high drug area.

The defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony and resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer. The State dismissed the resisting charge before trial, and the defendant filed a motion to suppress the firearm. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress, the defendant did not object to the introduction of the firearm at trial, and the defendant was convicted. Because the defendant failed to object to the firearm at trial, the Court of Appeals applied plain error review to the denial of his suppression motion.

(1) The evidence showed that the police chief received a call about possible drug activity involving two black males outside a store and radioed the information to patrol officers. A patrol officer saw two men who matched the description walking on the sidewalk, and he parked his marked patrol car. The patrol officer testified that the two men saw him and continued walking. When the officer yelled for the defendant to stop, he looked at the officer and then ran. Another officer eventually located the defendant and arrested him for resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer.

The Court of Appeals found that the evidence did not support the trial judge’s findings of fact in its denial of the defendant’s suppression motion. Thus, the trial judge found the area had been the scene of several drug investigations and shootings in the previous months, but the police chief testified that for approximately seven years he could recall three arrests for drugs and marijuana and did not testify that they took place in the past several months. The patrol officer testified that he had responded to one shooting in the area but didn’t indicate when the shooting occurred and since then had responded to loitering and loud music issues. The trial judge also found that the defendant walked away “briskly” when he first saw the patrol officer, but the officer testified that the defendant was just walking down the sidewalk. The officer’s later testimony at trial that the defendant kept walking away faster and faster was not before the judge at the suppression hearing and could not be used to support the judge’s findings of fact. The Court found next that the trial judge’s supported findings of fact did not support his conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant initially or probable cause to arrest for resisting. Thus, even assuming the incident took place in a high crime area, the defendant’s presence there and his walking away from the officer did not provide reasonable suspicion to stop. (The Court noted that the patrol officer was unaware of the tip received by the police chief and therefore did not consider the tip in measuring the reasonableness of the stopping officer’s suspicion.) Because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop, the Court found that the defendant was not fleeing from a lawful investigatory stop and the trial judge erred in concluding that there was probable cause to arrest the defendant for resisting.

(2) When the second officer detained the defendant, the defendant did not have a firearm on him. Rather, a K-9 unit recovered the firearm underneath a shed along the defendant’s “flight path.” The Court of Appeals found that the defendant voluntarily abandoned the firearm before he was seized by law enforcement officers. The evidence was therefore not the fruit of an unlawful seizure, and the Fourth Amendment did not bar its admission at trial.

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained in a traffic stop. Sometime after 8:40 PM, an officer received a dispatch relating an anonymous report concerning a “suspicious white male,” with a “gold or silver vehicle” in the parking lot, walking around a closed business, Graham Feed & Seed. The officer knew that a business across the street had been broken into in the past and that residential break-ins and vandalism had occurred in the area. When the officer arrived at the location he saw a silver vehicle in the parking lot. The officer parked his vehicle and walked towards the car as it was approaching the parking lot exit. When he shined his flashlight towards the drivers side and saw the defendant, a black male, in the driver’s seat. The defendant did not open his window. When the officer asked the defendant, “What’s up boss man,” the defendant made no acknowledgment and continued exiting the parking lot. The officer considered this behavior a “little odd” and decided to follow the defendant. After catching up to the defendant’s vehicle on the main road, and without observing any traffic violations or furtive movements, the officer initiated a traffic stop. Contraband was found in the subsequent search of the vehicle and the defendant was arrested and charged. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the stop. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court determined that the officer’s justification for the stop was nothing more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch. The anonymous tip reported no crime and was only partially correct. Although there was a silver car in the parking lot, the tip also said it could have been gold, and there was no white male in the lot or the vehicle. Additionally, the tip merely described the individual as “suspicious” without any indication as to why, and no information existed as to who the tipster was and what made the tipster reliable. As a result there is nothing inherent in the tip itself to allow a court to deem it reliable and provide reasonable suspicion. Additionally the trial court’s findings of fact concerning the officer’s knowledge about criminal activity refer to the area in general and to no particularized facts. The officer did not say how he was familiar with the area, how he knew that there had been break-ins, or how much vandalism or other crimes had occurred there. Additionally the trial court’s findings stipulated that there was no specific time frame given for when the previous break-ins had occurred. The court rejected the State’s argument that the officer either corroborated the tip or formed reasonable suspicion on his own when he arrived at the parking lot. It noted that factors such as a high-crime area, unusual hour of the day, and the fact that businesses in the vicinity were closed can help to establish reasonable suspicion, but are insufficient given the other circumstances in this case. The State argued that the defendant’s nervous conduct and unprovoked flight supported the officer’s reasonable suspicion. But, the court noted, the trial court did not make either of those findings. The trial court’s findings say nothing about the defendant’s demeanor, other than that he did not acknowledge the officer, nor do they speak to the manner in which he exited the parking lot. The court went on to distinguish cases offered by the State suggesting that reasonable suspicion can be based on a suspect’s suspicious activities in an area known for criminal activity and an unusual hour. The court noted that in those cases the officers were already in the areas in question because they were specifically known and had detailed instances of criminal activity. Here, the officer arrived at the parking lot because of the vague tip about an undescribed white male engaged in undescribed suspicious activity in a generalized area known for residential break-ins and vandalism. The trial court made no findings as to what suspicious activity by the defendant warranted the officer’s suspicion. In fact the officer acknowledged that the defendant was not required to stop when he approached the defendant’s vehicle. The court concluded:

Accordingly, we are unpersuaded by the State’s argument and agree with Defendant that the trial court erred in concluding that Officer Judge had reasonable suspicion to stop him. Though the tip did bring Officer Judge to the Graham Feed & Seed parking lot, where he indeed found a silver car in front of the then-closed business with no one else in its vicinity at 8:40 pm, and although Defendant did not stop for or acknowledge Officer Judge, we do not believe these circumstances, taken in their totality, were sufficient to support reasonable suspicion necessary to allow a lawful traffic stop. When coupled with the facts that (1) Defendant was in a parking lot that did “not have a ‘no trespassing’ sign on its premises”—making it lawful for Defendant to be there; (2) Defendant was not a white male as described in the tip; (3) Defendant’s car was possibly in motion when Officer Judge arrived in the parking lot; (4) Defendant had the constitutional freedom to avoid Officer Judge; and (5) Defendant did not commit any traffic violations or act irrationally prior to getting stopped, there exists insufficient findings that Defendant was committing, or about to commit, any criminal activity.

Concluding otherwise would give undue weight to, not only vague anonymous tips, but broad, simplistic descriptions of areas absent specific and articulable detail surrounding a suspect’s actions.

In this carrying a concealed handgun case, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress where the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant. While patrolling a high crime area, the officer saw the defendant and Ariel Peterson walking on a sidewalk. Aware of multiple recent crimes in the area, the officer stopped his car and approached the men. The officer had prior interactions with the defendant and knew he lived some distance away. The officer asked the men for their names. Peterson initially gave a false name; the defendant did not. The officer asked them where they were coming from and where they were going. Both gave vague answers; they claimed to have been at Peterson’s girlfriend’s house and were walking back to the defendant’s home, but were unable or unwilling to say where the girlfriend lived. When the defendant asked the officer for a ride to his house, the officer agreed and the three walked to the patrol car. The officer informed the two that police procedure required him to search them before entering the car. As the officer began to frisk Peterson, Peterson ran away. The officer turned to the defendant, who had begun stepping away. Believing the defendant was about to run away, the officer grabbed the defendant’s shoulders, placed the defendant on the ground, and handcuffed him. As the officer helped the defendant up, he saw that a gun had fallen out of the defendant’s waistband. Before the trial court, the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress discovery of the gun. He pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was unlawfully seized when the officer discovered the gun. Agreeing with the defendant that exercising a constitutional right to leave a consensual encounter should not be used against a defendant “to tip the scale towards reasonable suspicion,” the court noted that the manner in which a defendant exercises this right “could, in some cases, be used to tip the scale.” However, the court found that it need not determine whether it was appropriate for the trial court to consider the fact that the defendant was backing away in its reasonable suspicion calculus. Rather, the trial court’s findings regarding the men’s behavior before the defendant backed away from the officer were sufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion. The defendant was in an area where a “spree of crime” had occurred; Peterson lied about his name; they both gave vague answers about where they were coming from; and Peterson ran away while being searched. This evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant.

Reasonable suspicion supported the traffic stop. At the time of the stop it was very late at night; the defendant’s vehicle was idling in front of a closed business; the business and surrounding properties had experienced several break-ins; and the defendant pulled away when the officer approached the car. Considered together, this evidence provides an objective justification for stopping the defendant.

Reasonable suspicion supported the stop. An officer patrolling a “known drug corridor” at 4 am observed the defendant’s car stopped in the lane of traffic. An unidentified pedestrian approached the defendant’s car and leaned in the window. The officer found these actions to be indicative of a drug transaction and thus conducted the stop.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk the defendant when the defendant was in a high crime area and made movements which the officer found suspicious. The defendant was in a public housing area patrolled by a Special Response Unit of U.S. Marshals and the DEA concentrating on violent crimes and gun crimes. The officer in question had 10 years of experience and was assigned to the Special Response Unit. Many persons were banned from the public housing area—in fact the banned list was nine pages long. On a prior occasion the officer heard shots fired near the area. The officer saw the defendant walking normally while swinging his arms. When the defendant turned and “used his right hand to grab his waistband to clinch an item” after looking directly at the officer, the officer believed the defendant was trying to hide something on his person. The officer then stopped the defendant to identify him, frisked him and found a gun in the defendant’s waistband.

The trial court erred denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. Officers responded to a complaint of loud music in a location they regarded as a high crime area. The officers did not see the defendant engaged in any suspicious activity and did not see any device capable of producing loud music. Rather, the defendant was merely standing outside at night, with two or three other men. These facts do not provide reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop of the defendant. That being the case, the officer’s encounter with the defendant was entirely consensual, which the defendant was free to and did ignore by running away. Once the officer caught up with the defendant and handcuffed him for resisting arrest, a seizure occurred. However, because the defendant’s flight from the consensual encounter did not constitute resisting, the arrest was improper.

Officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. When officers on a gang patrol noticed activity at a house, they parked their car to observe. The area was known for criminal activity. The defendant exited a house and approached the officers’ car. One of the officers had previously made drug arrests in front of the house in question. As the defendant approached, one officer feared for his safety and got out of the car to have a better defensive position. When the defendant realized the individuals were police officers his “demeanor changed” and he appeared very nervous--he started to sweat, began stuttering, and would not speak loudly. Additionally, it was late and there was little light for the officers to see the defendant’s actions.

In this carrying a concealed handgun case, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress where the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant. While patrolling a high crime area, the officer saw the defendant and Ariel Peterson walking on a sidewalk. Aware of multiple recent crimes in the area, the officer stopped his car and approached the men. The officer had prior interactions with the defendant and knew he lived some distance away. The officer asked the men for their names. Peterson initially gave a false name; the defendant did not. The officer asked them where they were coming from and where they were going. Both gave vague answers; they claimed to have been at Peterson’s girlfriend’s house and were walking back to the defendant’s home, but were unable or unwilling to say where the girlfriend lived. When the defendant asked the officer for a ride to his house, the officer agreed and the three walked to the patrol car. The officer informed the two that police procedure required him to search them before entering the car. As the officer began to frisk Peterson, Peterson ran away. The officer turned to the defendant, who had begun stepping away. Believing the defendant was about to run away, the officer grabbed the defendant’s shoulders, placed the defendant on the ground, and handcuffed him. As the officer helped the defendant up, he saw that a gun had fallen out of the defendant’s waistband. Before the trial court, the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress discovery of the gun. He pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was unlawfully seized when the officer discovered the gun. Agreeing with the defendant that exercising a constitutional right to leave a consensual encounter should not be used against a defendant “to tip the scale towards reasonable suspicion,” the court noted that the manner in which a defendant exercises this right “could, in some cases, be used to tip the scale.” However, the court found that it need not determine whether it was appropriate for the trial court to consider the fact that the defendant was backing away in its reasonable suspicion calculus. Rather, the trial court’s findings regarding the men’s behavior before the defendant backed away from the officer were sufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion. The defendant was in an area where a “spree of crime” had occurred; Peterson lied about his name; they both gave vague answers about where they were coming from; and Peterson ran away while being searched. This evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant.

State v. Goins, 370 N.C. 157 (Sept. 29, 2017)

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, the court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals in State v. Goins___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 466 (July 5, 2016). In that case, the Court of Appeals held, over a dissent, that a stop of the defendant’s vehicle was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The stop occurred in an area of high crime and drug activity. The Court of Appeals majority concluded that the defendant’s mere presence in such an area cannot, standing alone, provide the necessary reasonable suspicion for the stop. Although headlong flight can support a finding of reasonable suspicion, here, it determined, the evidence was insufficient to show headlong flight. Among other things, there was no evidence that the defendant saw the police car before leaving the premises and he did not break any traffic laws while leaving. Although officers suspected that the defendant might be approaching a man at the premises to conduct a drug transaction, they did not see the two engage in suspicious activity. The officers’ suspicion that the defendant was fleeing from the scene, without more, did not justify the stop. The dissenting judge concluded that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The dissenting judge criticized the majority for focusing on a “fictional distinction” between suspected versus actual flight. The dissenting judge concluded: considering the past history of drug activity at the premises, the time, place, manner, and unbroken sequence of observed events, the defendant’s actions upon being warned of the police presence, and the totality of the circumstances, the trial court correctly found that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop.

State v. Jackson, 368 N.C. 75 (June 11, 2015)

Reversing the decision below, State v. Jackson, 234 N.C. App. 80 (2014), the court held that an officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The stop occurred at approximately 9:00 pm in the vicinity of Kim’s Mart. The officer knew that the immediate area had been the location of hundreds of drug investigations. Additionally, the officer personally had made drug arrests in the area and was aware that hand to hand drug transactions occurred there. On the evening in question the officer saw the defendant and another man standing outside of Kim’s Mart. Upon spotting the officer in his patrol car, the two stopped talking and dispersed in opposite directions. In the officer’s experience, this is typical behavior for individuals engaged in a drug transaction. The officer tried to follow the men, but lost them. When he returned to Kim’s Mart they were standing 20 feet from their original location. When the officer pulled in, the men again separated and started walking in opposite directions. The defendant was stopped and as a result contraband was found. The court found these facts sufficient to create reasonable suspicion to justify the investigatory stop. The court noted that its conclusion was based on more than the defendant’s presence in a high crime and high drug area.

The defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony and resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer. The State dismissed the resisting charge before trial, and the defendant filed a motion to suppress the firearm. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress, the defendant did not object to the introduction of the firearm at trial, and the defendant was convicted. Because the defendant failed to object to the firearm at trial, the Court of Appeals applied plain error review to the denial of his suppression motion.

(1) The evidence showed that the police chief received a call about possible drug activity involving two black males outside a store and radioed the information to patrol officers. A patrol officer saw two men who matched the description walking on the sidewalk, and he parked his marked patrol car. The patrol officer testified that the two men saw him and continued walking. When the officer yelled for the defendant to stop, he looked at the officer and then ran. Another officer eventually located the defendant and arrested him for resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer.

The Court of Appeals found that the evidence did not support the trial judge’s findings of fact in its denial of the defendant’s suppression motion. Thus, the trial judge found the area had been the scene of several drug investigations and shootings in the previous months, but the police chief testified that for approximately seven years he could recall three arrests for drugs and marijuana and did not testify that they took place in the past several months. The patrol officer testified that he had responded to one shooting in the area but didn’t indicate when the shooting occurred and since then had responded to loitering and loud music issues. The trial judge also found that the defendant walked away “briskly” when he first saw the patrol officer, but the officer testified that the defendant was just walking down the sidewalk. The officer’s later testimony at trial that the defendant kept walking away faster and faster was not before the judge at the suppression hearing and could not be used to support the judge’s findings of fact. The Court found next that the trial judge’s supported findings of fact did not support his conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant initially or probable cause to arrest for resisting. Thus, even assuming the incident took place in a high crime area, the defendant’s presence there and his walking away from the officer did not provide reasonable suspicion to stop. (The Court noted that the patrol officer was unaware of the tip received by the police chief and therefore did not consider the tip in measuring the reasonableness of the stopping officer’s suspicion.) Because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop, the Court found that the defendant was not fleeing from a lawful investigatory stop and the trial judge erred in concluding that there was probable cause to arrest the defendant for resisting.

(2) When the second officer detained the defendant, the defendant did not have a firearm on him. Rather, a K-9 unit recovered the firearm underneath a shed along the defendant’s “flight path.” The Court of Appeals found that the defendant voluntarily abandoned the firearm before he was seized by law enforcement officers. The evidence was therefore not the fruit of an unlawful seizure, and the Fourth Amendment did not bar its admission at trial.

In this possession of a firearm by a felon case, the trial court did not err by allowing evidence of a handgun a police officer removed from the defendant’s waistband during a lawful frisk that occurred after a lawful stop. Police received an anonymous 911 call stating that an African-American male wearing a red shirt and black pants had just placed a handgun in the waistband of his pants while at a specified gas station. Officer Clark responded to the scene and saw 6 to 8 people in the parking lot, including a person who matched the 911 call description, later identified as the defendant. As Clark got out of his car, the defendant looked directly at him, “bladed” away and started to walk away. Clark and a second officer grabbed the defendant. After Clark placed the defendant in handcuffs and told him that he was not under arrest, the second officer frisked the defendant and found a revolver in his waistband. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence of the gun at trial. The court held that the trial court did not err by denying the motion to suppress. It began by holding that the anonymous tip was insufficient by itself to provide reasonable suspicion for the stop. However, here there was additional evidence. Specifically, as Clark exited his car, the defendant turned his body in such a way as to prevent the officer from seeing a weapon. The officer testified that the type of turn the defendant executed was known as “blading,” which is “[w]hen you have a gun on your hip you tend to blade it away from an individual.” Additionally the defendant began to move away. And, as the officers approached the defendant, the defendant did not inform them that he was lawfully armed. Under the totality of the circumstances, these facts support reasonable suspicion.

            The court then held that the frisk was proper. In order for a frisk to be proper officers must have reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous. Based on the facts supporting a finding of reasonable suspicion with respect to the stop, the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed. This, coupled with his struggle during the stop and continued failure to inform officers that he was armed, supported a finding that there was reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous.

In this carrying a concealed handgun case, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress where the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant. While patrolling a high crime area, the officer saw the defendant and Ariel Peterson walking on a sidewalk. Aware of multiple recent crimes in the area, the officer stopped his car and approached the men. The officer had prior interactions with the defendant and knew he lived some distance away. The officer asked the men for their names. Peterson initially gave a false name; the defendant did not. The officer asked them where they were coming from and where they were going. Both gave vague answers; they claimed to have been at Peterson’s girlfriend’s house and were walking back to the defendant’s home, but were unable or unwilling to say where the girlfriend lived. When the defendant asked the officer for a ride to his house, the officer agreed and the three walked to the patrol car. The officer informed the two that police procedure required him to search them before entering the car. As the officer began to frisk Peterson, Peterson ran away. The officer turned to the defendant, who had begun stepping away. Believing the defendant was about to run away, the officer grabbed the defendant’s shoulders, placed the defendant on the ground, and handcuffed him. As the officer helped the defendant up, he saw that a gun had fallen out of the defendant’s waistband. Before the trial court, the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress discovery of the gun. He pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was unlawfully seized when the officer discovered the gun. Agreeing with the defendant that exercising a constitutional right to leave a consensual encounter should not be used against a defendant “to tip the scale towards reasonable suspicion,” the court noted that the manner in which a defendant exercises this right “could, in some cases, be used to tip the scale.” However, the court found that it need not determine whether it was appropriate for the trial court to consider the fact that the defendant was backing away in its reasonable suspicion calculus. Rather, the trial court’s findings regarding the men’s behavior before the defendant backed away from the officer were sufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion. The defendant was in an area where a “spree of crime” had occurred; Peterson lied about his name; they both gave vague answers about where they were coming from; and Peterson ran away while being searched. This evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant.

Reasonable suspicion supported the traffic stop. At the time of the stop it was very late at night; the defendant’s vehicle was idling in front of a closed business; the business and surrounding properties had experienced several break-ins; and the defendant pulled away when the officer approached the car. Considered together, this evidence provides an objective justification for stopping the defendant.

An officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when he detained the defendant. After 10 pm the officer learned of a report of suspicious activity at Auto America. When the officer arrived at the scene he saw the defendant, who generally matched the description of one of the individuals reported, peering from behind a parked van. When the defendant spotted the officer, he ran, ignoring the officer’s instructions to stop. After a 1/8 mile chase, the officer found the defendant trying to hide behind a dumpster. The defendant’s flight and the other facts were sufficient to raise a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot.

The trial court erred denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. Officers responded to a complaint of loud music in a location they regarded as a high crime area. The officers did not see the defendant engaged in any suspicious activity and did not see any device capable of producing loud music. Rather, the defendant was merely standing outside at night, with two or three other men. These facts do not provide reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop of the defendant. That being the case, the officer’s encounter with the defendant was entirely consensual, which the defendant was free to and did ignore by running away. Once the officer caught up with the defendant and handcuffed him for resisting arrest, a seizure occurred. However, because the defendant’s flight from the consensual encounter did not constitute resisting, the arrest was improper.

Because the defendant was not stopped until after he ran away from the officers, his flight could be considered in determining that there was reasonable suspicion to stop.

State v. Burke, 365 N.C. 415 (Jan. 27, 2012)

In a per curiam opinion, the court affirmed the decision below in State v. Burke, 212 N.C. App. 654 (June 21, 2011) (over a dissent, the court held that the trial judge erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress when no reasonable suspicion supported a stop of the defendant’s vehicle; the officer stopped the vehicle because the numbers on the 30-day tag looked low and that the "low" number led him to "wonder[] about the possibility of the tag being fictitious"; the court noted that it has previously held that 30-day tags that were unreadable, concealed, obstructed, or illegible, justified stops of the vehicles involved; here, although the officer testified that the 30-day tag was dirty and worn, he was able to read the tag without difficulty; the tag was not faded; the information was clearly visible; and the information was accurate and proper).

An investigative stop of the defendant’s vehicle was lawful. Officers stopped the defendant’s vehicle because it was registered in her name, her license was suspended, and they were unable to determine the identity of the driver. 

Affirming State v. Heien, 366 N.C. 271 (Dec. 14, 2012), the Court held that because an officer’s mistake of law was reasonable, it could support a vehicle stop. In Heien, an officer stopped a vehicle because one of its two brake lights was out, but a court later determined that a single working brake light was all the law required. The case presented the question whether such a mistake of law can give rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary to uphold the seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Court answered the question in the affirmative. It explained:

[W]e have repeatedly affirmed, “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness.’” To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them “fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.” We have recognized that searches and seizures based on mistakes of fact can be reasonable. The warrantless search of a home, for instance, is reasonable if undertaken with the consent of a resident, and remains lawful when officers obtain the consent of someone who reasonably appears to be but is not in fact a resident. By the same token, if officers with probable cause to arrest a suspect mistakenly arrest an individual matching the suspect’s description, neither the seizure nor an accompanying search of the arrestee would be unlawful. The limit is that “the mistakes must be those of reasonable men.”

But reasonable men make mistakes of law, too, and such mistakes are no less compatible with the concept of reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion arises from the combination of an officer’s understanding of the facts and his understanding of the relevant law. The officer may be reasonably mistaken on either ground. Whether the facts turn out to be not what was thought, or the law turns out to be not what was thought, the result is the same: the facts are outside the scope of the law. There is no reason, under the text of the Fourth Amendment or our precedents, why this same result should be acceptable when reached by way of a reasonable mistake of fact, but not when reached by way of a similarly reasonable mistake of law.

Slip op. at 5-6 (citations omitted). The Court went on to find that the officer’s mistake of law was objectively reasonable, given the state statutes at issue:

Although the North Carolina statute at issue refers to “a stop lamp,” suggesting the need for only a single working brake light, it also provides that “[t]he stop lamp may be incorporated into a unit with one or more other rear lamps.” N. C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §20–129(g) (emphasis added). The use of “other” suggests to the everyday reader of English that a “stop lamp” is a type of “rear lamp.” And another subsection of the same provision requires that vehicles “have all originally equipped rear lamps or the equivalent in good working order,” §20–129(d), arguably indicating that if a vehicle has multiple “stop lamp[s],” all must be functional.

Slip op. at 12-13.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress where a stop was based on an officer’s mistake of law that was not objectively reasonable. An officer stopped a vehicle registered in Tennessee for driving without an exterior mirror on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The officer was not aware that the relevant statute—G.S. 20-126(b)—does not apply to vehicles registered out-of-state. A subsequent consent search led to the discovery of controlled substances and drug charges. On appeal, the State conceded, and the court concluded, following Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 530 (2014), that the officer’s mistake of law was not reasonable. Looking for guidance in other jurisdictions that have interpreted Heien, the court noted that cases from other jurisdictions “establish that in order for an officer’s mistake of law while enforcing a statute to be objectively reasonable, the statute at issue must be ambiguous.” “Moreover,” the court noted, “some courts applying Heien have further required that there be an absence of settled case law interpreting the statute at issue in order for the officer’s mistake of law to be deemed objectively reasonable.” The concluded that the statue at issue was clear and unambiguous; as a result “a reasonable officer reading this statute would understand the requirement that a vehicle be equipped with a driver’s side exterior mirror does not apply to vehicles that—like Defendant’s vehicle—are registered in another state.”

An officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. A “be on the lookout” call was issued after a citizen caller reported that there was a cup of beer in a gold Toyota sedan with license number VST-8773 parked at the Kangaroo gas station at the corner of Wake Forest Road and Ronald Drive. Although the complainant wished to remain anonymous, the communications center obtained the caller’s name as Kim Creech. An officer responded and observed a vehicle fitting the caller’s description. The officer followed the driver as he pulled out of the lot and onto Wake Forest Road and then pulled him over. The officer did not observe any traffic violations. After a test indicated impairment, the defendant was charged with DWI. Noting that the officer’s sole reason for the stop was Creech’s tip, the court found that the tip was not reliable in its assertion of illegality because possessing an open container of alcohol in a parking lot is not illegal. It concluded: “Accordingly, Ms. Creech’s tip contained no actual allegation of criminal activity.” It further found that the officer’s mistaken belief that the tip included an actual allegation of illegal activity was not objectively reasonable. Finally, the court concluded that even if the officer’s mistaken belief was reasonable, it still would find the tip insufficiently reliable. Considering anonymous tip cases, the court held that although Creech’s tip provided the license plate number and location of the car, “she did not identify or describe defendant, did not provide any way for [the] Officer . . . to assess her credibility, failed to explain her basis of knowledge, and did not include any information concerning defendant’s future actions.”

In this Kansas driving with a revoked license case, the Court held that when a police officer knows that the registered owner of a vehicle has a revoked driver’s license and lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, a traffic stop is supported by reasonable suspicion and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.  Recognizing that persons other than the registered owner sometimes may be lawfully driving, the Court said that knowledge of a registered owner’s revoked license “provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate [a] stop” based on the “commonsense inference” that, in the absence of negating information, vehicles likely are being driven by their registered owners.  The Court emphasized the narrow scope of its holding, saying that the presence of additional facts may dispel reasonable suspicion and offering the example of a situation where an officer observes that a driver does not appear to be the registered owner.

Justice Kagan, joined by Justice Ginsburg, wrote a concurring opinion expressing the view that the stop in this case was reasonable given the particular nature of Kansas motor vehicle law, where a license revocation usually is the consequence of serious or repeated offenses, and in light of the fact that the “barebones [evidentiary] stipulation” before the court demonstrated a total absence of “additional facts” that might “dispel reasonable suspicion.”

Justice Sotomayor dissented, criticizing the majority’s approach for “absolving officers from any responsibility to investigate the identity of a driver” when feasible and arguing that inferences contributing to reasonable suspicion must be based on specialized law enforcement training and experience rather than layperson “common sense.”

Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323 (Jan. 26, 2009)

Summarizing existing law, the Court noted that a “stop and frisk” is constitutionally permissible if: (1) the stop is lawful; and (2) the officer reasonably suspects that the person stopped is armed and dangerous. It noted that that in an on-the-street encounter, the first requirement—a lawful stop—is met when the officer reasonably suspects that the person is committing or has committed a criminal offense. The Court held that in a traffic stop setting, the first requirement—a lawful stop—is met whenever it is lawful for the police to detain an automobile and its occupants pending inquiry into a vehicular violation. The police do not need to have cause to believe that any occupant of the vehicle is involved in criminal activity. Also, an officer may ask about matters unrelated to the stop provided that those questions do not measurably extend the duration of the stop. The Court further held that to justify a frisk of the driver or a passenger during a lawful stop, the police must believe that the person is armed and dangerous. 

State v. Johnson, 370 N.C. 32 (Aug. 18, 2017)

The Supreme Court reversed the decision below, State v. James Johnson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 784 S.E.2d 633 (April 5, 2016), which had held that because a police officer lacked reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop in this DWI case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The defendant was stopped at a red light on a snowy evening. When the light turned green, the officer saw the defendant’s truck abruptly accelerate, turn sharply left, and fishtail. The officer pulled the defendant over for driving at an unsafe speed given the road conditions. The Supreme Court held that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. It noted that G.S. 20-141(a) provides that “[n]o person shall drive a vehicle on a highway or in a public vehicular area at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing.” The Court concluded:

All of these facts show that it was reasonable for [the] Officer . . . to believe that defendant’s truck had fishtailed, and that defendant had lost control of his truck, because of defendant’s abrupt acceleration while turning in the snow. It is common knowledge that drivers must drive more slowly when it is snowing, because it is easier to lose control of a vehicle on snowy roads than on clear ones. And any time that a driver loses control of his vehicle, he is in danger of damaging that vehicle or other vehicles, and of injuring himself or others. So, under the totality of these circumstances, it was reasonable for [the] Officer . . . to believe that defendant had violated [G.S.] 20-141(a) by driving too quickly given the conditions of the road.

The Court further noted that no actual traffic violation need have occurred for a stop to occur. It clarified: “To meet the reasonable suspicion standard, it is enough for the officer to reasonably believe that a driver has violated the law.”

A police officer stopped the defendant for suspected texting while driving. When the officer returned to his vehicle to check on the defendant’s identity, the defendant fled. (1) Before his trial on charges of texting while driving and felony fleeing to elude, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop. At the suppression hearing, the officer testified that he did not stop the defendant for merely using the phone, but rather for using it in a manner that he reasonably believed ran afoul of G.S. 20-137.4A(a), North Carolina’s prohibition on texting and emailing while driving. The officer testified that the defendant was using and handling the phone in a manner more consistent with texting or reading text messages than with using a mapping system. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion and the defendant was convicted of felonious fleeing to elude. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court committed plain error by concluding that the officer was justified in stopping his car solely based on his observation that the operator was using a cell phone while driving. The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that under the specific facts of this case, which included additional indicia of criminal activity beyond mere phone use, the trial court did not err by finding that the officer had reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe that the defendant was using the phone in a manner proscribed by law. The Court emphasized that its holding should not be viewed as establishing a test for meeting the reasonable suspicion requirement in other texting while driving cases. (2) The Court remanded the case for the defendant to be sentenced at prior record level two instead of level three, as his prior record level worksheet improperly counted a point for a prior misdemeanor. The Court rejected the State’s argument that the improperly counted point could be offset by adding for the first time an additional point under G.S. 15A-1340-14(b)(7) for the defendant being on probation at the time of the offense, as the State did not comply with the statutory notice procedures for that point.

(1) In this drug trafficking case, the court held that the fact that the defendant’s truck crossed over a double yellow line justified the stop. The officer saw the defendant’s vehicle cross the center line of the road by about 1 inch. The court stated:

[T]here is a “bright line” rule in some traffic stop cases. Here, the bright line is a double yellow line down the center of the road. Where a vehicle actually crosses over the double yellow lines in the center of a road, even once, and even without endangering any other drivers, the driver has committed a traffic violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-146 (2017). This is a “readily observable” traffic violation and the officer may stop the driver without violating his constitutional rights.

(2) After a proper traffic stop, the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop for six or seven minutes for a dog sniff. The officer was patrolling the road based on complaints about drug activity and had been advised by the SBI to be on the lookout for the defendant based upon reports that he was bringing large quantities of methamphetamine to a supplier who lived off of the road. After the officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle, he identified the defendant as the person noted in the lookout warning. The defendant was confused, spoke so quickly that he was hard to understand, and began to stutter and mumble. The defendant did not make eye contact with the officer and his nervousness was “much more extreme” than a typical stopped driver. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy and the skin under his eyes was ashy. Based on his training and experience, the officer believed the defendant’s behavior and appearance were consistent with methamphetamine use. The defendant told the officer he was going to “Rabbit’s” house. The officer knew that “Rabbit” was involved with methamphetamine and that he lived nearby. When the defendant exited his car, he put his hand on the car for stability. These facts alone would have given the officer reasonable suspicion. But additionally, a woman the officer knew had given drug information to law enforcement in the past approached and told the officer she had talked to Rabbit and the defendant had “dope in the vehicle.” These facts were more than sufficient to give the officer a reasonable suspicion that the defendant had drugs in his vehicle and justify extension of the stop for a dog sniff.

In this impaired driving case, an officer’s observation of a single instance of a vehicle crossing the double yellow centerline in violation of state motor vehicle law provided reasonable suspicion to support the traffic stop. While traveling southbound on Highway 32, NC Highway Patrol Trooper Myers was notified by dispatch that a caller had reported a black Chevrolet truck traveling northbound on Highway 32 at a careless, reckless, and high speed. Myers then saw a black Chevrolet truck travelling northbound cross the center double yellow line. Myers initiated a traffic stop, which resulted in impaired driving charges. The defendant argued that the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion because Myers did not corroborate the caller’s information. The court rejected this argument, noting that Myer’s own observation of the vehicle driving left of center providing reasonable suspicion for the stop. Under G.S. 20-150(d), crossing a double yellow centerline constitutes a traffic violation. Citing prior case law, the court stated that an officer’s observation of such a violation is sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop.

The vehicle stop was supported by reasonable suspicion. An officer received an anonymous report that a drunk driver was operating a black, four-door Hyundai headed north on Highland Capital Boulevard. The officer located the vehicle as reported and observed that the defendant drove roughly 15 miles below the 35 mph speed limit; that the defendant stopped at an intersection without a stop sign or traffic signal for “longer than usual”; that the defendant stopped at a railroad crossing and remained motionless for 15 to 20 seconds, although no train was coming and there was no signal to stop; that after the officer activated his blue lights, the defendant continued driving for approximately two minutes, eventually stopping in the middle of the road, and in a portion of the road with no bank or curb, having passed several safe places to pull over.

Because the officer saw the defendant drive through a red light, the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle.

No reasonable suspicion supported a traffic stop. The State had argued reasonable suspicion based on the driver’s alleged crossing of the fog line, her and her passenger’s alleged nervousness and failure to make eye contact with officers as they drove by and alongside the patrol car, and the vehicle’s slowed speed. The court found that the evidence failed to show that the vehicle crossed the fog line and that in the absence of a traffic violation, the officers’ beliefs about the conduct of the driver and passenger were nothing more than an “unparticularized suspicion or hunch.” It noted that nervousness, slowing down, and not making eye contact is not unusual when passing law enforcement. The court also found it “hard to believe” that the officers could tell that the driver and passenger were nervous as they passed the officers on the highway and as the officers momentarily rode alongside the vehicle. The court also found the reduction in speed—from 65 mph to 59 mph—insignificant. 

(1) The trial court erred in connection with its ruling on a suppression motion in an impaired driving case. The trial court failed to look beyond whether the defendant’s driving was normal in assessing whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. (2) The officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle based on observed traffic violations notwithstanding the officer’s mistaken belief that the defendant also had violated G.S. 20-146(a). The officer’s testimony that he initiated the stop after observing the defendant drive over the double yellow line was sufficient to establish a violation of G.S. 20-146(d)(3-4), 20-146(d)(1), and 20-153; therefore regardless of his subjective belief that the defendant violated G.S. 20-146(a), the officers testimony establishes objective criteria justifying the stop. The stop was reasonable and the superior court erred in holding otherwise. The court noted that because the officer’s reason for the stop was not based solely on his mistaken belief that the defendant violated G.S. 20-146(a) but also because the defendant crossed the double yellow line, the case was distinguishable from others holding that an officer’s mistaken belief that a defendant has committed a traffic violation is not an objectively reasonable basis for a stop.

An officer lawfully stopped a vehicle after observing the defendant drive approximately 10 mph above the speed limit. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the traffic stop was a pretext to search for drugs as irrelevant in light of the fact that the defendant was lawfully stopped for speeding. 

Officers had reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger based on the officers’ good faith belief that the driver had a revoked license and information about the defendant’s drug sales provided by three informants. Two of the informants were confidential informants who had provided good information in the past. The third was a patron of the hotel where the drug sales allegedly occurred and met with an officer face-to-face. Additionally, officers corroborated the informants’ information. As such, the informants’ information provided a sufficient indicia of reliability. The officer’s mistake about who was driving the vehicle was reasonable, under the circumstances.

State v. Ford, 208 N.C. App. 699 (Dec. 21, 2010)

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress when officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant committed a traffic violation supporting the traffic stop. The stop was premised on the defendant’s alleged violation of G.S. 20-129(d), requiring that a motor vehicle’s rear plate be lit so that under normal atmospheric conditions it can be read from a distance of 50 feet. The trial court found that normal conditions existed when officers pulled behind the vehicle; officers were unable to read the license plate with patrol car’s lights on; when the patrol car’s lights were turned off, the plate was not visible within the statutory requirement; and officers cited the defendant for the violation. The defendant’s evidence that the vehicle, a rental car, was “fine” when rented did not controvert the officer’s testimony that the tag was not sufficiently illuminated on the night of the stop.

The trial court properly concluded that an officer had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was committing a traffic violation when he saw the defendant driving on a public street while using his windshield wipers in inclement weather but not having his taillights on. The trial court’s conclusion that the street at issue was a public one was supported by competent evidence, even though conflicting evidence had been presented. The court noted that its conclusion that the officer correctly believed that the street was a public one distinguished the case from those holding that an officer’s mistaken belief that a defendant had committed a traffic violation is constitutionally insufficient to support a traffic stop.

The officer had reasonable suspicion to stop when the officer saw the defendant commit a violation of G.S. 20-154(a) (driver must give signal when turning whenever the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by such movement). Because the defendant was driving in medium traffic, a short distance in front of the officer, the defendant’s failure to signal could have affected another vehicle.

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained in a traffic stop. Sometime after 8:40 PM, an officer received a dispatch relating an anonymous report concerning a “suspicious white male,” with a “gold or silver vehicle” in the parking lot, walking around a closed business, Graham Feed & Seed. The officer knew that a business across the street had been broken into in the past and that residential break-ins and vandalism had occurred in the area. When the officer arrived at the location he saw a silver vehicle in the parking lot. The officer parked his vehicle and walked towards the car as it was approaching the parking lot exit. When he shined his flashlight towards the drivers side and saw the defendant, a black male, in the driver’s seat. The defendant did not open his window. When the officer asked the defendant, “What’s up boss man,” the defendant made no acknowledgment and continued exiting the parking lot. The officer considered this behavior a “little odd” and decided to follow the defendant. After catching up to the defendant’s vehicle on the main road, and without observing any traffic violations or furtive movements, the officer initiated a traffic stop. Contraband was found in the subsequent search of the vehicle and the defendant was arrested and charged. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the stop. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court determined that the officer’s justification for the stop was nothing more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch. The anonymous tip reported no crime and was only partially correct. Although there was a silver car in the parking lot, the tip also said it could have been gold, and there was no white male in the lot or the vehicle. Additionally, the tip merely described the individual as “suspicious” without any indication as to why, and no information existed as to who the tipster was and what made the tipster reliable. As a result there is nothing inherent in the tip itself to allow a court to deem it reliable and provide reasonable suspicion. Additionally the trial court’s findings of fact concerning the officer’s knowledge about criminal activity refer to the area in general and to no particularized facts. The officer did not say how he was familiar with the area, how he knew that there had been break-ins, or how much vandalism or other crimes had occurred there. Additionally the trial court’s findings stipulated that there was no specific time frame given for when the previous break-ins had occurred. The court rejected the State’s argument that the officer either corroborated the tip or formed reasonable suspicion on his own when he arrived at the parking lot. It noted that factors such as a high-crime area, unusual hour of the day, and the fact that businesses in the vicinity were closed can help to establish reasonable suspicion, but are insufficient given the other circumstances in this case. The State argued that the defendant’s nervous conduct and unprovoked flight supported the officer’s reasonable suspicion. But, the court noted, the trial court did not make either of those findings. The trial court’s findings say nothing about the defendant’s demeanor, other than that he did not acknowledge the officer, nor do they speak to the manner in which he exited the parking lot. The court went on to distinguish cases offered by the State suggesting that reasonable suspicion can be based on a suspect’s suspicious activities in an area known for criminal activity and an unusual hour. The court noted that in those cases the officers were already in the areas in question because they were specifically known and had detailed instances of criminal activity. Here, the officer arrived at the parking lot because of the vague tip about an undescribed white male engaged in undescribed suspicious activity in a generalized area known for residential break-ins and vandalism. The trial court made no findings as to what suspicious activity by the defendant warranted the officer’s suspicion. In fact the officer acknowledged that the defendant was not required to stop when he approached the defendant’s vehicle. The court concluded:

Accordingly, we are unpersuaded by the State’s argument and agree with Defendant that the trial court erred in concluding that Officer Judge had reasonable suspicion to stop him. Though the tip did bring Officer Judge to the Graham Feed & Seed parking lot, where he indeed found a silver car in front of the then-closed business with no one else in its vicinity at 8:40 pm, and although Defendant did not stop for or acknowledge Officer Judge, we do not believe these circumstances, taken in their totality, were sufficient to support reasonable suspicion necessary to allow a lawful traffic stop. When coupled with the facts that (1) Defendant was in a parking lot that did “not have a ‘no trespassing’ sign on its premises”—making it lawful for Defendant to be there; (2) Defendant was not a white male as described in the tip; (3) Defendant’s car was possibly in motion when Officer Judge arrived in the parking lot; (4) Defendant had the constitutional freedom to avoid Officer Judge; and (5) Defendant did not commit any traffic violations or act irrationally prior to getting stopped, there exists insufficient findings that Defendant was committing, or about to commit, any criminal activity.

Concluding otherwise would give undue weight to, not only vague anonymous tips, but broad, simplistic descriptions of areas absent specific and articulable detail surrounding a suspect’s actions.

Officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. When officers on a gang patrol noticed activity at a house, they parked their car to observe. The area was known for criminal activity. The defendant exited a house and approached the officers’ car. One of the officers had previously made drug arrests in front of the house in question. As the defendant approached, one officer feared for his safety and got out of the car to have a better defensive position. When the defendant realized the individuals were police officers his “demeanor changed” and he appeared very nervous--he started to sweat, began stuttering, and would not speak loudly. Additionally, it was late and there was little light for the officers to see the defendant’s actions.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk the defendant. The officer saw the defendant, who substantially matched a “be on the lookout” report following a robbery, a few blocks from the crime scene, only minutes after the crime occurred and travelling in the same direction as the robber. The defendant froze when confronted by the officer and initially refused to remove his hands from his pockets.

Because the officer saw the defendant drive through a red light, the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle.

An officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when he detained the defendant. After 10 pm the officer learned of a report of suspicious activity at Auto America. When the officer arrived at the scene he saw the defendant, who generally matched the description of one of the individuals reported, peering from behind a parked van. When the defendant spotted the officer, he ran, ignoring the officer’s instructions to stop. After a 1/8 mile chase, the officer found the defendant trying to hide behind a dumpster. The defendant’s flight and the other facts were sufficient to raise a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. 

State v. Huey, 204 N.C. App. 513 (June 15, 2010)

An officer lacked reasonable suspicion for a stop. The State stipulated that the officer knew, at the time of the stop, that the robbery suspects the officer was looking for were approximately 18 years old. The defendant was 51 years old at the time of the stop. Even if the officer could not initially tell the defendant's age, once the officer was face-to-face with the defendant, he should have been able to tell that the defendant was much older than 18. In any event, as soon as the defendant handed the officer his identification card with his birth date, the officer knew that the defendant did not match the description of the suspects and the interaction should have ended.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk the defendant. The officer saw the defendant, who substantially matched a “be on the lookout” report following a robbery, a few blocks from the crime scene, only minutes after the crime occurred and travelling in the same direction as the robber. The defendant froze when confronted by the officer and initially refused to remove his hands from his pockets.

(1) An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle for speeding. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because the officer only observed the vehicle for three to five seconds, the officer did not have a reasonable opportunity to judge the vehicle’s speed. The court noted that after his initial observation of the vehicle, the officer made a U-turn and began pursuing it; he testified that during his pursuit, the defendant “maintained his speed.” Although the officer did not testify to a specific distance he observed the defendant travel, “some distance was implied” by his testimony regarding his pursuit of the defendant. Also, although it is not necessary for an officer to have specialized training to be able to visually estimate a vehicle’s speed, the officer in question had specialized training in visual speed estimation. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that an officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle for speeding on grounds that there was insufficient evidence identifying the defendant as the driver. Specifically, the defendant noted that the officer lost sight of the vehicle for a short period of time. The officer only lost sight of the defendant for approximately thirty seconds and when he saw the vehicle again, he recognized both the car and the driver. 

In this drug case, the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The officer, who was in an unmarked patrol vehicle in the parking lot of a local post office, saw the defendant pull into the lot. The officer knew the defendant because he previously worked for the officer as an informant and had executed controlled buys. When the defendant pulled up to the passenger side of another vehicle, the passenger of the other vehicle rolled down his window. The officer saw the defendant and the passenger extend their arms to one another and touch hands. The vehicles then left the premises. The entire episode lasted less than a minute, with no one from either vehicle entering the post office. The area in question was not known to be a crime area. Based on his training and experience, the officer believed he had witnessed hand-to-hand drug transaction and the defendant’s vehicle was stopped. Based on items found during the search of the vehicle, the defendant was charged with drug crimes. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. Although it found the case to be a “close” one, the court found that reasonable suspicion supported the stop. Noting that it had previously held that reasonable suspicion supported a stop where officers witnessed acts that they believed to be drug transactions, the court acknowledged that the present facts differed from those earlier cases, specifically that the transaction in question occurred in daylight in an area that was not known for drug activity. Also, because there was no indication that the defendant was aware of the officer’s presence, there was no evidence that he displayed signs of nervousness or took evasive action to avoid the officer. However, the court concluded that reasonable suspicion existed. It noted that the actions of the defendant and the occupant of the other car “may or may not have appeared suspicious to a layperson,” but they were sufficient to permit a reasonable inference by a trained officer that a drug transaction had occurred. The court thought it significant that the officer recognized the defendant and had past experience with him as an informant in connection with controlled drug transactions. Finally, the court noted that a determination that reasonable suspicion exists need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.

In this possession of a firearm by a felon case, the trial court did not err by allowing evidence of a handgun a police officer removed from the defendant’s waistband during a lawful frisk that occurred after a lawful stop. Police received an anonymous 911 call stating that an African-American male wearing a red shirt and black pants had just placed a handgun in the waistband of his pants while at a specified gas station. Officer Clark responded to the scene and saw 6 to 8 people in the parking lot, including a person who matched the 911 call description, later identified as the defendant. As Clark got out of his car, the defendant looked directly at him, “bladed” away and started to walk away. Clark and a second officer grabbed the defendant. After Clark placed the defendant in handcuffs and told him that he was not under arrest, the second officer frisked the defendant and found a revolver in his waistband. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence of the gun at trial. The court held that the trial court did not err by denying the motion to suppress. It began by holding that the anonymous tip was insufficient by itself to provide reasonable suspicion for the stop. However, here there was additional evidence. Specifically, as Clark exited his car, the defendant turned his body in such a way as to prevent the officer from seeing a weapon. The officer testified that the type of turn the defendant executed was known as “blading,” which is “[w]hen you have a gun on your hip you tend to blade it away from an individual.” Additionally the defendant began to move away. And, as the officers approached the defendant, the defendant did not inform them that he was lawfully armed. Under the totality of the circumstances, these facts support reasonable suspicion.

            The court then held that the frisk was proper. In order for a frisk to be proper officers must have reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous. Based on the facts supporting a finding of reasonable suspicion with respect to the stop, the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed. This, coupled with his struggle during the stop and continued failure to inform officers that he was armed, supported a finding that there was reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk the defendant when the defendant was in a high crime area and made movements which the officer found suspicious. The defendant was in a public housing area patrolled by a Special Response Unit of U.S. Marshals and the DEA concentrating on violent crimes and gun crimes. The officer in question had 10 years of experience and was assigned to the Special Response Unit. Many persons were banned from the public housing area—in fact the banned list was nine pages long. On a prior occasion the officer heard shots fired near the area. The officer saw the defendant walking normally while swinging his arms. When the defendant turned and “used his right hand to grab his waistband to clinch an item” after looking directly at the officer, the officer believed the defendant was trying to hide something on his person. The officer then stopped the defendant to identify him, frisked him and found a gun in the defendant’s waistband.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk the defendant. The officer saw the defendant, who substantially matched a “be on the lookout” report following a robbery, a few blocks from the crime scene, only minutes after the crime occurred and travelling in the same direction as the robber. The defendant froze when confronted by the officer and initially refused to remove his hands from his pockets.

The Court held in this “close case” that an officer had reasonable suspicion to make a vehicle stop based on a 911 call. After a 911 caller reported that a truck had run her off the road, a police officer located the truck the caller identified and executed a traffic stop. As officers approached the truck, they smelled marijuana. A search of the truck bed revealed 30 pounds of marijuana. The defendants moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment because the officer lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Even assuming that the 911 call was anonymous, the Court found that it bore adequate indicia of reliability for the officer to credit the caller’s account that the truck ran her off the road. The Court explained: “By reporting that she had been run off the road by a specific vehicle—a silver Ford F-150 pickup, license plate 8D94925—the caller necessarily claimed eyewitness knowledge of the alleged dangerous driving. That basis of knowledge lends significant support to the tip’s reliability.” The Court noted that in this respect, the case contrasted with Florida v. J. L., 529 U. S. 266 (2000), where the tip provided no basis for concluding that the tipster had actually seen the gun reportedly possessed by the defendant. It continued: “A driver’s claim that another vehicle ran her off the road, however, necessarily implies that the informant knows the other car was driven dangerously.” The Court noted evidence suggesting that the caller reported the incident soon after it occurred and stated, “That sort of contemporaneous report has long been treated as especially reliable.” Again contrasting the case to J.L., the Court noted that in J.L., there was no indication that the tip was contemporaneous with the observation of criminal activity or made under the stress of excitement caused by a startling event. The Court determined that another indicator of veracity is the caller’s use of the 911 system, which allows calls to be recorded and law enforcement to verify information about the caller. Thus, “a reasonable officer could conclude that a false tipster would think twice before using such a system and a caller’s use of the 911 system is therefore one of the relevant circumstances that, taken together, justified the officer’s reliance on the information reported in the 911 call.” But the Court cautioned, “None of this is to suggest that tips in 911 calls are per se reliable.”

          The Court went on, noting that a reliable tip will justify an investigative stop only if it creates reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. It then determined that the caller’s report of being run off the roadway created reasonable suspicion of an ongoing crime such as drunk driving. It stated:

The 911 caller . . . reported more than a minor traffic infraction and more than a conclusory allegation of drunk or reckless driving. Instead, she alleged a specific and dangerous result of the driver’s conduct: running another car off the highway. That conduct bears too great a resemblance to paradigmatic manifestations of drunk driving to be dismissed as an isolated example of recklessness. Running another vehicle off the road suggests lane positioning problems, decreased vigilance, impaired judgment, or some combination of those recognized drunk driving cues. And the experience of many officers suggests that a driver who almost strikes a vehicle or another object—the exact scenario that ordinarily causes “running [another vehicle] off the roadway”—is likely intoxicated. As a result, we cannot say that the officer acted unreasonably under these circumstances in stopping a driver whose alleged conduct was a significant indicator of drunk driving. (Citations omitted).

The court per curiam affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 828 S.E.2.d 195 (2019), which had held over a dissent that no reasonable suspicion supported a warrantless traffic stop based on an anonymous tip. 

A sheriff’s deputy received a dispatch call, originating from an anonymous tipster, just before 11 PM. The deputy was advised of a vehicle in a ditch on a specified road, possibly with a “drunk driver, someone intoxicated” and that “a truck was attempting—getting ready to pull them out.” The tip provided no description of the car, truck or driver, nor was there information regarding the caller or when the call was received. When the deputy arrived at the scene about 10 minutes later, he noticed a white Cadillac at an angle partially in someone’s driveway. The vehicle had mud on the driver’s side and the deputy opined from gouges in the road that it was the vehicle that had run off the road. However he continued driving and saw a truck traveling away from his location. He estimated that the truck was travelling approximately 15 to 20 miles below the posted 55 mph speed limit. He testified that the truck was the only one on the highway and that it was big enough to pull the car out. He did not see any chains, straps, or other devices that would indicate it had just pulled the vehicle out of the ditch. He initiated a traffic stop. His sole reason for doing so was “due to what was called out from communications.” The truck was driven by Griekspoor; the defendant was in the passenger seat. When the deputy explained to the driver that there was a report of a truck attempting to pull a vehicle out of the ditch, the driver reported that he had pulled the defendant’s car out of the ditch and was giving him a ride home. The deputy’s supervisor arrived and went to talk with the defendant. The defendant was eventually charged with impaired driving. At trial he unsuccessfully moved to suppress, was convicted and appealed. The court found that the stop was improper. As the State conceded, the anonymous tip likely fails to provide sufficient reliability to support the stop. It provided no description of either the car or the truck or how many people were involved and there is no indication when the call came in or when the anonymous tipster saw the car in the ditch with the truck attempting to pull it out. The State argued however that because nearly every aspect of the tip was corroborated by the officer there was reasonable suspicion for the stop. The court disagreed. When the deputy passed the Cadillac and came up behind the truck, he saw no equipment to indicate the truck had pulled, or was able to pull, a car out of the ditch and could not see how many people were in the truck. He testified that it was not operating in violation of the law. “He believed it was a suspicious vehicle merely because of the fact it was on the highway.” The details in the anonymous tip were insufficient to establish identifying characteristics, let alone allow the deputy to corroborate the details. The tipster merely indicated a car was in a ditch, someone was present who may be intoxicated, and a truck was preparing to pull the vehicle out of the ditch. There was no description of the car, the truck, or any individuals who may have been involved. After the deputy passed the scene and the Cadillac he noticed a truck driving under the posted speed limit. He provided no testimony to show that the truck was engaging in unsafe, reckless, or illegal driving. He was unable to ascertain if it contained a passenger. The court concluded: “At best all we have is a tip with no indicia of reliability, no corroboration, and conduct falling within the broad range of what can be described as normal driving behavior.” (quotation omitted). Under the totality of the circumstances the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct a warrantless stop of the truck.

State v. Maready, 362 N.C. 614 (Dec. 12, 2008)

Reasonable suspicion supported the officer’s stop of a vehicle in a case in which the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges involving a vehicle crash and impaired driving. Officers saw an intoxicated man stumble across the road and enter a Honda. They then were flagged down by a vehicle that they observed driving in front of the Honda. The vehicle’s driver, who was distraught, told them that the driver of the Honda had been running stop signs and stop lights. The officers conducted an investigatory stop of the Honda, and the defendant was driving. The court considered the following facts as supporting the indicia of reliability of the informant’s tip: the tipster had been driving in front of the Honda and thus had firsthand knowledge of the reported traffic violations; the driver’s own especially cautious driving and apparent distress were consistent with what one would expect of a person who had observed erratic driving; the driver approached the officers in person and gave them information close in time and place to the scene of the alleged violations, with little time to fabricate; and because the tip was made face-to-face, the driver was not entirely anonymous.

An anonymous person contacted law enforcement to report that a small green vehicle with license plate RCW-042 was in a specific area, had run several vehicles off the road, had struck a vehicle, and was attempting to leave the scene. Deputies went to the area and immediately stopped a vehicle matching the description given by the caller. The defendant was driving the vehicle. She was unsteady on her feet and appeared to be severely impaired. A trooper arrived and administered SFSTs, which the trooper terminated because the defendant could not complete them safely. A subsequent blood test revealed multiple drugs in the defendant’s system. The defendant was charged with impaired driving, was convicted in district court and in superior court, and appealed.

The defendant argued that the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion as it was based on an anonymous tip and was not corroborated by any observation of bad driving. The court of appeals disagreed, noting some tension between prior North Carolina case law emphasizing the need to corroborate anonymous tips and Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393 (2014), which found reasonable suspicion of impaired driving based on an anonymous caller’s report that a vehicle had nearly run the caller off the road. The court stated that it “need not resolve the apparent tension between our previous case law and Navarette” because the tip in this case involved a very timely report of multiple driving incidents and so was sufficiently reliable to provide reasonable suspicion.

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained in a traffic stop. Sometime after 8:40 PM, an officer received a dispatch relating an anonymous report concerning a “suspicious white male,” with a “gold or silver vehicle” in the parking lot, walking around a closed business, Graham Feed & Seed. The officer knew that a business across the street had been broken into in the past and that residential break-ins and vandalism had occurred in the area. When the officer arrived at the location he saw a silver vehicle in the parking lot. The officer parked his vehicle and walked towards the car as it was approaching the parking lot exit. When he shined his flashlight towards the drivers side and saw the defendant, a black male, in the driver’s seat. The defendant did not open his window. When the officer asked the defendant, “What’s up boss man,” the defendant made no acknowledgment and continued exiting the parking lot. The officer considered this behavior a “little odd” and decided to follow the defendant. After catching up to the defendant’s vehicle on the main road, and without observing any traffic violations or furtive movements, the officer initiated a traffic stop. Contraband was found in the subsequent search of the vehicle and the defendant was arrested and charged. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the stop. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court determined that the officer’s justification for the stop was nothing more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch. The anonymous tip reported no crime and was only partially correct. Although there was a silver car in the parking lot, the tip also said it could have been gold, and there was no white male in the lot or the vehicle. Additionally, the tip merely described the individual as “suspicious” without any indication as to why, and no information existed as to who the tipster was and what made the tipster reliable. As a result there is nothing inherent in the tip itself to allow a court to deem it reliable and provide reasonable suspicion. Additionally the trial court’s findings of fact concerning the officer’s knowledge about criminal activity refer to the area in general and to no particularized facts. The officer did not say how he was familiar with the area, how he knew that there had been break-ins, or how much vandalism or other crimes had occurred there. Additionally the trial court’s findings stipulated that there was no specific time frame given for when the previous break-ins had occurred. The court rejected the State’s argument that the officer either corroborated the tip or formed reasonable suspicion on his own when he arrived at the parking lot. It noted that factors such as a high-crime area, unusual hour of the day, and the fact that businesses in the vicinity were closed can help to establish reasonable suspicion, but are insufficient given the other circumstances in this case. The State argued that the defendant’s nervous conduct and unprovoked flight supported the officer’s reasonable suspicion. But, the court noted, the trial court did not make either of those findings. The trial court’s findings say nothing about the defendant’s demeanor, other than that he did not acknowledge the officer, nor do they speak to the manner in which he exited the parking lot. The court went on to distinguish cases offered by the State suggesting that reasonable suspicion can be based on a suspect’s suspicious activities in an area known for criminal activity and an unusual hour. The court noted that in those cases the officers were already in the areas in question because they were specifically known and had detailed instances of criminal activity. Here, the officer arrived at the parking lot because of the vague tip about an undescribed white male engaged in undescribed suspicious activity in a generalized area known for residential break-ins and vandalism. The trial court made no findings as to what suspicious activity by the defendant warranted the officer’s suspicion. In fact the officer acknowledged that the defendant was not required to stop when he approached the defendant’s vehicle. The court concluded:

Accordingly, we are unpersuaded by the State’s argument and agree with Defendant that the trial court erred in concluding that Officer Judge had reasonable suspicion to stop him. Though the tip did bring Officer Judge to the Graham Feed & Seed parking lot, where he indeed found a silver car in front of the then-closed business with no one else in its vicinity at 8:40 pm, and although Defendant did not stop for or acknowledge Officer Judge, we do not believe these circumstances, taken in their totality, were sufficient to support reasonable suspicion necessary to allow a lawful traffic stop. When coupled with the facts that (1) Defendant was in a parking lot that did “not have a ‘no trespassing’ sign on its premises”—making it lawful for Defendant to be there; (2) Defendant was not a white male as described in the tip; (3) Defendant’s car was possibly in motion when Officer Judge arrived in the parking lot; (4) Defendant had the constitutional freedom to avoid Officer Judge; and (5) Defendant did not commit any traffic violations or act irrationally prior to getting stopped, there exists insufficient findings that Defendant was committing, or about to commit, any criminal activity.

Concluding otherwise would give undue weight to, not only vague anonymous tips, but broad, simplistic descriptions of areas absent specific and articulable detail surrounding a suspect’s actions.

In this possession of a firearm by a felon case, the trial court did not err by allowing evidence of a handgun a police officer removed from the defendant’s waistband during a lawful frisk that occurred after a lawful stop. Police received an anonymous 911 call stating that an African-American male wearing a red shirt and black pants had just placed a handgun in the waistband of his pants while at a specified gas station. Officer Clark responded to the scene and saw 6 to 8 people in the parking lot, including a person who matched the 911 call description, later identified as the defendant. As Clark got out of his car, the defendant looked directly at him, “bladed” away and started to walk away. Clark and a second officer grabbed the defendant. After Clark placed the defendant in handcuffs and told him that he was not under arrest, the second officer frisked the defendant and found a revolver in his waistband. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence of the gun at trial. The court held that the trial court did not err by denying the motion to suppress. It began by holding that the anonymous tip was insufficient by itself to provide reasonable suspicion for the stop. However, here there was additional evidence. Specifically, as Clark exited his car, the defendant turned his body in such a way as to prevent the officer from seeing a weapon. The officer testified that the type of turn the defendant executed was known as “blading,” which is “[w]hen you have a gun on your hip you tend to blade it away from an individual.” Additionally the defendant began to move away. And, as the officers approached the defendant, the defendant did not inform them that he was lawfully armed. Under the totality of the circumstances, these facts support reasonable suspicion.

            The court then held that the frisk was proper. In order for a frisk to be proper officers must have reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous. Based on the facts supporting a finding of reasonable suspicion with respect to the stop, the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed. This, coupled with his struggle during the stop and continued failure to inform officers that he was armed, supported a finding that there was reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous.

No reasonable suspicion supported a stop. At approximately 5 pm dispatch notified a trooper on routine patrol that an informant-driver reported that another driver was driving while intoxicated. The informant reported that the driver was driving from the Hubert area towards Jacksonville, traveling about 80 to 100 mph while drinking a beer. He also claimed that the driver was driving “very erratically” and almost ran him off the road “a few times.” While responding to the dispatch, the informant flagged down the trooper and said that the vehicle in question had just passed through the intersection on US 258, heading towards Richlands. The trooper headed in that direction and stopped the defendant’s vehicle within 1/10 of a mile from the intersection. The defendant was arrested and charged with DWI and careless and reckless driving. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress in District Court and appealed to Superior Court. After a hearing, the Superior Court granted the motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals found that the tip did not have sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion for the stop. Although the informant was not anonymous, because the defendant’s vehicle was out of sight, the informant was unable to specifically point out the defendant’s vehicle to the trooper. The trooper did not observe the vehicle being driven in a suspicious or erratic fashion. Additionally, it is unknown whether the trooper had the vehicle’s license plate number before or after the stop and whether the trooper had any vehicle description besides a “gray Ford passenger vehicle.” The court distinguished prior case law involving tips that provided enough information so that there was no doubt as to which particular vehicle was being reported. Here, the informant’s ambiguous description did not specify a particular vehicle. Additionally, no other circumstances enabled the trooper to further corroborate the tip; the trooper did not witness the vehicle behaving as described by the informant.

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress drug evidence seized after a traffic stop where the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. Officers received a tip from a confidential informant regarding “suspicious” packages that the defendant had received from a local UPS store. The informant was an employee of the UPS store who had been trained to detect narcotics; the informant had successfully notified the police about packages later found to contain illegal drugs and these tips were used to secure a number of felony drug convictions. With respect to the incident in question, the informant advised the police that a man, later identified as the defendant, had arrived at the UPS store in a truck and retrieved packages with a Utah a return address when in fact the packages had been sent from Arizona. After receiving this tip, the police arrived at the store, observed the defendant driving away, and initiated a traffic stop. During the stop they conducted a canine sniff, which led to the discovery of drugs inside the packages. Holding that the motion to suppress should have been granted, the court noted that there is nothing illegal about receiving a package with a return address which differs from the actual shipping address; in fact there are number of innocent explanations for why this could have occurred. Although innocent factors, when considered together may give rise to reasonable suspicion, the court noted that it was unable to find any case where reasonable suspicion was based solely on a suspicious return address. Here, the trial court made no finding that the informant or the police had any prior experience with the defendant; the trial court made no finding that the origination city was known as a drug source locale; and the trial court made no finding that the packages were sealed suspiciously, had a suspicious weight based on their size, had hand written labels, or had a suspicious odor.

Officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant based on an anonymous tip from a taxicab driver. The taxicab driver anonymously contacted 911 by cell phone and reported that a red Mustang convertible with a black soft top, license plate XXT-9756, was driving erratically, running over traffic cones and continuing west on a specified road. Although the 911 operator did not ask the caller’s name, the operator used the caller’s cell phone number to later identify the taxicab driver as John Hutchby. The 911 call resulted in a “be on the lookout” being issued; minutes later officers spotted a red Mustang matching the caller’s description, with “X” in the license plate, heading as indicated by the caller. Although the officers did not observe the defendant violating any traffic laws or see evidence of improper driving that would suggest impairment, the officers stopped the defendant. The defendant was charged with DWI. The court began:

[T]he officers did not have the opportunity to judge Hutchby’s credibility firsthand or confirm whether the tip was reliable, because Hutchby had not been previously used and the officers did not meet him face-to-face. Since the officers did not have an opportunity to assess his credibility, Hutchby was an anonymous informant. Therefore, to justify a warrantless search and seizure, either the tip must have possessed sufficient indicia of reliability or the officers must have corroborated the tip.

The court went on to find that neither requirement was satisfied.

An officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. A “be on the lookout” call was issued after a citizen caller reported that there was a cup of beer in a gold Toyota sedan with license number VST-8773 parked at the Kangaroo gas station at the corner of Wake Forest Road and Ronald Drive. Although the complainant wished to remain anonymous, the communications center obtained the caller’s name as Kim Creech. An officer responded and observed a vehicle fitting the caller’s description. The officer followed the driver as he pulled out of the lot and onto Wake Forest Road and then pulled him over. The officer did not observe any traffic violations. After a test indicated impairment, the defendant was charged with DWI. Noting that the officer’s sole reason for the stop was Creech’s tip, the court found that the tip was not reliable in its assertion of illegality because possessing an open container of alcohol in a parking lot is not illegal. It concluded: “Accordingly, Ms. Creech’s tip contained no actual allegation of criminal activity.” It further found that the officer’s mistaken belief that the tip included an actual allegation of illegal activity was not objectively reasonable. Finally, the court concluded that even if the officer’s mistaken belief was reasonable, it still would find the tip insufficiently reliable. Considering anonymous tip cases, the court held that although Creech’s tip provided the license plate number and location of the car, “she did not identify or describe defendant, did not provide any way for [the] Officer . . . to assess her credibility, failed to explain her basis of knowledge, and did not include any information concerning defendant’s future actions.”

In a drug case, the trial court did not commit plain error by concluding that an officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct a warrantless stop. The officer received information from two informants who had previously provided him with reliable information leading to several arrests; the informants provided information about the defendant’s criminal activity, location, and appearance. The officer corroborated some of this information and on the day in question an informant saw the defendant with the contraband. Also, when the officer approached the defendant, the defendant exuded a strong odor of marijuana.

No reasonable and articulable suspicion supported seizure of the defendant made as a result of an anonymous tip. When evaluating an anonymous tip in this context, the court must determine whether the tip taken as a whole possessed sufficient indicia of reliability. If not, the court must assess whether the anonymous tip could be made sufficiently reliable by independent corroboration. The tip at issue reported that the defendant would be selling marijuana at a certain location on a certain day and would be driving a white vehicle. The court held that given the limited details contained in the tip and the failure of the officers to corroborate its allegations of illegal activity, the tip lacked sufficient indicia of reliability.

Officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. Officers had received an anonymous tip that a vehicle containing “a large amount of pills and drugs” would be traveling from Georgia through Macon County and possibly Graham County; the vehicle was described as a small or mid-sized passenger car, maroon or purple in color, with Georgia license plates. Officers set up surveillance along the most likely route. When a small purple car passed the officers, they pulled out behind it. The car then made an abrupt lane change without signaling and slowed down by approximately 5-10 mph. The officers ran the vehicle’s license plate and discovered the vehicle was registered a person known to have outstanding arrest warrants. Although the officers where pretty sure that the driver was not the wanted person, they were unable to identify the passenger. They also saw the driver repeatedly looking in his rearview mirror and glancing over his shoulder. They then pulled the vehicle over. The court concluded that the defendant’s lane change in combination with the anonymous tip and defendant’s other activities were sufficient to give an experienced law enforcement officer reasonable suspicion that some illegal activity was taking place. Those other activities included the defendant’s slow speed in the passing lane, frequent glances in his rearview mirrors, repeated glances over his shoulder, and that he was driving a car registered to another person. Moreover, it noted, not only was the defendant not the owner of the vehicle, but the owner was known to have outstanding arrest warrants; it was reasonable to conclude that the unidentified passenger may have been the vehicle’s owner.

State v. Ellison, 213 N.C. App. 300 (July 19, 2011) aff'd on other grounds, 366 N.C. 439 (Mar 8 2013)

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. An informant told the officer that after having his prescriptions for hydrocodone and Xanax filled, Mr. Shaw would immediately take the medication to defendant Treadway’s residence, where he sold the medications to Treadway; Treadway then sold some or all of the medications to defendant Ellison. Subsequently, the officer learned that Shaw had a prescription for Lorcet and Xanax, observed Shaw fill the prescriptions, and followed Shaw from the pharmacy to Treadway’s residence. The officer watched Shaw enter and exit Treadway’s residence. Minutes later the officer observed Ellison arrive. The officer also considered activities derived from surveillance at Ellison’s place of work, which were consistent with drug-related activities. Although the officer had not had contact with the informant prior to this incident, one of his co-workers had worked with the informant and found the informant to be reliable; specifically, information provided by the informant on previous occasions had resulted in arrests.

In re A.J.M-B, 212 N.C. App. 586 (June 21, 2011)

The trial court erred by denying the juvenile’s motion to dismiss a charge of resisting a public officer when no reasonable suspicion supported a stop of the juvenile (the activity that the juvenile allegedly resisted). An anonymous caller reported to law enforcement “two juveniles in Charlie district . . . walking, supposedly with a shotgun or a rifle” in “an open field behind a residence.” A dispatcher relayed the information to Officer Price, who proceeded to an open field behind the residence. Price saw two juveniles “pop their heads out of the wood line” and look at him. Neither was carrying firearms. When Price called out for them to stop, they ran around the residence and down the road.

Officers had reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger based on the officers’ good faith belief that the driver had a revoked license and information about the defendant’s drug sales provided by three informants. Two of the informants were confidential informants who had provided good information in the past. The third was a patron of the hotel where the drug sales allegedly occurred and met with an officer face-to-face. Additionally, officers corroborated the informants’ information. As such, the informants’ information provided a sufficient indicia of reliability. The officer’s mistake about who was driving the vehicle was reasonable, under the circumstances.

A tip from a confidential informant had a sufficient indicia of reliability to support a stop of the defendant’s vehicle where the evidence showed that: (1) a confidential informant who had previously provided reliable information told police that the defendant would be transporting cocaine that day and described the vehicle defendant would be driving; (2) the informant indicated to police that he had seen cocaine in defendant’s possession; (3) a car matching the informant’s description arrived at the designated location at the approximate time indicated by the informant; and (4) the informant, waiting at the specified location, called police to confirm that the driver was the defendant.

An anonymous tip lacked a sufficient indicia of reliability to justify the warrantless stop. The anonymous tip reported that a black male wearing a white t-shirt and blue shorts was selling illegal narcotics and guns at the corner of Pitts and Birch Streets in the Happy Hill Garden housing community. The caller said the sales were occurring out of a blue Mitsubishi, license plate WT 3456. The caller refused to provide a name, the police had no means of tracking him or her down, and the officers did not know how the caller obtained the information. Prior to the officers’ arrival in the Happy Hill neighborhood, the tipster called back and stated that the suspect had just left the area, but would return shortly. Due to construction, the neighborhood had only two entrances. Officers stationed themselves at each entrance and observed a blue Mitsubishi enter the neighborhood. The car had a license plate WTH 3453 and was driven by a black male wearing a white t-shirt. After the officers learned that the registered owner’s driver’s license was suspended, they stopped the vehicle. The court concluded that while the tip included identifying details of a person and car allegedly engaged in illegal activity, it offered few details of the alleged crime, no information regarding the informant’s basis of knowledge, and scant information to predict the future behavior of the alleged perpetrator. Given the limited details provided, and the officers’ failure to corroborate the tip’s allegations of illegal activity, the tip lacked sufficient indicia of reliability to justify the warrantless stop. The court noted that although the officers lawfully stopped the vehicle after discovering that the registered owner’s driver’s license was suspended, because nothing in the tip involved a revoked driver’s license, the scope of the stop should have been limited to a determination of whether the license was suspended.

In a drug case, a tip from a confidential informant provided reasonable suspicion justifying the stop where the relevant information was known by the officer requesting the stop but not by the officer conducting the stop. The confidential informant had worked with the officer on several occasions, had provided reliable information in the past that lead to the arrest of drug offenders, and gave the officer specific information (including the defendant’s name, the type of car he would be driving, the location where he would be driving, and the amount and type of controlled substance that he would have in his possession).

Anonymous informant’s tips combined with officers’ corroboration provided reasonable suspicion for a stop. The anonymous tips provided specific information of possessing and selling marijuana, including the specific location of such activity (a shed at the defendant's residence). The tips were buttressed by officers’ knowledge of the defendant’s history of police contacts for narcotics and firearms offenses, verification that the defendant lived at the residence, and subsequent surveillance of the residence. During surveillance an officer observed individuals come and go and observed the defendant remove a large bag from the shed and place it in a vehicle. Other officers then followed the defendant in the vehicle to a location known for drug activity. 

Neither an anonymous tip nor an officer’s observation of the vehicle weaving once in its lane provided reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle in this DWI case. At approximately 7:50 p.m., an officer responded to a dispatch concerning “a possible careless and reckless, D.W.I., headed towards the Holiday Inn intersection.” The vehicle was described as a burgundy Chevrolet pickup truck. The officer immediately arrived at the intersection and saw a burgundy Chevrolet pickup truck. After following the truck for about 1/10 of a mile and seeing the truck weave once in its lane once, the officer stopped the truck. Although the anonymous tip accurately described the vehicle and its location, it provided no way for officer to test its credibility. Neither the tip nor the officer’s observation, alone or together established reasonable suspicion to stop.

Following Maready and holding that there was reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. At 2:55 am, a man called the police and reported that his car was being followed by a man with a gun. The caller reported that he was in the vicinity of a specific intersection. The caller remained on the line and described the vehicle following him, and gave updates on his location. The caller was directed to a specific location, so that an officer could meet him. When the vehicles arrived, they matched the descriptions provided by the caller. The officer stopped the vehicles. The caller identified the driver of the other vehicle as the man who had been following him and drove away without identifying himself. The officer ended up arresting the driver of the other vehicle for DWI. No weapon was found. The court held that there were indicia of reliability similar to those that existed in Maready: (1) the caller telephoned police and remained on the telephone for approximately eight minutes; (2) the caller provided specific information about the vehicle that was following him and their location; (3) the caller carefully followed the dispatcher’s instructions, which allowed the officer to intercept the vehicles; (4) defendant followed the caller over a peculiar and circuitous route between 2 and 3 a.m.; (5) the caller remained on the scene long enough to identify defendant to the officer; and (6) by calling on a cell phone and remaining at the scene, caller placed his anonymity at risk.

In this Stanly County case, no reasonable suspicion existed when a trooper, already conducting a traffic stop, observed the defendant gesturing with his middle finger from the passenger side of a car driving past the stop. The Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the State’s argument that the stop of the defendant was justified by the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment, but a majority of the panel found that the stop was supported by reasonable suspicion of disorderly conduct (here). Judge Arrowood dissented and would have ruled that the act was protected speech under the First Amendment and that the trooper lacked reasonable suspicion [Jeff Welty blogged about that decision here].

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the State waived oral argument and conceded that the trooper lacked reasonable suspicion. The court agreed. The State’s evidence at suppression showed that the trooper saw the defendant waving from the car, and then begin “flipping the bird,” perhaps vigorously. The trooper did not know for whom the gesture was intended, and otherwise observed no traffic violations or other suspect activities. This failed to establish reasonable suspicion of a crime. In the court’s words:

The fact that [the trooper] was unsure of whether defendant’s gesture may have been directed at another vehicle does not, on its own, provide reasonable suspicion that defendant intended to or was plainly likely to provoke violent retaliation from another driver. . .Based on the facts in the record, we are unable to infer that, by gesturing with his middle finger, defendant was intending to or was likely to provoke a violent reaction from another driver that would cause a breach of the peace. Slip op. at 6-7

The court did not consider the defendant’s First Amendment arguments in light of its ruling, and the matter was unanimously reversed and remanded.

On appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 805 S.E.2d 348 (2017), the court reversed, holding that an officer’s decision to briefly detain the defendant for questioning was supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. While on patrol at 4 AM, Lieutenant Marotz noticed a car parked in a turn lane of the street, with its headlights on but no turn signal blinking. Marotz saw two men inside the vehicle, one in the driver’s seat and the other—later identified as the defendant—in the seat directly behind the driver. The windows were down despite rain and low temperatures. As Marotz pulled alongside of the vehicle, he saw the defendant pull down a hood or toboggan style mask with holes in the eyes, but then push the item back up when he saw the officer. Martoz asked the two whether everything was okay and they responded that it was. The driver said that the man in the back was his brother and they had been arguing. The driver said the argument was over and everything was okay. Sensing that something was not right, the officer again asked if they were okay, and they nodded that they were. Then the driver moved his hand near his neck, “scratching or doing something with his hand,” but Marotz was not sure how to interpret the gesture. Still feeling that something was amiss, Marotz drove to a nearby gas station to observe the situation. After the car remained immobile in the turn lane for another half minute, Marotz got out of his vehicle and started on foot towards the car. The defendant stepped out of the vehicle and the driver began to edge the car forward. Marotz asked the driver what he was doing and the driver said he was late and had to get to work. The officer again asked whether everything was okay and the men said that everything was fine. However, although the driver responded “yes” to the officer’s question, he shook his head “no.” This prompted the officer to further question the defendant. The driver insisted he just had to get to work and the officer told him to go. After the driver left, the defendant asked the officer if he could walk to a nearby store. The officer responded, “[H]ang tight for me just a second . . . you don’t have any weapons on you do you?” The defendant said he had a knife but a frisk by a backup officer did not reveal a weapon. After additional questioning the officers learned the defendant’s identity and told him he was free to go. Later that day the driver reported to the police that the defendant was not his brother and had been robbing him when Marotz pulled up. The defendant held a knife to the driver’s throat and demanded money. Officers later found a steak knife in the back seat of the vehicle. The defendant was charged with armed robbery and he moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of his seizure by Marotz. The parties agreed that the defendant was seized when Marotz told him to “hang tight.” The court found that the circumstances established a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. Although the facts might not establish reasonable suspicion when viewed in isolation, when considered in their totality they could lead a reasonable officer to suspect that he had just happened upon a robbery in progress. The court also found that the Court of Appeals placed undue weight on Marotz’s subjective interpretation of the facts (the officer’s testimony suggested that he did not believe he had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity), rather than focusing on how an objective, reasonable officer would have viewed them. The court noted that an action is reasonable under the fourth amendment regardless of the officer’s state of mind, if the circumstances viewed objectively justify the action. Here they do.

State v. Salinas, 366 N.C. 119 (June 14, 2012)

The court modified and affirmed State v. Salinas, 214 N.C. App. 408 (Aug. 16, 2011) (trial court incorrectly applied a probable cause standard instead of a reasonable suspicion standard when determining whether a vehicle stop was unconstitutional). The supreme court agreed that the trial judge applied the wrong standard when evaluating the legality of the stop. The court further held that because the trial court did not resolve the issues of fact that arose during the suppression hearing, but rather simply restated the officers’ testimony, its order did not contain sufficient findings of fact to which the court could apply the reasonable suspicion standard. It thus remanded for the trial court to reconsider the evidence pursuant to the reasonable suspicion standard.

The defendant was charged with driving while license revoked, not an impaired revocation; assault on a female; possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony; attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon; and habitual felon status. The State proceeded to trial on the charges of speeding to elude arrest and attaining habitual felon status, dismissing the other charges. The defendant was found guilty of both, and the trial judge sentenced the defendant to 97 to 129 months’ imprisonment. 

The defendant argued that the trial judge erred in failing to dismiss the speeding to elude arrest charge. According to the defendant, at the time the law enforcement officer activated his blue lights and siren to initiate a traffic stop, the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and therefore was not performing a lawful duty of his office. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, holding that the circumstances before and after an officer signals his intent to stop a defendant determine whether there was reasonable suspicion for a stop. Here, after the officer put on his lights and siren, the defendant accelerated to speeds of 90 to 100 miles per hour, drove recklessly by almost hitting other cars, pulled onto the shoulder to pass other cars, swerved and fishtailed across multiple lanes, crossed over the double yellow line, and ran a stop sign before he parked in a driveway and took off running into a cow pasture, where the officers found him hiding in a ditch. These circumstances gave the officer reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before he seized the defendant.

In this driving while impaired case, the officer observed the defendant sitting on a porch and drinking a tall beer at approximately 9:00pm. The defendant was known to the officer as someone he had previously stopped for driving while license revoked and an open container offense. Around 11:00pm, the officer encountered the defendant at a gas station, where she paid for another beer and returned to her car. The officer did not observe any signs of impairment while observing her at the store and did not speak to her. When the defendant drove away from the store, the officer followed her and saw her driving “normally”—she did not speed or drive too slow, she did not weave or swerve, she did not drink the beer, and otherwise conformed to all rules of the road. After two or three blocks, the officer stopped the car. He testified the stop was based on having seen her drinking beer earlier in the evening, then purchase more beer at the store later and drive away. The trial court denied the motion to suppress and the defendant was convicted at trial. The court of appeals unanimously reversed. The court noted that a traffic violation is not always necessary for reasonable suspicion to stop (collecting sample cases), but observed that “when the basis for an officer’s suspicion connects only tenuously with the criminal behavior suspected, if at all, courts have not found the requisite reasonable suspicion.” Here, the officer had no information that the defendant was impaired and did not observe any traffic violations. The court also rejected the State’s argument that the defendant’s past criminal history for driving while license revoked and open container supplemented the officer’s suspicions: “Prior charges alone, however, do not provide the requisite reasonable suspicion and these particular priors are too attenuated from the facts of the current controversy to aid the State’s argument.” Despite the lack of objection at trial, the court found the trial court’s finding of reasonable suspicion to be an error which had a probable impact on the jury’s verdict, reversing the denial of the motion and vacating the conviction under plain error review.

In this impaired driving case, the defendant was not seized within the meaning of the fourth amendment until he submitted to the officer’s authority by stopping his vehicle. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the seizure occurred when the officer activated his blue lights. Because the defendant continued driving after the blue lights were activated, there was no submission to the officer’s authority and no seizure until the defendant stopped his vehicle. As a result, the reasonable suspicion inquiry can consider circumstances that arose after the officer’s activation of his blue lights but before the defendant’s submission to authority.

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained in a traffic stop. Sometime after 8:40 PM, an officer received a dispatch relating an anonymous report concerning a “suspicious white male,” with a “gold or silver vehicle” in the parking lot, walking around a closed business, Graham Feed & Seed. The officer knew that a business across the street had been broken into in the past and that residential break-ins and vandalism had occurred in the area. When the officer arrived at the location he saw a silver vehicle in the parking lot. The officer parked his vehicle and walked towards the car as it was approaching the parking lot exit. When he shined his flashlight towards the drivers side and saw the defendant, a black male, in the driver’s seat. The defendant did not open his window. When the officer asked the defendant, “What’s up boss man,” the defendant made no acknowledgment and continued exiting the parking lot. The officer considered this behavior a “little odd” and decided to follow the defendant. After catching up to the defendant’s vehicle on the main road, and without observing any traffic violations or furtive movements, the officer initiated a traffic stop. Contraband was found in the subsequent search of the vehicle and the defendant was arrested and charged. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the stop. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court determined that the officer’s justification for the stop was nothing more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch. The anonymous tip reported no crime and was only partially correct. Although there was a silver car in the parking lot, the tip also said it could have been gold, and there was no white male in the lot or the vehicle. Additionally, the tip merely described the individual as “suspicious” without any indication as to why, and no information existed as to who the tipster was and what made the tipster reliable. As a result there is nothing inherent in the tip itself to allow a court to deem it reliable and provide reasonable suspicion. Additionally the trial court’s findings of fact concerning the officer’s knowledge about criminal activity refer to the area in general and to no particularized facts. The officer did not say how he was familiar with the area, how he knew that there had been break-ins, or how much vandalism or other crimes had occurred there. Additionally the trial court’s findings stipulated that there was no specific time frame given for when the previous break-ins had occurred. The court rejected the State’s argument that the officer either corroborated the tip or formed reasonable suspicion on his own when he arrived at the parking lot. It noted that factors such as a high-crime area, unusual hour of the day, and the fact that businesses in the vicinity were closed can help to establish reasonable suspicion, but are insufficient given the other circumstances in this case. The State argued that the defendant’s nervous conduct and unprovoked flight supported the officer’s reasonable suspicion. But, the court noted, the trial court did not make either of those findings. The trial court’s findings say nothing about the defendant’s demeanor, other than that he did not acknowledge the officer, nor do they speak to the manner in which he exited the parking lot. The court went on to distinguish cases offered by the State suggesting that reasonable suspicion can be based on a suspect’s suspicious activities in an area known for criminal activity and an unusual hour. The court noted that in those cases the officers were already in the areas in question because they were specifically known and had detailed instances of criminal activity. Here, the officer arrived at the parking lot because of the vague tip about an undescribed white male engaged in undescribed suspicious activity in a generalized area known for residential break-ins and vandalism. The trial court made no findings as to what suspicious activity by the defendant warranted the officer’s suspicion. In fact the officer acknowledged that the defendant was not required to stop when he approached the defendant’s vehicle. The court concluded:

Accordingly, we are unpersuaded by the State’s argument and agree with Defendant that the trial court erred in concluding that Officer Judge had reasonable suspicion to stop him. Though the tip did bring Officer Judge to the Graham Feed & Seed parking lot, where he indeed found a silver car in front of the then-closed business with no one else in its vicinity at 8:40 pm, and although Defendant did not stop for or acknowledge Officer Judge, we do not believe these circumstances, taken in their totality, were sufficient to support reasonable suspicion necessary to allow a lawful traffic stop. When coupled with the facts that (1) Defendant was in a parking lot that did “not have a ‘no trespassing’ sign on its premises”—making it lawful for Defendant to be there; (2) Defendant was not a white male as described in the tip; (3) Defendant’s car was possibly in motion when Officer Judge arrived in the parking lot; (4) Defendant had the constitutional freedom to avoid Officer Judge; and (5) Defendant did not commit any traffic violations or act irrationally prior to getting stopped, there exists insufficient findings that Defendant was committing, or about to commit, any criminal activity.

Concluding otherwise would give undue weight to, not only vague anonymous tips, but broad, simplistic descriptions of areas absent specific and articulable detail surrounding a suspect’s actions.

Reasonable suspicion supported the traffic stop. At the time of the stop it was very late at night; the defendant’s vehicle was idling in front of a closed business; the business and surrounding properties had experienced several break-ins; and the defendant pulled away when the officer approached the car. Considered together, this evidence provides an objective justification for stopping the defendant.

State v. Griffin, 366 N.C. 473 (Apr. 12, 2013)

The defendant’s act of stopping his vehicle in the middle of the roadway and turning away from a license checkpoint gave rise to reasonable suspicion for a vehicle stop. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress, finding the stop constitutional. In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals reversed on grounds that the checkpoint was unconstitutional. That court did not, however, comment on whether reasonable suspicion for the stop existed. The supreme court allowed the State’s petition for discretionary review to determine whether there was reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop of defendant’s vehicle and reversed. It reasoned:

Defendant approached a checkpoint marked with blue flashing lights. Once the patrol car lights became visible, defendant stopped in the middle of the road, even though he was not at an intersection, and appeared to attempt a three-point turn by beginning to turn left and continuing onto the shoulder. From the checkpoint [the officer] observed defendant’s actions and suspected defendant was attempting to evade the checkpoint. . . . It is clear that this Court and the Fourth Circuit have held that even a legal turn, when viewed in the totality of the circumstances, may give rise to reasonable suspicion. Given the place and manner of defendant’s turn in conjunction with his proximity to the checkpoint, we hold there was reasonable suspicion that defendant was violating the law; thus, the stop was constitutional. Therefore, because the [officer] had sufficient grounds to stop defendant‘s vehicle based on reasonable suspicion, it is unnecessary for this Court to address the constitutionality of the driver‘s license checkpoint.

 

State v. Kochuk, 366 N.C. 549 (June 13, 2013)

The court, per curiam and without an opinion, reversed the decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, State v. Kochuk, 223 N.C. App. 301 (2012), for the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion. An officer was on duty and traveling eastbound on Interstate 40, where there were three travel lanes. The officer was one to two car lengths behind the defendant’s vehicle in the middle lane. The defendant momentarily crossed the right dotted line once while in the middle lane. He then made a legal lane change to the right lane and later drove on the fog line twice. The officer stopped the vehicle, and the defendant was later charged with DWI. The dissenting opinion stated that this case is controlled by State v. Otto, 366 N.C. 134 (2012) (reasonable suspicion existed to support vehicle stop; unlike other cases in which weaving within a lane was held insufficient to support reasonable suspicion, weaving here was “constant and continual” over three-quarters of a mile; additionally, the defendant was stopped around 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night). The defendant was weaving within his own lane, and the vehicle stop occurred at 1:10 a.m. These two facts coupled together, under Otto’s totality of the circumstances analysis, constituted reasonable suspicion for the DWI stop.

State v. Otto, 366 N.C. 134 (June 14, 2012)

Reversing State v. Otto, 217 N.C. App. 79 (Nov. 15, 2011), the court held that there was reasonable suspicion for the stop. Around 11 pm, an officer observed a vehicle drive past. The officer turned behind the vehicle and immediately noticed that it was weaving within its own lane. The vehicle never left its lane, but was “constantly weaving from the center line to the fog line.” The vehicle appeared to be traveling at the posted speed limit. After watching the vehicle weave in its own lane for about ¾ of a mile, the officer stopped the vehicle. The defendant was issued a citation for impaired driving and was convicted. The court of appeals determined that the traffic stop was unreasonable because it was supported solely by the defendant’s weaving within her own lane. The supreme court disagreed, concluding that under the totality of the circumstances, there was reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. The court noted that unlike other cases in which weaving within a lane was held insufficient to support reasonable suspicion, the weaving here was “constant and continual” over ¾ of a mile. Additionally, the defendant was stopped around 11:00 pm on a Friday night.

In this DWI case, the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. The officer observed the defendant’s vehicle swerve right, cross the line marking the outside of his lane of travel and almost strike the curb. The court found that this evidence, along with “the pedestrian traffic along the sidewalks and in the roadway, the unusual hour defendant was driving, and his proximity to bars and nightclubs, supports the trial court’s conclusion that [the] Officer . . . had reasonable suspicion to believe defendant was driving while impaired.” 

In this DWI case, the court held that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. At 10:05 pm on a Wednesday night an officer noticed that the defendant’s high beams were on. The officer also observed the defendant weave once within his lane of travel. When pressed about whether he weaved out of his lane, the officer indicated that “just . . . the right side of his tires” crossed over into the right-hand lane of traffic going in the same direction. The State presented no evidence that the stop occurred in an area ocf high alcohol consumption or that the officer considered such a fact as a part of her decision to stop the defendant. The court characterized the case as follows: “[W]e find that the totality of the circumstances . . . present one instance of weaving, in which the right side of Defendant’s tires crossed into the right-hand lane, as well as two conceivable “plus” factors — the fact that Defendant was driving at 10:05 on a Wednesday evening and the fact that [the officer] believed Defendant’s bright lights were on before she initiated the stop.” The court first noted that the weaving in this case was not constant and continuous. It went on to conclude that driving at 10:05 pm on a Wednesday evening and that the officer believed that the defendant’s bright lights were on “are not sufficiently uncommon to constitute valid ‘plus’ factors” to justify the stop under a “weaving plus” analysis.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle where the defendant’s weaving in his own lane was sufficiently frequent and erratic to prompt evasive maneuvers from other drivers. Distinguishing cases holding that weaving within a lane, standing alone, is insufficient to support a stop, the court noted that here “the trial court did not find only that defendant was weaving in his lane, but rather that defendant's driving was 'like a ball bouncing in a small room'” and that “[t]he driving was so erratic that the officer observed other drivers -- in heavy  traffic -- taking evasive maneuvers to avoid defendant's car.” The court determined that none of the other cases involved the level of erratic driving and potential danger to other drivers that was involved in this case.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle after the officer observed the vehicle twice cross the center line of I-95 and pull back over the fog line.

Distinguishing State v. Fields, the court held that reasonable suspicion existed to support the stop. The defendant was not only weaving within his lane, but also was weaving across and outside the lanes of travel, and at one point ran off the road.

Neither an anonymous tip nor an officer’s observation of the vehicle weaning once in its lane provided reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle in this DWI case. At approximately 7:50 p.m., an officer responded to a dispatch concerning “a possible careless and reckless, D.W.I., headed towards the Holiday Inn intersection.” The vehicle was described as a burgundy Chevrolet pickup truck. The officer immediately arrived at the intersection and saw a burgundy Chevrolet pickup truck. After following the truck for about 1/10 of a mile and seeing the truck weave once in its lane once, the officer stopped the truck. Although the anonymous tip accurately described the vehicle and its location, it provided no way for officer to test its credibility. Neither the tip nor the officer’s observation, alone or together established reasonable suspicion to stop.

No reasonable suspicion existed for the stop. Around 4:00 p.m., an officer followed the defendant’s vehicle for about 1 1/2 miles. After the officer saw the defendant’s vehicle swerve to the white line on the right side of the traffic lane three times, the officer stopped the vehicle for impaired driving. The court noted that the officer did not observe the defendant violating any laws, such as driving above or below the speed limit, the hour of the stop was not unusual, and there was no evidence that the defendant was near any places to purchase alcohol. 

On appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 809 S.E.2d 340 (2018), the court per curiam vacated and remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of State v. Wilson, ___ N.C. ___, 821 S.E.2d 811 (2018). In the decision below the majority held, in relevant part, that where the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s suppression motion failed to resolve disputed issues of fact central to the court’s ability to conduct a meaningful appellate review, the case must be remanded for appropriate findings of fact. In its order denying the defendant’s suppression motion, the trial court concluded that, at the time defendant was asked for consent to search his car, he had not been seized. On appeal, the defendant challenged that conclusion, asserting that because the officers retained his driver’s license, a seizure occurred. It was undisputed that the law enforcement officers’ interactions with the defendant were not based upon suspicion of criminal activity. Thus, if a seizure occurred it was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The State argued that the trial court’s findings of fact fail to establish whether the officers retained the defendant’s license or returned it to him after examination. The Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the evidence was conflicting on this critical issue and remanding for appropriate findings of fact. As noted, the Supreme Court remanded for reconsideration in light of Wilson. In Wilson,a felon in possession of a firearm case, the Supreme Court held that Michigan v. Summers justifies a seizure of the defendant where he posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of a search.

State v. Wilson, 371 N.C. 920 (Dec. 21, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 698 (2017), in this felon in possession of a firearm case, the court held that Michigan v. Summers justifies a seizure of the defendant where he posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of a search and that the search and seizure of the defendant were supported by individualized suspicion. A SWAT team was sweeping a house so that the police could execute a search warrant. Several police officers were positioned around the house to create a perimeter securing the scene. The defendant penetrated the SWAT perimeter, stating that he was going to get his moped. In so doing, he passed Officer Christian, who was stationed at the perimeter near the street. The defendant then kept going, moving up the driveway and toward the house to be searched. Officer Ayers, who was stationed near the house, confronted the defendant. After a brief interaction, Officer Ayers searched the defendant based on his suspicion that the defendant was armed. Officer Ayers found a firearm in the defendant’s pocket. The defendant, who had previously been convicted of a felony, was arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He unsuccessfully moved to suppress at trial and was convicted. The Court of Appeals held that the search was invalid because the trial court’s order did not show that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion. The Supreme Court reversed holding “that the rule in Michigan v. Summers justifies the seizure here because defendant, who passed one officer, stated he was going to get his moped, and continued toward the premises being searched, posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of the search.” The court interpreted the Summers rule to mean that a warrant to search for contraband founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to detain occupants who are within the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched and who are present during the execution of a search warrant. Applying this rule, the court determined that “a person is an occupant for the purposes of the Summers rule if he poses a real threat to the safe and efficient execution of a search warrant.” (quotation omitted). Here, the defendant posed such a threat. It reasoned: “He approached the house being swept, announced his intent to retrieve his moped from the premises, and appeared to be armed. It was obvious that defendant posed a threat to the safe completion of the search.”

         Because the Summers rule only justifies detentions incident to the execution of search warrants, the court continued, considering whether the search of the defendant’s person was justified. On this issue the court held that “both the search and seizure of defendant were supported by individualized suspicion and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment.”

State v. Verkerk, 367 N.C. 483 (June 12, 2014)

Reversing the court of appeals in a DWI case where the defendant was initially stopped by a firefighter, the court determined that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress which challenged the firefighter’s authority to make the initial stop. After observing the defendant’s erratic driving and transmitting this information to the local police department, the firefighter stopped the defendant’s vehicle. After some conversation, the driver drove away. When police officers arrived on the scene, the firefighter indicated where the vehicle had gone. The officers located the defendant, investigated her condition and charged her with DWI. On appeal, the defendant argued that because the firefighter had no authority to stop her, evidence from the first stop was improperly obtained. However, the court determined that it need not consider the extent of the firefighter’s authority to conduct a traffic stop or even whether the encounter with him amounted to a “legal stop.” The court reasoned that the firefighter’s observations of the defendant’s driving, which were transmitted to the police before making the stop, established that the police officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. The court noted that this evidence was independent of any evidence derived from the firefighter’s stop. 

The defendant was speaking at an anti-abortion event outside an abortion clinic in Charlotte. He was using an amplified microphone and was sitting at the table where the amplification controls were located. Officers measured his amplified voice at more than 80 decibels and approached him to cite him for violating the city’s noise ordinance. The defendant refused to produce identification, so the officers arrested him and charged him with resisting, delaying, and obstructing a law enforcement officer as well as the noise ordinance violation. At a bench trial in superior court, a judge convicted the defendant of R/D/O and dismissed the noise ordinance violation because, although the judge concluded that the defendant had violated the ordinance, the city “had discretion to decide which enforcement penalties it would levy against a violator of the noise ordinance, but . . . failed to do so.” The judge sentenced the defendant to probation, one condition of which was that the defendant stay at least 1,500 feet away from the abortion clinic where the event took place. The defendant appealed. Among other issues: (1) The defendant’s conduct was covered by the ordinance, so the officers’ initial stop was valid. The ordinance applies, in part, to persons “operating . . . sound amplification equipment.” The defendant contended that simply speaking into a microphone does not amount to “operating” any “amplification equipment.” The court of appeals viewed that construction as “unduly narrow” and found that the “plain meaning” of the ordinance was that speaking into an amplified microphone, while sitting at a table with the amplification controls present, was covered. (2) The probation condition is reasonably related to the defendant’s rehabilitation as required by statute, in part because it reduces the likelihood that he will commit a similar offense again.

In a case in which the court determined that the defendant received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, the court considered whether there was reasonable suspicion for the vehicle stop and found there was none. Having found that appellate counsel’s performance was deficient, the court moved on to the prejudice prong of the ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The analysis required it to evaluate how it would have ruled on direct appeal with respect to the defendant’s claim that there was no reasonable suspicion for the stop. Here, the conclusion that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle was based solely on the following facts: officers saw the defendant and a woman exit a China Bus carrying small bags at the “same bus stop that a lot of heroin is being transported from New York to the Greensboro area” and while waiting for his ride at an adjacent gas station, the defendant briefly looked towards an officer’s unmarked vehicle and “shooed” that vehicle away, at which point the defendant’s ride pulled into the parking lot. These facts do not support a finding of reasonable suspicion, particularly where the defendant was entirely unknown to the officers.

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress drug evidence seized after a traffic stop where the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. Officers received a tip from a confidential informant regarding “suspicious” packages that the defendant had received from a local UPS store. The informant was an employee of the UPS store who had been trained to detect narcotics; the informant had successfully notified the police about packages later found to contain illegal drugs and these tips were used to secure a number of felony drug convictions. With respect to the incident in question, the informant advised the police that a man, later identified as the defendant, had arrived at the UPS store in a truck and retrieved packages with a Utah a return address when in fact the packages had been sent from Arizona. After receiving this tip, the police arrived at the store, observed the defendant driving away, and initiated a traffic stop. During the stop they conducted a canine sniff, which led to the discovery of drugs inside the packages. Holding that the motion to suppress should have been granted, the court noted that there is nothing illegal about receiving a package with a return address which differs from the actual shipping address; in fact there are number of innocent explanations for why this could have occurred. Although innocent factors, when considered together may give rise to reasonable suspicion, the court noted that it was unable to find any case where reasonable suspicion was based solely on a suspicious return address. Here, the trial court made no finding that the informant or the police had any prior experience with the defendant; the trial court made no finding that the origination city was known as a drug source locale; and the trial court made no finding that the packages were sealed suspiciously, had a suspicious weight based on their size, had hand written labels, or had a suspicious odor. 

(1) A stop of the defendant’s vehicle was justified by reasonable suspicion. While on patrol in the early morning, the officer saw the defendant walking down the street. Directly behind him was another male, who appeared to be dragging a drugged or intoxicated female. The defendant and the other male placed the female in the defendant’s vehicle. The two then entered the vehicle and left the scene. The officer was unsure whether the female was being kidnapped or was in danger. Given these circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity. (2) Additionally, and for reasons discussed in the opinion, the court held that the stop was justified under the community caretaking exception. 

In the course of rejecting the defendant’s ineffective assistance claim related to preserving a denial of a motion to suppress, the court held that no prejudice occurred because the trial court properly denied the motion. The officer received a report from an identified tipster that a window at a residence appeared to have been tampered with and the owner of the residence was incarcerated. After the officer confirmed that a window screen had been pushed aside and the window was open, he repeatedly knocked on the door. Initially there was no response. Finally, an individual inside asked, “Who’s there?” The officer responded, “It’s the police.” The individual indicated, “Okay,” came to the door and opened it. When the officer asked the person’s identity, the individual gave a very long, slow response, finally gave his name but either would not or could not provide any ID. When asked who owned the house, he gave no answer. Although the individual was asked repeatedly to keep his hands visible, he continued to put them in his pockets. These facts were sufficient to create reasonable suspicion that the defendant might have broken into the home and also justified the frisk. During the lawful frisk, the officer discovered and identified baggies of marijuana in the defendant’s sock by plain feel. 

The trial court did not err by concluding that the seizure was unsupported by reasonable suspicion. The officers observed the defendant walking down the sidewalk with a clear plastic cup in his hands filled with a clear liquid. The defendant entered his vehicle, remained in it for a period of time, and then exited his vehicle and began walking down the sidewalk, where he was stopped. The officers stopped and questioned the defendant because he was walking on the sidewalk with the cup and the officers wanted to know what was in the cup.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of his alleged impairment where the evidence was the fruit of an illegal stop. An officer who was surveying an area in the hope of locating robbery suspects saw the defendant pull off to the side of a highway in a wooded area. The officer heard yelling and car doors slamming. Shortly thereafter, the defendant accelerated rapidly past the officer, but not to a speed warranting a traffic violation. Thinking that the defendant may have been picking up the robbery suspects, the officer followed the defendant for almost a mile. Although he observed no traffic violations, the officer pulled over the defendant’s vehicle. The officer did not have any information regarding the direction in which the suspects fled, nor did he have a description of the getaway vehicle. The officer’s reason for pulling over the defendant’s vehicle did not amount to the reasonable, articulable suspicion necessary to warrant a Terry stop.

An officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. Around midnight, officers were conducting a traffic stop at Olde Waverly Place, a partially developed subdivision. While doing so, an officer noticed the defendant’s construction vehicle enter the subdivision and proceed to an undeveloped section. Although officers had been put on notice of copper thefts from subdivisions under construction in the county, no such thefts had been reported in Olde Waverly Place. When the defendant exited the subdivision 20-30 minutes later, his vehicle was stopped. The officer did not articulate any specific facts about the vehicle or how it was driven which would justify the stop; the fact that there had been numerous copper thefts in the county did not support the stop.

Reasonable suspicion existed for a stop. An assault victim reported to a responding officer that the perpetrator was a tall white male who left in a small dark car driven by a blonde, white female. The officer saw a small, light-colored vehicle travelling away from the scene; driver was a blonde female. The driver abruptly turned into a parking lot and drove quickly over rough pavement. When the officer approached, the defendant was leaning on the vehicle and appeared intoxicated. Although there was a passenger in the car, the officer could not determine if the passenger was male or female. The officer questioned the defendant, determined that she was not involved in the assault, but arrested her for impaired driving. The court held that although there was no information in the record about the victim’s identity, this was not an anonymous tip case; it was a face-to-face encounter with an officer that carried a higher indicia of reliability than an anonymous tip. Additionally, the officer’s actions were not based solely on the tip. The officer observed the defendant’s “hurried actions,” it appeared that the defendant was trying to avoid the officer, and the defendant was in the proximity of the crime scene. Even though the defendant’s vehicle did not match the description given by the victim, the totality of the circumstances supported a finding of reasonable suspicion. 

State v. Shaw, 238 N.C. App. 151 (Dec. 16, 2014)

When determining whether an officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle, the trial court properly considered statements made by other officers to the stopping officer that the defendant’s vehicle had weaved out of its lane of travel several times. Reasonable suspicion may properly be based on the collective knowledge of law enforcement officers.

Because an officer violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights by searching the curtilage of his home without a warrant, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The officer saw a vehicle with its doors open at the back of a 150-yard driveway leading to the defendant’s home. Concerned that the vehicle might be part of a break-in or home invasion, the officer drove down the driveway, ran the vehicle’s tags, checked—but did not knock—on the front door, checked the windows and doors of the home for signs of forced entry, “cleared” the sides of the house, and then went through a closed gate in a chain-link fence enclosing the home’s backyard and approached the storm door at the back of the house. As the officer approached the door, which was not visible from the street, he smelled marijuana, which led to the defendant’s arrest for drug charges. At the suppression hearing, the State relied on two exceptions to the warrant requirement to justify the officer’s search of the curtilage: the knock and talk doctrine and the community caretaker doctrine. The court found however that neither exception applies. First, the officer did more than nearly knock and talk. Specifically, he ran a license plate not visible from the street, walked around the house examining windows and searching for signs of a break-in, and went first to the front door without knocking and then to a rear door not visible from the street and located behind a closed gate. “These actions went beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held are the permissible actions during a knock and talk.” Likewise, the community caretaker doctrine does not support the officer’s action. “The presence of a vehicle in one’s driveway with its doors open is not the sort of emergency that justifies the community caretaker exception.” The court also noted that because the fourth amendment’s protections “are at their very strongest within one’s home,” the public need justifying the community caretaker exception “must be particularly strong to justify a warrantless search of a home.”

(1) A stop of the defendant’s vehicle was justified by reasonable suspicion. While on patrol in the early morning, the officer saw the defendant walking down the street. Directly behind him was another male, who appeared to be dragging a drugged or intoxicated female. The defendant and the other male placed the female in the defendant’s vehicle. The two then entered the vehicle and left the scene. The officer was unsure whether the female was being kidnapped or was in danger. Given these circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity. (2) Additionally, and for reasons discussed in the opinion, the court held that the stop was justified under the community caretaking exception. 

In a case where the State conceded that the officer had neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant, the court decided an issue of first impression and held that the officer’s seizure of the defendant was justified by the “community caretaking” doctrine. The officer stopped the defendant to see if she and her vehicle were “okay” after he saw her hit an animal on a roadway. Her driving did not give rise to any suspicion of impairment. During the stop the officer determined the defendant was impaired and she was arrested for DWI. The court noted that in adopting the community caretaking exception, “we must apply a test that strikes a proper balance between the public’s interest in having officers help citizens when needed and the individual’s interest in being free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.” It went on adopt the following test for application of the doctrine:

[T]he State has the burden of proving that: (1) a search or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment has occurred; (2) if so, that under the totality of the circumstances an objectively reasonable basis for a community caretaking function is shown; and (3) if so, that the public need or interest outweighs the intrusion upon the privacy of the individual.

After further fleshing out the test, the court applied it and found that the stop at issue fell within the community caretaking exception.

In this DWI case, the court held that a traffic checkpoint had a valid programmatic purpose and that G.S. 20-16.3A is constitutional.  Troopers testified that the primary purpose of the checkpoint, which was conducted with prior approval from a supervisor, with an established plan, and without narcotics officers or drug dogs, was to check for driver’s licenses and evidence of impairment.  The defendant’s primary challenge to the programmatic purpose of the checkpoint was that its location changed throughout the evening.  Given that changing the location was planned prior to establishing the checkpoint and was authorized by the supervisor, the trial court properly determined that the checkpoint had a valid programmatic purpose.  The court went on to hold G.S. 20-16.3A constitutional, specifically finding that the statute does not violate the right to free travel and does not impermissibly foreclose equal protection challenges arising from the placement of checkpoints.

The defendant was charged with driving while impaired after being stopped at a checkpoint on Highway 27 in Harnett County.  She moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that the checkpoint violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant pled guilty preserving her right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress. She then appealed.

The Court of Appeals, over a dissent, determined that the trial court did not adequately weigh the factors necessary to judge the reasonableness and hence, the constitutionality, of the checkpoint.  Those factors are: (1) the gravity of the public concern served by the seizure; (2) the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest; and (3) the severity of the interference with individual liberty. If, on balance, these factors weigh in favor of the public interest, the checkpoint is reasonable and therefore constitutional.

As for the first factor, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court failed to make findings that assessed the importance of this particular checkpoint stop to the public. While the trial court made ample findings, in the Court’s view, that the checkpoint’s primary purpose (detecting violations of the state’s motor vehicle laws) was lawful, those findings did not substitute for findings that the checkpoint furthered the public concern.

As for the second factor, the Court of Appeals noted that while the trial court made pertinent findings regarding the location of the checkpoint, the time it occurred and its duration, it failed to consider other relevant factors such as whether it “was set up on a whim,” had a predetermined start and end time, why the time was chosen, and why its location was chosen (beyond the finding that it was a major thoroughfare that was heavily traveled at times).

The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court thoroughly considered the final factor; nevertheless, the deficiencies related to the findings on the first two factors prevented it from meaningfully applying the three-prong test. 

Finally, the appellate court declined to consider whether the trial court erred in concluding that the checkpoint complied with statutory requirements as that issue was not preserved for review.

Judge Stroud dissented from the majority’s resolution of the constitutional issue, expressing her view that the trial court made findings of fact sufficient to permit appellate review and that it correctly addressed the three prongs of the balancing test. The dissent would have held that the trial court’s findings supported the conclusion that the checkpoint was reasonable.

In this impaired driving case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress, which had asserted that a checkpoint stop violated his constitutional rights. When considering a constitutional challenge to a checkpoint, a two-part inquiry applies: the court must first determine the primary programmatic purpose of the checkpoint; if a legitimate primary programmatic purpose is found the court must judge its reasonableness. The defendant did not raise an issue about whether the checkpoint had a proper purpose. The court noted when determining reasonableness, it must weigh the public’s interest in the checkpoint against the individual’s fourth amendment privacy interest. Applying the Brown v. Texas three-part test (gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure; the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest; and the severity of the interference with individual liberty) to this balancing inquiry, the court held that the trial court’s findings of fact did not permit the judge to meaningfully weigh the considerations required under the second and third prongs of the test. This constituted plain error.

Although the trial court properly found that the checkpoint had a legitimate proper purpose of checking for driver’s license and vehicle registration violations, the trial court failed to adequately determine the checkpoint’s reasonableness. The court held that the trial court’s “bare conclusion” on reasonableness was insufficient and vacated and remanded for appropriate findings as to reasonableness.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a vehicle checkpoint. The checkpoint was conducted for a legitimate primary purpose of checking all passing drivers for DWI violations and was reasonable.

In a DWI case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the checkpoint at issue was unconstitutional. The court first found that the checkpoint had a legitimate primary programmatic purpose, checking for potential driving violations. Next, it found that the checkpoint was reasonable.

The trial court did not err by granting the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a vehicle checkpoint. Specifically, the trial court did not err by concluding that a lack of a written policy in full force and effect at the time of the defendant’s stop at the checkpoint constituted a substantial violation of G.S. 20-16.3A (requiring a written policy providing guidelines for checkpoints). The court also rejected the State’s argument that a substantial violation of G.S. 20-16.3A could not support suppression; the State had argued that evidence only can be suppressed if there is a Constitutional violation or a substantial violation of Chapter 15A.

The trial court erred by granting the defendant's motion to suppress on grounds that a checkpoint was unlawful under G.S. 20-16.3A. Because the defendant did not actually stop at the checkpoint, its invalidity was irrelevant to whether an officer had sufficient reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant once he attempted to evade the checkpoint. The court vacated the order granting the motion to suppress and remanded.

The trial court did not err by concluding that the vehicle checkpoint passed constitutional muster. The trial court properly concluded that the primary programmatic purpose of the checkpoint was “the detection of drivers operating a motor vehicle while impaired and that the ‘procedure was not merely to further general crime control’” and that this primary programmatic purpose was constitutionally permissible. Applying the three-pronged test of Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50 (1979), the trial court properly determined that the checkpoint was reasonable.

The vehicle checkpoint did not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. The primary programmatic purpose of the checkpoint—to determine if drivers were complying with drivers license laws and to deter citizens from violating these laws—was a lawful one. Additionally, the checkpoint itself was reasonable, based on the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advanced the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty. The court also held that the officer had reasonable, articulable suspicion to continue to detain the 18-year-old defendant after he produced a valid license and registration and thus satisfied the primary purpose of the vehicle checkpoint. Specifically, when the officer approached the car, he saw an aluminum can between the driver’s and passenger’s seat, and the passenger was attempting to conceal the can. When the officer asked what was in the can, the defendant raised it, revealing a beer can.

Declining to consider the defendant’s challenge to the constitutionality of a vehicle checkpoint where officers did not stop the defendant’s vehicle as a part of the checkpoint but rather approached it after the defendant parked it on the street about 100-200 feet from the checkpoint.

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