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., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021
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.

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