Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


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.


Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 07/25/2024
E.g., 07/25/2024

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).

State v. Carver, 373 N.C. 453 (Feb. 28, 2020)

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.

In this Mecklenburg County case, defendant appealed denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that (1) police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him, and (2) he did not consent to the search of his backpack. The Court of Appeals found reasonable suspicion supported the stop but that defendant did not consent to the search, and reversed the denial of defendant’s motion.

In January of 2020, defendant, a homeless man, was walking with a bicycle on a dirt path in Charlotte when two officers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department approached him. The officers had previously received a tip that a person matching defendant’s description and riding a bike was carrying an illegal firearm. When the officers approached defendant, they gave conflicting reasons for the approach, with one officer referencing trespass and the other officer noting it was a street-level drug sales area. Defendant consented to a pat-down of his person and removed his backpack. At that point, one officer asked for permission to search the backpack; defendant initially consented to the search, but quickly told officers he did not want them to search the backpack. After an exchange with the officers where defendant told them he was cold and scared of the police, defendant eventually opened the backpack and allowed a search, resulting in the officers finding a stolen firearm. The officers arrested defendant, and in the search incident to arrest, discovered cocaine and marijuana in his pockets. At trial, defendant objected to admission of the results of the search, and the trial court denied the motion, finding that the initial contact was voluntary and defendant consented to the search of his backpack. Defendant entered an Alford plea and appealed. When defendant’s appeal was first taken up by the Court of Appeals, the court remanded for further findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding law enforcement’s belief that defendant was trespassing. The trial court entered an amended order denying the motion with new findings of fact and conclusions of law, which defendant again appealed. 

Taking up defendant’s arguments in the current opinion, the Court of Appeals first looked to the findings of fact and conclusions of law challenged by defendant, finding that three findings related to trespassing and one related to the return of defendant’s identification prior to the search were not supported by evidence in the record. After striking four findings of fact, the court turned to (1) the reasonable suspicion analysis, determining that “the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop, question, and perform a protective search of [defendant] based on the informant’s tip.” Slip Op. at 12. The court noted that evidence in the record provided adequate justification for the reasonable suspicion that defendant was armed, justifying a protective search after stopping him. 

Turning to (2), the court found that defendant did not voluntarily consent to the search of his backpack. Explaining the standard for voluntary consent, the court explained that “[t]o be voluntary, consent must be free from coercion, express or implied,” and when making this determination “the court must consider the possibility of subtly coercive questions from those with authority, as well as the possibly vulnerable subjective state of the person who consents.” Id. at 17-18. Here, the officers asked defendant “five times within a period of about one and a half minutes” for permission, even though defendant continued to refuse. Id. at 18. The court went on to explain that:

The combination of multiple uniformed police officers surrounding an older homeless man and making repeated requests to search his backpack on a cold, dark night after he repeatedly asserted his right not to be searched leads us to the conclusion that [defendant’s] consent was the result of coercion and duress and therefore was not freely given.

Id. at 18-19. 

After establishing the officers did not have consent, the court also established that they did not have probable cause to search the backpack based on the tip. The court explained that while the tip was sufficient to create reasonable suspicion for a frisk of defendant, it did not create sufficient probable cause for a search of the backpack. The informant “did not provide any basis for his knowledge about the criminal activity,” and “did not predict any future behavior,” elements that would have demonstrated sufficient reliability for probable cause. Id. at 21. Because the officers did not have consent or probable cause to conduct the search, the court reversed the denial of the motion to dismiss and vacated defendant’s Alford plea. 


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.

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.

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.

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.

Show Table of Contents