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.


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E.g., 04/21/2024
E.g., 04/21/2024

In this Rowan County case, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded an unpublished Court of Appeals decision that officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop defendant’s vehicle, concluding the officers had independent reasonable suspicion to stop defendant. 

In June of 2018, defendant drove towards traffic checkpoint operated by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office; as defendant neared the checkpoint, his passenger-side wheels left the roadway and went into the grass. Based on the erratic driving along with defendant’s demeanor and glassy eyes, the deputies searched his vehicle, discovering cocaine, buprenorphine, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. Defendant moved to suppress the search, and the trial court concluded that the sheriff’s office did not have a valid primary programmatic purpose for the checkpoint, granting the motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals agreed, affirming the order in an unpublished opinion issued July 20, 2021. The opinion did not address whether the officers had independent reasonable suspicion to stop defendant, although a concurrence to the opinion suggested the opinion should have considered that issue. 

Taking up the unpublished opinion on discretionary review, the Supreme Court explained that reasonable suspicion supported the deputies’ decision to stop defendant. The record showed “three officers testified that they observed defendant’s vehicle veer out of its lane and ‘basically run off the road.’” Slip Op. at 4-5. The Court further noted that no testimony “support[ed] the inference that placement of the checkpoint contributed to defendant’s failure to maintain lane control.” Id. at 5. Because the officers had independent reasonable suspicion to stop defendant, they did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights, and the Court did not need to reach the issue of the traffic checkpoint’s constitutionality. The Court disavowed the Court of Appeals’ “broad statements on traffic stop constitutionality” and remanded to the trial court for appropriate proceedings. Id. at 6. 

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. 

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