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., 10/21/2021
E.g., 10/21/2021

The trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress because the officers did not lawfully have a right of access to the contraband seized. The Court of Appeals considered the following factors to distinguish a knock and talk from a search: “how law enforcement approach[ed] the home, the hour at which they did so, and whether there were any indications that the occupant of the home welcomed uninvited guests on his or her property.” Slip op. at 13. In short, the Court asks whether the behavior of law enforcement is in line with something a “reasonably respectful citizen” (or a Girl Scout) would do. Id. at 12, 16.

After receiving an anonymous drug complaint and obtaining information that the defendant was a felon in possession of a firearm, Gaston County law enforcement decided to conduct a knock and talk at the defendant’s residence to investigate. After considering the factors mentioned above, the Court held that the officers did not act like reasonable, respectful citizens. The officers here carried out the knock and talk at night, a time when members of society do not expect to be called upon at their homes unexpectedly and a practice not customary for the officers. Additionally, the officers parked their vehicles in an adjacent lot, approached the defendant’s home in the dark, dressed in dark clothing, and cut through trees, rather than parking in the driveway or street and proceeding towards the home along the paved path. The officers also passed directly by a “plainly visible no trespassing sign” which indicated the defendant’s yard was not open to public visitors. Id. at 20. Based on these factors, the Court of Appeals determined that the conduct of the officers implicated the Fourth Amendment because they “strayed beyond the bounds of a knock and talk; therefore, the seizure of evidence based on their trespassory invasion cannot be justified under the plain view doctrine.”  The motion to suppress therefore should have been granted.

Justice Berger dissented and would have affirmed the trial court’s ruling on the basis that the officers acted within the scope of their implied license to approach the defendant’s home.

After discovering stolen property at a home across the street, officers approached the front door of the defendant’s residence after being informed by a witness that the person who stole the property was at the residence. No one answered the knock, and officers observed a large spiderweb in the door frame. After knocking several minutes, an officer observed a window curtain inside the home move. An officer went to the back of the home. No one answered the officer at the back door either, despite the officer again knocking for several minutes. That officer then left the back door and approached the left front corner of the home. There, the officer smelled marijuana. Another officer confirmed the smell, and they observed a fan loudly blowing from the crawl space area of the home. The odor of marijuana was emanating from the fan and an officer looked between the fan slats, where he observed marijuana plants. A search warrant was obtained on this basis, and the defendant was charged with trafficking marijuana and other drug offenses. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding that the smell and sight of the marijuana plants were in plain view. The court of appeals unanimously reversed.  Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013), recognizes the importance of the home in the Fourth Amendment context and limits the authority of officers conducting a knock and talk. Jardines found a search had occurred when officers conducting a knock and talk used a drug sniffing dog on the suspect’s front porch, and that such action exceeded the permissible boundaries of a knock and talk. Even though no police dog was present here, “[t]he detectives were not permitted to roam the property searching for something or someone after attempting a failed ‘knock and talk’. Without a warrant, they could only ‘approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.” (citing Jardines). North Carolina applies the home protections to the curtilage of the property, and officers here exceeded their authority by moving about the curtilage of the property without a warrant. Once the knocks at the front door went unanswered, the officers should have left. The court discounted the State’s argument that the lack of a “no trespassing” sign on the defendant’s property meant that the officers could be present in and around the yard of the home. In the words of the court: 

While the evidence of a posted no trespassing sign may be evidence of a lack of consent, nothing . . . supports the State’s attempted expansion of the argument that the lack of such a sign is tantamount to an invitation for someone to enter and linger in the curtilage of the residence.

Because the officers here only smelled the marijuana after leaving the front porch and lingering in the curtilage, officers were not in a position they could lawfully be, and the plain view exception to the Fourth Amendment did not apply. Even if officers were lawfully present in the yard, the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his crawl space area, and officers violated that by looking through the fan slats. The denial of the motion to suppress was therefore reversed.

After discovering stolen property at a home across the street, officers approached the front door of the defendant’s residence after being informed by a witness that the person who stole the property was at the residence. No one answered the knock, and officers observed a large spiderweb in the door frame. After knocking several minutes, an officer observed a window curtain inside the home move. An officer went to the back of the home. No one answered the officer at the back door either, despite the officer again knocking for several minutes. That officer then left the back door and approached the left front corner of the home. There, the officer smelled marijuana. Another officer confirmed the smell, and they observed a fan loudly blowing from the crawl space area of the home. The odor of marijuana was emanating from the fan and an officer looked between the fan slats, where he observed marijuana plants. A search warrant was obtained on this basis, and the defendant was charged with trafficking marijuana and other drug offenses. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding that the smell and sight of the marijuana plants were in plain view. The court of appeals unanimously reversed.  Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013), recognizes the importance of the home in the Fourth Amendment context and limits the authority of officers conducting a knock and talk. Jardines found a search had occurred when officers conducting a knock and talk used a drug sniffing dog on the suspect’s front porch, and that such action exceeded the permissible boundaries of a knock and talk. Even though no police dog was present here, “[t]he detectives were not permitted to roam the property searching for something or someone after attempting a failed ‘knock and talk’. Without a warrant, they could only ‘approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.” (citing Jardines). North Carolina applies the home protections to the curtilage of the property, and officers here exceeded their authority by moving about the curtilage of the property without a warrant. Once the knocks at the front door went unanswered, the officers should have left. The court discounted the State’s argument that the lack of a “no trespassing” sign on the defendant’s property meant that the officers could be present in and around the yard of the home. In the words of the court: 

While the evidence of a posted no trespassing sign may be evidence of a lack of consent, nothing . . . supports the State’s attempted expansion of the argument that the lack of such a sign is tantamount to an invitation for someone to enter and linger in the curtilage of the residence.

Because the officers here only smelled the marijuana after leaving the front porch and lingering in the curtilage, officers were not in a position they could lawfully be, and the plain view exception to the Fourth Amendment did not apply. Even if officers were lawfully present in the yard, the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his crawl space area, and officers violated that by looking through the fan slats. The denial of the motion to suppress was therefore reversed.

In this drug case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. After receiving a tip that the defendant was growing marijuana at his home, officers drove there for a knock and talk. They pulled into the driveway and parked in front of the defendant’s car, which was parked at the far end of the driveway, beside the home. The garage was located immediately to the left of the driveway. An officer went to the front door to knock, while two detectives remained by the garage. A strong odor of marijuana was coming from the garage area. On the defendant’s front door was a sign reading “inquiries” with his phone number, and a second sign reading “warning” with a citation to several statutes. As soon as the defendant opened the front door, an officer smelled marijuana. The officer decided to maintain the residence pending issuance of a search warrant. After the warrant was obtained, a search revealed drugs and drug paraphernalia.

            The court began by rejecting the defendant’s argument that the officers engaged in an unconstitutional search and seizure by being present in his driveway and lingering by his garage. Officers conducting a knock and talk can lawfully approach a home so long as they remain within the permissible scope afforded by the knock and talk. Here, given the configuration of the property any private citizen wishing to knock on the defendant’s front door would drive into the driveway, get out, walk between the car and the path so as to stand next to the garage, and continue on the path to the front porch. Therefore, the officers’ conduct, in pulling into the driveway by the garage, getting out of their car, and standing between the car and the garage, was permitted. Additionally the officers were allowed to linger by the garage while their colleague approached the front door. Thus, “the officers’ lingering by the garage was justified and did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment.”

            The court went hold that by failing to raise the issue at the trial level, the defendant failed to preserve his argument that he revoked the officers’ implied license through his signage and that by ignoring this written revocation, the officers of violated the fourth amendment.

The knock and talk conducted by officers in this drug case violated the fourth amendment. After a confidential informant notified officers that he had purchased heroin from a person at an apartment located at 1013 Simmons Street, officers conducted three controlled drug buys at the apartment. On all three occasions the purchases were made at the back door of the apartment from an individual named Meager, who did not live there. Officers then obtained a warrant for Meager’s arrest and approached the apartment to serve him. Upon arrival, they immediately walked down the driveway that led to the back of the apartment and knocked on the door. Events then transpired which lead to, among other things, a pat down of the defendant and the discovery of controlled substances on the defendant’s person. The defendant was arrested and charged with drug offenses. He filed a motion to suppress which was denied. He pled guilty, reserving his right to appeal. On appeal, the court addressed the defendant’s argument that the knock and talk was unlawful. It began by noting that officers may approach the front door and conduct a knock and talk without implicating the fourth amendment. However, it also noted that knock and talks occurring at a home’s back door have been held to be unconstitutional. It held: to pass constitutional muster the officers were required to conduct the knock and talk by going to the front door, which they did not do. Rather than using the paved walkway that led directly to the unobstructed front door, they walked along the gravel driveway into the backyard to knock on the back door, which was not visible from the street. This was unreasonable. The court rejected the trial court’s determination that the officers had an implied license to approach the back door because the confidential informant had purchased drugs there. The court stated: “the fact that the resident of a home may choose to allow certain individuals to use a back or side door does not mean that similar permission is deemed to have been given generally to members of the public.” The court recognized that “unusual circumstances in some cases may allow officers to lawfully approach a door of the residence other than the front door in order to conduct a knock and talk.” However no such unusual circumstances were presented in this case and the knock and talk was unconstitutional.

In this drug case, an officer lawfully approached the front of the defendant’s home and obtained information that was later used to procure a search warrant. Specifically, he heard a generator and noticed condensation and mold, factors which in his experience and training were consistent with the conditions of the home set up to grow marijuana. “It is well-established that an officer may approach the front door of a home, and if he is able to observe conditions from that position which indicate illegal activity, it is completely proper for him to act upon that information.”

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