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., 10/03/2022
E.g., 10/03/2022

Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981) (officers executing a search warrant may detain occupants on the premises while the search is conducted), does not justify the detention of occupants beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises covered by a search warrant. In this case, the defendant left the premises before the search began and officers waited to detain him until he had driven about one mile away. The Court reasoned that none of the rationales supporting the Summers decision—officer safety, facilitating the completion of the search, and preventing flight—apply with the same or similar force to the detention of recent occupants beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises. It further concluded that “[a]ny of the individual interests is also insufficient, on its own, to justify an expansion of the rule in Summers to permit the detention of a former occupant, wherever he may be found away from the scene of the search.” It stated: “The categorical authority to detain incident to the execution of a search warrant must be limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched.” The Court continued, noting that Summers also relied on the limited intrusion on personal liberty involved with detaining occupants incident to the execution of a search warrant. It concluded that where officers arrest an individual away from his or her home, there is an additional level of intrusiveness. The Court declined to precisely define the term “immediate vicinity,” leaving it to the lower courts to make this determination based on “the lawful limits of the premises, whether the occupant was within the line of sight of his dwelling, the ease of reentry from the occupant’s location, and other relevant factors.”

In this Craven County case, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded a Court of Appeals majority opinion overturning the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress and vacating defendant’s convictions. The Supreme Court determined that defendant was lawfully detained and searched during the execution of a search warrant even though he was not located on the premises identified by the warrant.

Defendant was the subject of a narcotics investigation and sold heroin to a confidential informant during a controlled buy arranged by the Craven County Sheriff’s Office. Officers obtained a search warrant for the premises used by the defendant during the controlled buy of narcotics, but not for a search of defendant’s person. When executing the search warrant, an officer observed defendant at a neighboring property owned by defendant’s grandfather. The officer detained the defendant, saw what appeared to be a baggie visible in the pocket of defendant’s pants, and patted down the defendant, ultimately finding a baggie containing narcotics. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained through that search.

The Supreme Court found that all findings of fact challenged by defendant were supported by competent evidence in the record. The Court then examined whether the search of defendant and warrantless seizure of the narcotics were lawful. Based upon State v. Wilson, 371 N.C. 920 (2018), the Court held that a search warrant carries with it the authority for law enforcement to detain occupants on or in the vicinity of the premises being searched, and defendant was just 60 yards from the premises and close enough to pose a safety threat. The frisk of defendant was justified by the risk that he would be carrying a firearm, given the connection between guns and drug activity. After determining the law enforcement officer had authority to detain and frisk defendant, the Court held that the “plain view” and “plain feel” doctrines supported the warrantless seizure of the baggie found in defendant’s pocket, which was later determined to be a heroin/fentanyl mixture. This analysis determined that the search of defendant was constitutional and the seizure of the baggie of narcotics was permitted, supporting the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress.

Justice Barringer concurred in part and concurred in the result, but felt that the reasonable suspicion standard under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), would have supported the search and seizure, not necessitating the full analysis the majority utilized.

Justice Earls, joined by Justices Hudson and Morgan, dissented and took issue with the majority’s characterization of defendant as an “occupant” while not located on the premises, ultimately disagreeing with the majority’s interpretation of the Wilson analysis as well as the concurrence’s Terry justification.

The defendant was cleaning his car in the street adjacent to his girlfriend’s apartment when several law enforcement officers arrived to execute a search warrant for the apartment. Before entering the apartment, a law enforcement officer approached the defendant and asked for his driver’s license.  Officers remained outside with the defendant while the search warrant was executed.  Defendant later consented to a search of his vehicle, where officers found marijuana, paraphernalia, and a firearm.  He was charged with drug crimes and possession of firearm by a felon.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence seized from the search of his vehicle on the basis that the officers obtained the evidence as a result of an unlawful, suspicionless seizure.  The court of appeals in State v. Thompson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 809 S.E.2d 340 (2018) (Thompson I) determined, over a dissent, that the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s suppression motion did not resolve a pivotal issue of fact. Thus, the court vacated the judgment and remanded for further findings.  

The North Carolina Supreme Court vacated Thompson I and remanded for reconsideration in light of State v. Wilson, 371 N.C. 920 (2018). Wilson addressed the authority of law enforcement officers to detain a person who arrives on the scene while a search warrant is being executed.  Wilson held that pursuant to the rule announced by the United States Supreme Court in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), a search warrant authorizes the detention of (1) occupants, (2) who are within the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched, and (3) who are presented during the execution of a search warrant for the premises. An occupant is a person who poses a real threat to the safe and efficient execution of a search warrant.

On remand, and again over a dissent, the court of appeals held that the defendant was not an occupant of the searched premises. The court noted that he remained inside his vehicle and did not attempt to approach the apartment or otherwise interfere with the search. Thus, the court found no circumstances to indicate that the defendant posed a threat to the safe and efficient execution of the search. The court therefore again vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court for resolution of material factual disputes, pursuant to Thompson I.

The dissent would have held that the defendant was an occupant of the premises as he was within the line of sight of the apartment being searched and was a threat to enter or attempt to enter the premises.

Officers did not unreasonably seize the defendant in connection with execution of the search warrant. The defendant asserted that his seizure was unreasonable because it occurred two miles away from the residence in question. The court noted in part that the warrant authorized a search of both the premises and the defendant.

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