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

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E. 2d 719 (2018) (discussed in an earlier blog post by Shea Denning, https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/state-v-terrell-private-search-doctrine/), the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision that an officer’s warrantless search of a defendant’s USB drive following a prior search by a private individual violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. While examining a thumb drive belonging to the defendant, the defendant’s girlfriend saw an image of her 9-year-old granddaughter sleeping, exposed from the waist up. Believing the image was inappropriate, the defendant’s girlfriend contacted the sheriff’s office and gave them the thumb drive. Later, a detective conducted a warrantless search of the thumb drive to locate the image in question, during which he discovered other images of what he believed to be child pornography before he found the photograph of the granddaughter. At that point the detective applied for and obtained a warrant to search the contents of the thumb drive for “contraband images of child pornography and evidence of additional victims and crimes.” The initial warrant application relied only on information from the defendant’s girlfriend, but after the State Bureau of Investigation requested additional information, the detective included information about the images he found in his initial search of the USB drive. The SBI’s forensic examination turned up 12 images, ten of which had been deleted and archived in a way that would not have been viewable without special forensic capabilities. After he was charged with multiple sexual exploitation of a minor and peeping crimes, the defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress all of the evidence obtained as a result of the detective’s warrantless search. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the girlfriend’s private viewing of the images frustrated the defendant’s expectation of privacy in them, and that the detective’s subsequent search therefore did not violate the Fourth Amendment. After his trial and conviction, the defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the girlfriend’s opening of the USB drive and viewing some of its contents did not frustrate the defendant’s privacy interest in the entire contents of the device. To the contrary, digital devices can retain massive amounts of information, organized into files that are essentially containers within containers. Because the trial court did not make findings establishing the precise scope of the girlfriend’s search, it likewise could not find that the detective had the level of “virtual certainty” contemplated by United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109 (1984), that the device contained nothing else of significance, or that a subsequent search would not tell him anything more than he already had been told. The search therefore was not permissible under the private-search doctrine. The court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of whether the warrant would have been supported by probable cause without the evidence obtained through the unlawful search.

Justice Newby dissented, writing that the majority’s application of the virtual certainty test needlessly eliminates the private-search doctrine for electronic storage devices unless the private searcher opens every file on the device.

The court reversed and remanded for further findings of fact regarding the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a search of the digital contents of a GPS device found on the defendant’s person which, as a result of the search, was determined to have been stolen. The court held that under Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the search was not justified as a search incident to arrest. As to whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the GPS device, the court held that a defendant may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in a stolen item if he acquired it innocently and does not know that the item was stolen. Here, evidence at the suppression hearing would allow the trial court to conclude that defendant had a legitimate possessory interest in the GPS. However, because the trial court failed to make a factual determination regarding whether the defendant innocently purchased the GPS device, the court reversed and remanded for further findings of fact, providing additional guidance for the trial court in its decision.

State v. Troy, 198 N.C. App. 396 (July 21, 2009)

The defendant gave implied consent to the recording of three-way telephone calls in which he participated while in an out-of-state detention center. Although the defendant did not receive a recorded message when the three-way calls were made informing him that the calls were being monitored and recorded, he was so informed when he placed two other calls days before the three-way calls at issue were made.

Officers had implied consent to search a residence occupied by the defendant and his mother. After the defendant’s mother told the officers that the defendant had a gun in the residence, the defendant confirmed that to be true and told the officers where it was located. The defendant and his mother gave consent by their words and actions for the officers to enter the residence and seize the weapon.

Police officers lawfully were present in a common hallway outside of the defendant’s individual storage unit. The hallway was open to those with an access code and invited guests, the manager previously had given the police department its own access code to the facility, and facility manager gave the officers permission on the day in question to access the common area with a drug dog, which subsequently alerted on the defendant’s unit.

Consent to search a home by an abused woman who lived there was valid when the consent was given after her male partner, who objected, was arrested and removed from the premises by the police. Cases firmly establish that police officers may search jointly occupied premises if one of the occupants consents. In Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U. S. 103 (2006), the Court recognized a narrow exception to this rule, holding that the consent of one occupant is insufficient when another occupant is present and objects to the search. In this case, the Court held that Randolph does not apply when the objecting occupant is absent when another occupant consents. The Court emphasized that Randolph applies only when the objecting occupant is physically present. Here, the defendant was not present when the consent was given. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that Randolph controls because his absence should not matter since he was absent only because the police had taken him away. It also rejected his argument that it was sufficient that he objected to the search while he was still present. Such an objection, the defendant argued should remain in effect until the objecting party no longer wishes to keep the police out of his home. The Court determined both arguments to be unsound.

A search of the defendant’s living area, which was connected to his wife’s store, was valid where his wife consented to the ALE officers’ request to search the living area.

An officer patrolling the parking area of a park just before closing discovered the defendant asleep in her car. Based on the defendant’s positioning, he was concerned there might be a medical emergency, so he knocked on the window of her car. After he knocked several times, the defendant sat up, looked at him, and opened the driver’s side door. She said she was camping in the park with her son and decided to take a nap in her car. Her speech was slurred, her eyes were bloodshot, and she was unsteady on her feet when she got out of her car. The officer also saw track marks on her arms that were consistent with heroin use. The officer asked for the defendant’s license, and, while holding it, asked for consent to search the defendant’s car and her purse, which was sitting in the front seat of the car. 

The State and defendant presented conflicting evidence about what happened next. The officer said that defendant responded, “Sure.” The defendant said the officer asked three times for permission to search her car and each time she said, “I would really rather you not.” She said she only consented to the search after the officer threatened to arrest her.

The officer searched the defendant’s purse and found several syringes in its top section. He then asked the defendant whether she was carrying anything illegal. The defendant asked whether she was going to jail. The officer told her that he would not take her to jail if she cooperated. The defendant told him she had a syringe containing heroin in the side compartment of her purse. The officer found the syringe there, along with a burnt spoon and two grams of heroin.

The defendant was not arrested that evening, but subsequently was indicted for possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. She filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search, which the trial court denied. She pled guilty, preserving her right to appeal. On appeal, she argued that she did not voluntarily consent to the search of her purse, and that the trial court’s findings on that issue were insufficient. The court of appeals disagreed. Rejecting the defendant’s argument to the contrary, the court explained that the question of whether consent to search was voluntary is one of fact, not law.

The trial court determined that the defendant freely gave consent to the officer to search her vehicle and her purse. This finding was supported by the officer’s testimony at the suppression hearing that he asked defendant for consent to search her car and purse, and she said, “Sure.” The court of appeals concluded, therefore, that the trial court’s finding that the defendant’s consent was “freely given” was supported by competent evidence and was binding on appeal. Though the trial court failed to make a specific finding that the search did not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, the appellate court reached that conclusion based on the finding of fact that the defendant voluntarily consented to the search. Thus, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress heroin discovered following a search of the defendant during a traffic stop. A tactical narcotics officer noticed a Lincoln sedan weaving in and out of heavy traffic at high speeds, nearly causing multiple collisions. The vehicle pulled into a Sonic Drive-In parking lot next to an unoccupied Honda. The defendant, a passenger in the Lincoln, exited the vehicle, approached the Honda, and placed his hand inside the passenger window of that vehicle. The driver of the Honda appeared and spoke with the defendant briefly. The defendant then returned to the Lincoln and the vehicle drove away. No one in the Lincoln had ordered any food. Based on his experience, the officer concluded that the defendant had participated in a drug transaction. Other officers then saw the Lincoln go to a gas station. A second officer radioed that the vehicle continued to be driven in a careless and reckless manner, at approximately 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. After the vehicle left the gas station, the first officer stopped it for reckless driving and speeding. Four other officers participated in the stop; all five officers were in uniform. The first officer approached the passenger side of the vehicle, while two others approached the driver’s side. The officer approaching the passenger side saw the defendant reach toward the floorboard. Because he did not know whether the defendant had a weapon or was trying to conceal contraband, the officer asked the defendant to show his hands. The defendant raised his hands, which were daubed in a light pink substance that the defendant stated was fabric softener. The officer ordered the defendant out of the vehicle and asked whether he was attempting to conceal something. The defendant denied doing so. The officer testified that when he asked for the defendant’s consent to search his person the defendant gave consent saying, “go ahead.” The defendant testified that he never consented to a search. When the officer proceeded to pat down the defendant he noticed a larger than normal bulge near the groin area that was not consistent with “male parts.” The officer then detained the defendant in handcuffs, believing that he had contraband on his person. The officer asked the defendant if he had anything inside of his underwear and the defendant said that he did. The officer asked the defendant if he would retrieve the item and the defendant said he would. The officer removed the handcuffs, the defendant reached into his pants and produced a plastic bag containing heroin. He was then placed under arrest.

                  The court first found that the defendant consented to the search, rejecting the defendant’s argument that his consent was not voluntary given the coercive environment fostered by the police. The defendant argued that his race is highly relevant to the determination of whether he voluntarily consented to the search because people of color will view a “request” to search by the police as an inherently coercive command, and he cited various studies in support of this claim. The court agreed that the defendant’s race may be a relevant factor in considering whether consent was voluntary. However, aside from the studies presented by the defendant, the record is devoid of any indication that the defendant’s consent in this case was involuntary. To the contrary, the circumstances show that the defendant’s consent was freely and intelligently made. Although multiple officers were present, only the first officer interacted with the defendant. When the officer approached the vehicle he asked the defendant whether he had anything illegal and the defendant said that he did not. The officer then asked if he could search the defendant’s person, to which the defendant responded “go ahead.” No other conversation occurred. There is no evidence that the defendant was unaware of his ability to refuse the request or that he feared retribution had he done so. There is no indication that the officer made threats, used harsh language, or raised his voice. There is no evidence of any physical contact with the defendant. Additionally, the officers’ firearms remain holstered throughout the encounter.

                  The court next rejected the defendant’s argument that the scope of his consent to search his person did not include a frisk of his private parts, and lacking probable cause or exigent circumstances to justify such a search, the pat down of his groin area was unconstitutional. The court concluded that because the defendant’s consent encompassed the sort of limited frisk that was performed, neither probable cause nor exigency was required to justify the search. The pat down of the defendant’s groin area was within the bounds of what a reasonable person would have expected the search to include. The officer limited his pat down to the outer layer of the defendant’s clothing. He did not reach into the defendant’s pants to search his undergarments or directly touch his groin area. Nothing about the search involved the exposure of the defendant’s privates to the officer or to the public. And there is no evidence that the groin pat down was conducted in an unreasonably offensive manner. Thus, the court concluded that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have understood his consent to include the sort of limited outer pat down that was performed here.

                  Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the officer’s continued detention of him after searching his groin area was not justified by the plain feel doctrine. During the pat down the officer felt a bulge that he determined was not consistent with male body parts and was obviously contraband. When coupled with the totality of the circumstances already observed by the officer, this discovery amounted to reasonable suspicion justifying further detention of the defendant to question him about the contents of his clothing.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his consent to search his rental vehicle was involuntary because it was given at a time when the stop had been unduly prolonged. Specifically, the defendant argued that the stop was prolonged because of questioning by the officer and the time he was detained while waiting for a second officer to arrive to assist with the search. An officer stopped the defendant for traffic violations. After routine questioning, the officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle and for permission to search the defendant. The defendant consented. After frisking the defendant, the officer placed the defendant in the patrol car and ran database checks on the defendant’s license. The officer continued to ask the defendant questions while waiting for the checks to finish. The officer asked the defendant if there were guns or drugs in the car and for consent to search the vehicle. The defendant said he did not want the officer to search “my shit,” meaning his property. The officer asked the defendant what property he had in the vehicle. The defendant said that his property included a bag and two hoodies. The defendant said that the officer could search the car but not his personal property. The officer then called for backup, explaining that he could not search the car without another officer present. A second officer arrived 3 to 5 minutes after the backup call and the defendant’s property was removed from the vehicle. One of the officers began to search the defendant’s vehicle. The officer brought his K-9 to the vehicle and it failed to alert to narcotics. The dog then sniffed the bag and indicated that there were narcotics inside. The case was before the court on remand from the state Supreme Court. That court had held that the initial traffic stop was valid; that the officer lawfully frisked the defendant without prolonging the stop; that the officer’s database checks on the defendant’s license did not unduly prolong the stop; and that the conversation that occurred was sufficient to form reasonable suspicion authorizing the dog sniff of the vehicle and bag. Because all parts of the stop were lawfully extended, the trial court did not err in determining that the defendant’s consent to search his vehicle was voluntary.

Because the trial court’s findings of fact do not support its conclusion that the defendant was legally seized at the time consented to a search of his person, the court reversed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to suppress contraband found on his person. Officers were conducting surveillance on a known drug house. They noticed the defendant leave the residence in a truck and return 20 minutes later. He parked his truck in the driveway and walked toward a woman in the driveway of a nearby residence. The two began yelling at each other. Thinking the confrontation was going to escalate, the officers got out of their vehicle and separated the two. One officer asked the defendant for his identification. The officer checked the defendant’s record, verifying that the defendant had no pending charges. Without returning the defendant’s identification, the officer then asked the defendant if he had any narcotics on him and the defendant replied that he did not. At the officer’s request, the defendant consented to a search of his person and vehicle. Drugs were found in his pants pocket. On appeal, the defendant argued that when the officer failed to return his identification after finding no outstanding warrants and after the initial reason for the detention was satisfied, the seizure became unlawful and the defendant’s consent was not voluntary. The court agreed. It noted that the officer failed to return the defendant’s identification before pursuing an inquiry into possession of drugs. It found that the trial court’s order failed to provide findings of fact which would give rise to a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was otherwise subject to detention. Absent a reasonable suspicion to justify further delay, retaining the defendant’s driver’s license beyond the point of satisfying the initial purpose of the detention—the escalating the conflict, checking the defendant’s identification, and verifying that he had no outstanding warrants—was unreasonable. Thus, the defendant’s consent to search his person, given during the period of unreasonable detention, was not voluntary.

In this drug case, the court held that the defendant’s consent to search his room in a rooming house was voluntarily given. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was in custody at the time consent was given. There was no evidence that the defendant’s movements were limited by the officers during the encounter. Also, the officers did not supervise the defendant while they were in the home; rather, they simply followed the defendant to his room after he gave consent to search.

State v. Bell, 221 N.C. App. 535 (July 17, 2012)

The trial court did not err by finding that the defendant consented to a search of his residence. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court must make specific findings regarding the voluntariness of consent even when there is no conflict in the evidence on the issue. Here, there was a conflict regarding whether the defendant gave consent, not whether if given it was voluntary.

The fact that officers advised the defendant that if he did not consent to giving oral swabs and surrendering certain items of clothing they would detain him until they obtained a search warrant did not negate the defendant’s voluntary consent to the seizure of those items.

The defendant voluntarily consented to allow officers to take a saliva sample for DNA testing. The defendant was told that the sample could be used to exonerate him in ongoing investigations of break-ins and assaults on women that occurred in Charlotte in 1998. The defendant argued that because the detective failed to inform him of all of the charges that were being investigated—specifically, rape and sexual assault—his consent was involuntary. Following State v. Barkley, 144 N.C. App. 514 (2001), the court rejected this argument. The court concluded that the consent was voluntary even though the defendant did not know that the assaults were of a sexual nature and that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have understood that the DNA could be used generally for investigative purposes.

A warrantless search of the defendant’s car was valid on grounds of consent. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his consent was invalid because the officer who procured it was not fluent in Spanish. The court noted that the defendant was non-responsive to initial questions posed in English, but that he responded when spoken to in Spanish. The officer asked simple questions about weapons or drugs and when he gestured to the car and asked to “look,” the defendant nodded in the affirmative. Although not fluent in Spanish, the officer had Spanish instruction in high school and college and the two conversed entirely in Spanish for periods of up to 30 minutes. The officer asked open ended-questions which the defendant answered appropriately. The defendant never indicated that he did not understand a question. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that his consent was invalid because the officer wore a sidearm while seeking the consent, concluding that the mere presence of a holstered sidearm does not render consent involuntary.

The evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion that the defendant voluntarily consented to a search of his home. Although an officer aimed his gun at the defendant when he thought that the defendant was attempting to flee, the officer promptly lowered the gun. While the officers kicked down the door, they did not immediately handcuff the defendant. Rather, the defendant sat in his living room and conversed freely with the officers, and one officer escorted him to a neighbor’s house to obtain child care. The defendant consented to a search of his house when asked after a protective sweep was completed.

The defendant’s consent to search his residence was voluntary, even though it was induced by an officer’s false statements. After receiving information that the defendant was selling marijuana and cocaine from his apartment, an officer went to the apartment to conduct a knock and talk. The officer untruthfully told the defendant that he had conducted surveillance of the apartment, saw a lot of people coming and going, stopped their cars after they left the neighborhood, and each time recovered either marijuana or cocaine. The exchange continued and the defendant gave consent to search. Based on the totality of circumstances, the consent was voluntary.

State v. Heien, 367 N.C. 163 (Nov. 8, 2013) aff'd on other grounds, 574 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 530 (Dec 15 2014)

The court per curiam affirmed the decision below, State v. Heien, 226 N.C. App. 280 (2013). Over a dissent the court of appeals had held that a valid traffic stop was not unduly prolonged and as a result the defendant’s consent to search his vehicle was valid. The stop was initiated at 7:55 am and the defendant, a passenger who owned the vehicle, gave consent to search at 8:08 am. During this time, the two officers discussed a malfunctioning vehicle brake light with the driver, discovered that the driver and the defendant claimed to be going to different destinations, and observed the defendant behaving unusually (he was lying down on the backseat under a blanket and remained in that position even when approached by an officer requesting his driver’s license). After each person’s name was checked for warrants, their licenses were returned. The officer then requested consent to search the vehicle. The officer’s tone and manner were conversational and non-confrontational. No one was restrained, no guns were drawn and neither person was searched before the request to search the vehicle was made. The trial judge properly concluded that the defendant was aware that the purpose of the initial stop had been concluded and that further conversation was consensual. The court of appeals also had held, again over a dissent, that the defendant’s consent to search the vehicle was valid even though the officer did not inform the defendant that he was searching for narcotics.

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress heroin discovered following a search of the defendant during a traffic stop. A tactical narcotics officer noticed a Lincoln sedan weaving in and out of heavy traffic at high speeds, nearly causing multiple collisions. The vehicle pulled into a Sonic Drive-In parking lot next to an unoccupied Honda. The defendant, a passenger in the Lincoln, exited the vehicle, approached the Honda, and placed his hand inside the passenger window of that vehicle. The driver of the Honda appeared and spoke with the defendant briefly. The defendant then returned to the Lincoln and the vehicle drove away. No one in the Lincoln had ordered any food. Based on his experience, the officer concluded that the defendant had participated in a drug transaction. Other officers then saw the Lincoln go to a gas station. A second officer radioed that the vehicle continued to be driven in a careless and reckless manner, at approximately 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. After the vehicle left the gas station, the first officer stopped it for reckless driving and speeding. Four other officers participated in the stop; all five officers were in uniform. The first officer approached the passenger side of the vehicle, while two others approached the driver’s side. The officer approaching the passenger side saw the defendant reach toward the floorboard. Because he did not know whether the defendant had a weapon or was trying to conceal contraband, the officer asked the defendant to show his hands. The defendant raised his hands, which were daubed in a light pink substance that the defendant stated was fabric softener. The officer ordered the defendant out of the vehicle and asked whether he was attempting to conceal something. The defendant denied doing so. The officer testified that when he asked for the defendant’s consent to search his person the defendant gave consent saying, “go ahead.” The defendant testified that he never consented to a search. When the officer proceeded to pat down the defendant he noticed a larger than normal bulge near the groin area that was not consistent with “male parts.” The officer then detained the defendant in handcuffs, believing that he had contraband on his person. The officer asked the defendant if he had anything inside of his underwear and the defendant said that he did. The officer asked the defendant if he would retrieve the item and the defendant said he would. The officer removed the handcuffs, the defendant reached into his pants and produced a plastic bag containing heroin. He was then placed under arrest.

                  The court first found that the defendant consented to the search, rejecting the defendant’s argument that his consent was not voluntary given the coercive environment fostered by the police. The defendant argued that his race is highly relevant to the determination of whether he voluntarily consented to the search because people of color will view a “request” to search by the police as an inherently coercive command, and he cited various studies in support of this claim. The court agreed that the defendant’s race may be a relevant factor in considering whether consent was voluntary. However, aside from the studies presented by the defendant, the record is devoid of any indication that the defendant’s consent in this case was involuntary. To the contrary, the circumstances show that the defendant’s consent was freely and intelligently made. Although multiple officers were present, only the first officer interacted with the defendant. When the officer approached the vehicle he asked the defendant whether he had anything illegal and the defendant said that he did not. The officer then asked if he could search the defendant’s person, to which the defendant responded “go ahead.” No other conversation occurred. There is no evidence that the defendant was unaware of his ability to refuse the request or that he feared retribution had he done so. There is no indication that the officer made threats, used harsh language, or raised his voice. There is no evidence of any physical contact with the defendant. Additionally, the officers’ firearms remain holstered throughout the encounter.

                  The court next rejected the defendant’s argument that the scope of his consent to search his person did not include a frisk of his private parts, and lacking probable cause or exigent circumstances to justify such a search, the pat down of his groin area was unconstitutional. The court concluded that because the defendant’s consent encompassed the sort of limited frisk that was performed, neither probable cause nor exigency was required to justify the search. The pat down of the defendant’s groin area was within the bounds of what a reasonable person would have expected the search to include. The officer limited his pat down to the outer layer of the defendant’s clothing. He did not reach into the defendant’s pants to search his undergarments or directly touch his groin area. Nothing about the search involved the exposure of the defendant’s privates to the officer or to the public. And there is no evidence that the groin pat down was conducted in an unreasonably offensive manner. Thus, the court concluded that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have understood his consent to include the sort of limited outer pat down that was performed here.

                  Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the officer’s continued detention of him after searching his groin area was not justified by the plain feel doctrine. During the pat down the officer felt a bulge that he determined was not consistent with male body parts and was obviously contraband. When coupled with the totality of the circumstances already observed by the officer, this discovery amounted to reasonable suspicion justifying further detention of the defendant to question him about the contents of his clothing.

An officer’s search of the defendant’s rental car did not exceed the scope of the defendant’s consent. During a traffic stop, the defendant consented to a search of the vehicle but not to a search of his personal belongings in it, a bag and two hoodies. After searching the defendant’s vehicle, the officer’s K-9--which had failed to alert to the vehicle--alerted to the presence of narcotics in the defendant’s bag, which had been removed from the vehicle before the search began. The scope of the officer’s search of the vehicle did not exceed the scope of the defendant’s consent.

State v. Ladd, 246 N.C. App. 295 (Mar. 15, 2016)

In this peeping with a photographic device case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress with respect to evidence obtained during a search of the defendant’s external hard drives. The court rejected the notion that the defendant consented to a search of the external hard drives, concluding that while he consented to a search of his laptops and smart phone, the trial court’s findings of fact unambiguously state that he did not consent to a search of other items. Next, the court held that the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the external hard drives, and that the devices did not pose a safety threat to officers, nor did the officers have any reason to believe that the information contained in the devices would have been destroyed while they pursued a search warrant, given that they had custody of the devices. The court found that the Supreme Court’s Riley analysis with respect to cellular telephones applied to the search of the digital data on the external data storage devices in this case, given the similarities between the two types of devices. The court concluded: “Defendant possessed and retained a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the external data storage devices …. The Defendant’s privacy interests in the external data storage devices outweigh any safety or inventory interest the officers had in searching the contents of the devices without a warrant.”

A consent search of the defendant’s vehicle was not invalid because it involved taking off the rear quarter panels. The trial court found that both rear quarter panels were fitted with a carpet/cardboard type interior trim and that they “were loose.” Additionally, the trial court found that the officer “was easily able to pull back the carpet/cardboard type trim . . . covering the right rear quarter panel where he observed what appeared to be a sock with a pistol handle protruding from the sock.” 

The defendant’s voluntary consent to search his vehicle extended to the officer’s looking under the hood and in the vehicle’s air filter compartment.

By consenting to a search of all personal and real property at 19 Doc Wyatt Road, the defendant consented to a search of an outbuilding within the curtilage of the residence. The defendant’s failure to object when the outbuilding was searched suggests that he believed that the outbuilding was within the scope of his consent. For a more detailed analysis of this case, see the blog post.

The defendant did not revoke consent to search his vehicle. Although the defendant asked the officer what would happen if he revoked his consent, the defendant never revoked consent to search the vehicle, even after the officer explained that he needed to wait for a second officer to arrive to conduct the search.

The defendant did not withdraw his consent to search his car when, while sitting in a nearby patrol car, he said several times: “they’re tearing up my trunk.” A reasonable person would not have considered these statements to be an unequivocal revocation of consent. 

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E. 2d 719 (2018) (discussed in an earlier blog post by Shea Denning, https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/state-v-terrell-private-search-doctrine/), the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision that an officer’s warrantless search of a defendant’s USB drive following a prior search by a private individual violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. While examining a thumb drive belonging to the defendant, the defendant’s girlfriend saw an image of her 9-year-old granddaughter sleeping, exposed from the waist up. Believing the image was inappropriate, the defendant’s girlfriend contacted the sheriff’s office and gave them the thumb drive. Later, a detective conducted a warrantless search of the thumb drive to locate the image in question, during which he discovered other images of what he believed to be child pornography before he found the photograph of the granddaughter. At that point the detective applied for and obtained a warrant to search the contents of the thumb drive for “contraband images of child pornography and evidence of additional victims and crimes.” The initial warrant application relied only on information from the defendant’s girlfriend, but after the State Bureau of Investigation requested additional information, the detective included information about the images he found in his initial search of the USB drive. The SBI’s forensic examination turned up 12 images, ten of which had been deleted and archived in a way that would not have been viewable without special forensic capabilities. After he was charged with multiple sexual exploitation of a minor and peeping crimes, the defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress all of the evidence obtained as a result of the detective’s warrantless search. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the girlfriend’s private viewing of the images frustrated the defendant’s expectation of privacy in them, and that the detective’s subsequent search therefore did not violate the Fourth Amendment. After his trial and conviction, the defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the girlfriend’s opening of the USB drive and viewing some of its contents did not frustrate the defendant’s privacy interest in the entire contents of the device. To the contrary, digital devices can retain massive amounts of information, organized into files that are essentially containers within containers. Because the trial court did not make findings establishing the precise scope of the girlfriend’s search, it likewise could not find that the detective had the level of “virtual certainty” contemplated by United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109 (1984), that the device contained nothing else of significance, or that a subsequent search would not tell him anything more than he already had been told. The search therefore was not permissible under the private-search doctrine. The court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of whether the warrant would have been supported by probable cause without the evidence obtained through the unlawful search.

Justice Newby dissented, writing that the majority’s application of the virtual certainty test needlessly eliminates the private-search doctrine for electronic storage devices unless the private searcher opens every file on the device.

The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment does not permit an officer, uninvited and without a warrant, to enter the curtilage of a home to search a vehicle parked there. Officer McCall saw the driver of an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame commit a traffic infraction. The driver eluded McCall’s attempt to stop the motorcycle. A few weeks later, Officer Rhodes saw an orange and black motorcycle traveling well over the speed limit, but the driver got away from him, too. The officers compared notes, determined that the two incidents involved the same motorcyclist, and that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of Ryan Collins. After discovering photographs on Collins’ Facebook page showing an orange and black motorcycle parked at the top of the driveway of a house, Rhodes tracked down the address of the house, drove there, and parked on the street. It was later established that Collins’ girlfriend lived in the house and that Collins stayed there a few nights per week. From the street, Rhodes saw what appeared to be a motorcycle with an extended frame covered with a white tarp, parked at the same angle and in the same location on the driveway as in the Facebook photo. Rhodes, who did not have a warrant, walked toward the house. He stopped to take a photograph of the covered motorcycle from the sidewalk, and then walked onto the residential property and up to the top of the driveway to where the motorcycle was parked. Rhodes removed the tarp, revealing a motorcycle that looked like the one from the speeding incident. He ran a search of the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, which confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen. Rhodes photographed the uncovered motorcycle, put the tarp back on, left the property, and returned to his car to wait for Collins. When Collins returned, Rhodes approached the door and knocked. Collins answered, agreed to speak with Rhodes, and admitted that the motorcycle was his and that he had bought it without title. Collins was charged with receiving stolen property. He unsuccessfully sought to suppress the evidence that Rhodes obtained as a result of the warrantless search of the motorcycle. He was convicted and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed. The Court characterized the case as arising “at the intersection of two components of the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and the protection extended to the curtilage of a home.” After reviewing the law on these doctrines, the Court turned to whether the location in question is curtilage. It noted that according to photographs in the record, the driveway runs alongside the front lawn and up a few yards past the front perimeter of the house. The top portion of the driveway that sits behind the front perimeter of the house is enclosed on two sides by a brick wall about the height of a car and on a third side by the house. A side door provides direct access between this partially enclosed section of the driveway and the house. A visitor endeavoring to reach the front door would have to walk partway up the driveway, but would turn off before entering the enclosure and instead proceed up a set of steps leading to the front porch. When Rhodes searched the motorcycle, it was parked inside this partially enclosed top portion of the driveway that abuts the house. The Court concluded that the driveway enclosure here is properly considered curtilage. The Court continued, noting that by physically intruding on the curtilage, the officer not only invaded the defendant’s fourth amendment interest in the item searched—the motorcycle—but also his fourth amendment interest in the curtilage of his home. Finding the case an “easy” one, the Court concluded that the automobile exception did not justify an invasion of the curtilage. It clarified: “the scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself.” The Court rejected Virginia’s request that it expand the scope of the automobile exception to permit police to invade any space outside an automobile even if the Fourth Amendment protects that space. It continued:

Just as an officer must have a lawful right of access to any contraband he discovers in plain view in order to seize it without a warrant, and just as an officer must have a lawful right of access in order to arrest a person in his home, so, too, an officer must have a lawful right of access to a vehicle in order to search it pursuant to the automobile exception. The automobile exception does not afford the necessary lawful right of access to search a vehicle parked within a home or its curtilage because it does not justify an intrusion on a person’s separate and substantial Fourth Amendment interest in his home and curtilage.

It also rejected Virginia’s argument that the Court’s precedent indicates that the automobile exception is a categorical one that permits the warrantless search of a vehicle anytime, anywhere, including in a home or curtilage. For these and other reasons discussed in the Court’s opinion, the Court held that “the automobile exception does not permit an officer without a warrant to enter a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle therein.” It left for resolution on remand whether Rhodes’ warrantless intrusion on the curtilage may have been reasonable on a different basis, such as the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.

Using a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner’s porch to investigate the contents of the home is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court’s reasoning was based on the theory that the officers engaged in a physical intrusion of a constitutionally protected area. Applying that principle, the Court held:

The officers were gathering information in an area belonging to [the defendant] and immediately surrounding his house—in the curtilage of the house, which we have held enjoys protection as part of the home itself. And they gathered that information by physically entering and occupying the area to engage in conduct not explicitly or implicitly permitted by the homeowner.

Slip Op. at pp. 3-4. In this way the majority did not decide the case on a reasonable expectation of privacy analysis; the concurring opinion came to the same conclusion on both property and reasonable expectation of privacy grounds.

In this Guilford County case, the defendant was on post-release supervision (PRS) for a previous felony. The Department of Public Safety deemed him to be a “high-risk offender” and a “validated gang member,” and thus included him in a May 2017 search operation conducted jointly with other state and federal law enforcement agencies. During that operation, officers searched the defendant’s residence and found a firearm in his bedside table, which led to a new criminal charge for possession of firearm by a felon. In response to the new criminal charge the defendant moved to suppress the handgun as the fruit of an illegal warrantless search, arguing that a warrantless search of his residence was unconstitutional under the federal and state constitutions in that it was not authorized by statute or as a matter of consent.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress, but the Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing that a warrantless search of the defendant’s home violated both the federal and state constitutions. The court distinguished Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843 (2006), a case in which the Supreme Court upheld a warrantless search of a California parolee, limiting the reach of that case to situations in which the supervisee chooses supervision in the community (and its attendant conditions) over imprisonment. In North Carolina, defendants do not choose post-release supervision; to the contrary, by statute they may not refuse it. G.S. 15A-1368.2(b). Moreover, the statutory search condition applicable to post-release supervisees, G.S. 15A-1368.4(e)(10), allows searches only of the supervisee’s person, not of his or her premises. The Court of Appeals next rejected the State’s argument that the search was valid under the “catch-all” provision of G.S. 15A-1368.4(c), which allows the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission (the Commission) to impose conditions it believes reasonably necessary to ensure a supervisee will lead a law-abiding life. Applying the rule of statutory construction that the specific controls the general, the court took the existence of a specific statutory search condition for PRS limited to searches of the person as an indication that the General Assembly did not intend to grant the Commission general authority to allow other searches by way of the catch-all provision. The court also noted that related statutes applicable to searches of post-release supervisees who are sex offenders (G.S. 15A-1368.4(b1)), probationers (G.S. 15A-1343(b)(13)), and parolees (G.S. 15A-1374(b)(11)), expressly authorize searches of a defendant’s premises in addition to his or her person. The court viewed the omission of any similar language related to the defendant’s premises in the PRS condition as a demonstration of the General Assembly’s intent to limit the scope of the PRS search condition to searches of a defendant’s person.

Finally, the Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant that he did not voluntarily consent to the search of his residence. The officers who conducted the search informed the defendant that the search was permitted pursuant to the terms of his post-release supervision. However, as noted above, the Commission actually lacked the statutory authority to impose that condition. Under the logic of Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543 (1968), if “consent” to a search is based upon an officer’s belief that the officer has legal authority to conduct the search, but that belief turns out to be mistaken, then the purported consent is not valid. Moreover, as also noted above, the defendant had no statutory right to refuse PRS. The Court of Appeals concluded that the law could not “prejudice Defendant for agreeing to something he had no legal right to refuse.” Slip op. at 64.

In the absence of valid consent or an authorizing statute, the warrantless search was presumptively unreasonable and unconstitutional, and the trial court thus erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the firearm and other evidence found during the search. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order denying the motion suppress, vacated the judgment entered pursuant to the defendant’s plea, and remanded the matter for additional proceedings.

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.

Because officers had permission from an occupant to enter a home where incriminating evidence was discovered, the subsequent search of the home was valid. Officers responded to a report of domestic violence at a home the defendant shared with his girlfriend Kristy Fink. A 911 call had reported the domestic violence incident and asserted that Fink suspected the defendant of being involved in an armed robbery of a Game Stop store a few days earlier. Officers knocked at the front door and the defendant and Fink answered and exited the home together. Pursuant to Police Department policy of separating parties on domestic calls, the officers separated the two for questioning. Officer Saine remained outside with the defendant, while Officer Francisco entered the home with Fink after being authorized by her to do so. Fink confirmed that the defendant assaulted her and corroborated the 911 caller’s information, telling Francisco that the incident began when she confronted the defendant about the robbery. Fink then led Francisco to a bedroom she shared with the defendant and showed him potentially incriminating evidence she had found prior to the incident. This included money and clothing matching the description of the robbery suspect’s clothing. When Saine entered the home at the defendant’s request for warmer clothing, Fink repeated to Saine what she had told Francisco. Officers got a search warrant and searched the home. The defendant was charged with armed robbery of the Game Stop store. The defendant unsuccessfully filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search. The defendant was convicted and appealed.

            On appeal the defendant argued that because the officer’s initial entry into the home was illegal, the fruits of the subsequent search should have been suppressed. The court disagreed. Here, the defendant never objected to the officer’s entry into his home. Thus, the matter was not controlled by Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), in which one spouse consented to the search and the other refused to give consent. The court further rejected the defendant’s argument that the officer’s entry into the home to investigate the allegations of domestic violence was mere subterfuge to investigate the robbery.

In this case in which the defendant was convicted of drug trafficking and related charges, the court held that although the trial court erred by finding that a vehicle was within the curtilage of the defendant’s residence, it properly found that officers had probable cause to search the vehicle. Officers conducted a drug investigation of the defendant, including surveillance of his residence. During the investigation, a confidential police informant arranged and engaged in a controlled purchase of heroin from the defendant’s residence. A couple of months later the same confidential informant conducted another controlled purchase of heroin at the defendant’s residence. Officers saw the confidential informant purchase the drugs from the defendant at the trunk of a black 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis parked on the other side of the road from the defendant’s residence. Officers saw the vehicle regularly parked in this location during their investigation. As a result of the investigation, Officer Kimel got a search warrant for the defendant’s residence; the warrant did not mention the Grand Marquis. When the officers arrived to execute the search warrant, Kimel saw the vehicle parked across the street. The back and sides of the residence were surrounded by a 7- or 8-foot-high chain link fence; a short wooden fence was in the front of the residence. Kimel asked another officer have his K-9 sniff the vehicle. The dog gave a positive alert for drugs. Kimel obtained the keys to the vehicle from the defendant’s pocket and searched the car. In the trunk, officers found the defendant’s wallet, guns, ammunition, a digital scale, and drugs. After the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence obtained from the search of the vehicle, the defendant pled guilty to multiple drug charges, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. On appeal the defendant argued that the officers searched the vehicle without either a search warrant or probable cause.

            The court began by holding that the trial court erred by concluding that the vehicle was within the curtilage of the residence while parked on the side of a public street opposite the home and outside the home’s fenced-in area. The State had conceded this issue at oral argument.

            The court went on to find however that the officers had probable cause to search the vehicle based on: the controlled purchases by the informant, during which times the Grand Marquis was always present; the officers’ observation of a drug transaction taking place at the trunk of the Grand Marquis; the Grand Marquis parked on a public street near the defendant’s residence during the officers’ investigation; the defendant’s possession of the keys to the Grand Marquis; and the K-9’s positive alert outside of the vehicle for the potential presence of narcotics. It concluded: “Based upon the automobile being located on a public road exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, probable cause justified the officers in conducting the warrantless search of the Grand Marquis.”

            In so holding, the court declined to consider the defendant’s argument, raised for the first time on appeal, that the reliability of the K-9 was not sufficiently established under Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237 (2013), noting that a party may not assert on appeal a theory that was not raised at the trial court. It further noted that the K-9 sniff was not a search and the dog’s positive alert provided support for the trial court’s determination that officers had probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle. The court did however note that officers had probable cause to search the vehicle even without the sniff.

Because an officer violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights by searching the curtilage of his home without a warrant, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The officer saw a vehicle with its doors open at the back of a 150-yard driveway leading to the defendant’s home. Concerned that the vehicle might be part of a break-in or home invasion, the officer drove down the driveway, ran the vehicle’s tags, checked—but did not knock—on the front door, checked the windows and doors of the home for signs of forced entry, “cleared” the sides of the house, and then went through a closed gate in a chain-link fence enclosing the home’s backyard and approached the storm door at the back of the house. As the officer approached the door, which was not visible from the street, he smelled marijuana, which led to the defendant’s arrest for drug charges. At the suppression hearing, the State relied on two exceptions to the warrant requirement to justify the officer’s search of the curtilage: the knock and talk doctrine and the community caretaker doctrine. The court found however that neither exception applies. First, the officer did more than nearly knock and talk. Specifically, he ran a license plate not visible from the street, walked around the house examining windows and searching for signs of a break-in, and went first to the front door without knocking and then to a rear door not visible from the street and located behind a closed gate. “These actions went beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held are the permissible actions during a knock and talk.” Likewise, the community caretaker doctrine does not support the officer’s action. “The presence of a vehicle in one’s driveway with its doors open is not the sort of emergency that justifies the community caretaker exception.” The court also noted that because the fourth amendment’s protections “are at their very strongest within one’s home,” the public need justifying the community caretaker exception “must be particularly strong to justify a warrantless search of a home.”

No fourth amendment violation occurred when officers entered the defendant’s driveway to investigate a shooting. When detectives arrived at the defendant’s property they found the gate to his driveway open. The officers did not recall observing a “no trespassing” sign that had been reported the previous day. After a backup deputy arrived, the officers drove both of their vehicles through the open gate and up the defendant’s driveway. Once the officers parked, the defendant came out of the house and spoke with the detectives. The defendant denied any knowledge of a shooting and denied owning a rifle. However, the defendant’s wife told the officers that there was a rifle inside the residence. The defendant gave verbal consent to search the home. In the course of getting consent, the defendant made incriminating statements. A search of the home found a rifle and shotgun. The rifle was seized but the defendant was not arrested. After leaving and learning that the defendant had a prior felony conviction from Texas, the officers obtained a search warrant to retrieve the other gun seen in his home and a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. When officers returned to the defendant’s residence, the driveway gate was closed and a sign on the gate warned “Trespassers will be shot exclamation!!! Survivors will be shot again!!!” The team entered and found multiple weapons on the premises. At trial the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress all of the evidence obtained during the detectives’ first visit to the property and procured by the search warrant the following day. He pled guilty and appealed. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a “no trespassing” sign on his gate expressly removed an implied license to approach his home. While the trial court found that a no trespassing sign was posted on the day of the shooting, there was no evidence that the sign was present on the day the officers first visited the property. Also, there was no evidence that the defendant took consistent steps to physically prevent visitors from entering the property; the open gate suggested otherwise. Finally, the defendant’s conduct upon the detectives’ arrival belied any notion that their approach was unwelcome. Specifically, when they arrived, he came out and greeted them. For these reasons, the defendant’s actions did not reflect a clear demonstration of an intent to revoke the implied license to approach. The court went on to hold that the officers’ actions did not exceed the scope of a lawful knock and talk. Finally, it rejected the defendant’s argument his fourth amendment rights were violated because the encounter occurred within the curtilage of his home. The court noted that no search of the curtilage occurs when an officer is in a place where the public is allowed to be for purposes of a general inquiry. Here, they entered the property by through an open driveway and did not deviate from the area where their presence was lawful.

In this drug case, the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search of her residence. According to the court: “The trial court’s findings that the officers observed a broken window, that the front door was unlocked, and that no one responded when the officers knocked on the door are insufficient to show that they had an objectively reasonable belief that a breaking and entering had recently taken place or was still in progress, such that there existed an urgent need to enter the property” and that the search was justified under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. It continued:

In this case, the only circumstances justifying the officers’ entry into defendant’s residence were a broken window, an unlocked door, and the lack of response to the officers’ knock at the door. We hold that although these findings may be sufficient to give the officers a reasonable belief that an illegal entry had occurred at some point, they are insufficient to give the officers an objectively reasonable belief that a breaking and entering was in progress or had occurred recently.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress DNA evidence obtained from his discarded cigarette butt. When the defendant refused to supply a DNA sample in connection with a rape and murder investigation, officers sought to obtain his DNA by other means. After the defendant discarded a cigarette butt in a parking lot, officers retrieved the butt. The parking lot was located directly in front of the defendant’s four-unit apartment building, was uncovered, and included 5-7 unassigned parking spaces used by the residents. The area between the road and the parking lot was heavily wooded, but no gate restricted access to the lot and no signs suggested either that access to the parking lot was restricted or that the lot was private. After DNA on the cigarette butt matched DNA found on the victim, the defendant was charged with the crimes. At trial the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the DNA evidence. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the seizure of the cigarette butt violated his constitutional rights because it occurred within the curtilage of his apartment:

[W]e conclude that the parking lot was not located in the curtilage of defendant’s building. While the parking lot was in close proximity to the building, it was not enclosed, was used for parking by both the buildings’ residents and the general public, and was only protected in a limited way. Consequently, the parking lot was not a location where defendant possessed “a reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy that society is prepared to accept.”

Next, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that even if the parking lot was not considered curtilage, he still maintained a possessory interest in the cigarette butt since he did not put it in a trash can or otherwise convey it to a third party. The court reasoned that the cigarette butt was abandoned property. Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that even if officers lawfully obtained the cigarette butt, they still were required to obtain a warrant before testing it for his DNA because he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his DNA. The court reasoned that the extraction of DNA from an abandoned item does not implicate the Fourth Amendment.

A search of the defendant’s garage pursuant to a search warrant was improper. Following up on a tip that the defendant was growing marijuana on his property, officers went to his residence. They knocked on the front door but received no response. They then went to the back of the house because they heard barking dogs and thought that an occupant might not have heard them knock. Once there they smelled marijuana coming from the garage and this discovery formed the basis for the search warrant. The court concluded that “the sound of barking dogs, alone, was not sufficient to support the detectives’ decision to enter the curtilage of defendant’s property by walking into the back yard of the home and the area on the driveway within ten feet of the garage.” The court went on to conclude that when the detectives smelled the odor of marijuana, “their purported general inquiry about the information received from the anonymous tip was in fact a trespassory invasion of defendant’s curtilage, and they had no legal right to be in that location.” The subsequent search based, in part, on the odor of marijuana was unlawful.

The trial court did not err by rejecting the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained by officers when they entered the property in question. The court concluded that the property constituted an “open field,” so that the investigating officers’ entry onto the property and the observations made there did not constitute a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes. The property consisted of 119 acres of wooded land used for hunting and containing no buildings or residences.

The trial court erred by concluding that the police had probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the defendant, a passenger in a stopped vehicle. After detecting an odor of marijuana on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the officers conducted a warrantless search of the vehicle and discovered marijuana in the driver’s side door. However, officers did not detect an odor of marijuana on the vehicle’s passenger side or on the defendant. The court found that none of the other circumstances, including the defendant’s location in an area known for drug activity or his prior criminal history, nervousness, failure to immediately produce identification, or commission of the infraction of possessing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle, when considered separately or in combination, amounted to probable cause to search the defendant’s person.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress property seized in a warrantless search. After receiving a tip that a person living at a specified address was growing marijuana, officers went to the address and knocked on the front and side doors. After getting no answer, two officers went to the back of the residence. In the backyard they found and seized marijuana plants. The officers were within the curtilage when they viewed the plants, no evidence indicated that the plants were visible from the front of the house or from the road, and a “no trespassing” sign was plainly visible on the side of the house. Even if the officers did not see the sign, it is evidence of the homeowner’s intent that the side and back of the home were not open to the public. There no evidence of a path or anything else to suggest a visitor’s use of the rear door; instead, all visitor traffic appeared to be kept to the front door and traffic to the rear was discouraged by the posted sign. Further, no evidence indicated that the officers had reason to believe that knocking at the back door would produce a response after knocking multiple times at the front and side doors had not. The court concluded that on these facts, “there was no justification for the officers to enter Defendant’s backyard and so their actions were violative of the Fourth Amendment.”

In three consolidated cases the Court held that while a warrantless breath test of a motorist lawfully arrested for drunk driving is permissible as a search incident to arrest, a warrantless blood draw is not. It concluded: “Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, we conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving. As in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not needed in this situation.” Having found that the search incident to arrest doctrine does not justify the warrantless taking of a blood sample, the Court turned to the argument that blood tests are justified based on the driver’s legally implied consent to submit to them. In this respect it concluded: “motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense.”

The police may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested. This decision involved a pair of cases in which both defendants were arrested and cell phones were seized. In both cases, officers examined electronic data on the phones without a warrant as a search incident to arrest. The Court held that “officers must generally secure a warrant before conducting such a search.” The Court noted that “the interest in protecting officer safety does not justify dispensing with the warrant requirement across the board.” In this regard it added however that “[t]o the extent dangers to arresting officers may be implicated in a particular way in a particular case, they are better addressed through consideration of case-specific exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as the one for exigent circumstances.” Next, the Court rejected the argument that preventing the destruction of evidence justified the search. It was unpersuaded by the prosecution’s argument that a different result should obtain because remote wiping and data encryption may be used to destroy digital evidence. The Court noted that “[t]o the extent that law enforcement still has specific concerns about the potential loss of evidence in a particular case, there remain more targeted ways to address those concerns. If the police are truly confronted with a ‘now or never’ situation—for example, circumstances suggesting that a defendant’s phone will be the target of an imminent remote-wipe attempt—they may be able to rely on exigent circumstances to search the phone immediately” (quotation omitted). Alternatively, the Court noted, “if officers happen to seize a phone in an unlocked state, they may be able to disable a phone’s automatic-lock feature in order to prevent the phone from locking and encrypting data.” The Court noted that such a procedure would be assessed under case law allowing reasonable steps to secure a scene to preserve evidence while procuring a warrant. Turning from an examination of the government interests at stake to the privacy issues associated with a warrantless cell phone search, the Court rejected the government’s argument that a search of all data stored on a cell phone is materially indistinguishable the other types of personal items, such as wallets and purses. The Court noted that “[m]odern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse” and that they “differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person.” It also noted the complicating factor that much of the data viewed on a cell phone is not stored on the device itself, but rather remotely through cloud computing. Concluding, the Court noted:

We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost.

Our holding, of course, is not that the information on a cell phone is immune from search; it is instead that a warrant is generally required before such a search, even when a cell phone is seized incident to arrest.

(Slip Op at. p. 25). And finally, the Court noted that even though the search incident to arrest does not apply to cell phones, other exceptions may still justify a warrantless search of a particular phone, such as exigent circumstances.

We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost.

Our holding, of course, is not that the information on a cell phone is immune from search; it is instead that a warrant is generally required before such a search, even when a cell phone is seized incident to arrest.

(Slip Op at. p. 25). And finally, the Court noted that even though the search incident to arrest does not apply to cell phones, other exceptions may still justify a warrantless search of a particular phone, such as exigent circumstances.

State v. Wilkerson, 363 N.C. 382 (Aug. 28, 2009)

Seizure and search of the defendant’s cell phone was proper as a search incident to arrest. The defendant was arrested for two murders shortly after they were committed. While in custody, he received a cell phone call, at which point the seizure occurred. [Note: The more recent Riley decision, above.]

(1) In this drug case, a search of the defendant’s person was a proper search incident to arrest. An officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle for driving with a revoked license. The officer had recognized the defendant and knew that his license was suspended. The officer arrested the defendant for driving with a revoked license, handcuffed him and placed him in the police cruiser. The officer then asked the defendant for consent to search the car. According to the officer the defendant consented. The defendant denied doing so. Although an initial search of the vehicle failed to locate any contraband, a K-9 dog arrived and “hit” on the right front fender and driver’s seat cushion. When a second search uncovered no contraband or narcotics, the officer concluded that the narcotics must be on the defendant’s person. The defendant was brought to the police department and was searched. The search involved lowering the defendant’s pants and long johns to his knees. During the search the officer pulled out, but did not pull down, the defendant’s underwear and observed the defendant’s genitals and buttocks. Cocaine eventually was retrieved from a hidden area on the fly of the defendant’s pants. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the drugs and was convicted. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the strip search could only have been conducted with probable cause and exigent circumstances. The court noted however that standard applies only to roadside strip searches. Here, the search was conducted incident to the defendant’s lawful arrest inside a private interview room at a police facility.

(2) The search of the defendant’s person, which included observing his buttocks and genitals, was reasonable. The defendant had argued that even if the search of his person could be justified as a search incident to an arrest, it was unreasonable under the totality of the circumstances. Rejecting this argument, the court noted that the search was limited to the area of the defendant’s body and clothing that would have come in contact with the cushion of the driver’s seat where the dog alerted; specifically, the area between his knees and waist. Moreover, the defendant was searched inside a private interview room at the police station with only the defendant and two officers present. The officers did not remove the defendant’s clothing above the waist. They did not fully remove his undergarments, nor did they touch his genitals or any body cavity. The court also noted the suspicion created by, among other things, the canine’s alert and the failure to discover narcotics in the car. The court thus concluded that the place, manner, justification and scope of the search of the defendant’s person was reasonable.

The court reversed and remanded for further findings of fact regarding the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a search of the digital contents of a GPS device found on the defendant’s person which, as a result of the search, was determined to have been stolen. The court held that under Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the search was not justified as a search incident to arrest. As to whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the GPS device, the court held that a defendant may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in a stolen item if he acquired it innocently and does not know that the item was stolen. Here, evidence at the suppression hearing would allow the trial court to conclude that defendant had a legitimate possessory interest in the GPS. However, because the trial court failed to make a factual determination regarding whether the defendant innocently purchased the GPS device, the court reversed and remanded for further findings of fact, providing additional guidance for the trial court in its decision.

A search of the defendant’s jacket incident to arrest was lawful. When the officer grabbed the defendant, the defendant ran. While attempting to evade capture, the defendant tried to punch the officer while keeping his right hand inside his jacket. The defendant refused to remove his hand from his jacket pocket despite being ordered to do so and the jacket eventually came off during the struggle. This behavior led the officer to believe that the defendant may be armed. After the defendant was subdued, handcuffed, and placed in a patrol vehicle, the officer walked about ten feet and retrieved the jacket from the ground. He searched the jacket and retrieved a bag containing crack cocaine.

Safford Unified School District v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (June 25, 2009)

Although school officials had reasonable suspicion to search a middle school student’s backpack and outer clothing for pills, they violated the Fourth Amendment when they required her to pull out her bra and underwear. After learning that the student might have prescription strength and over-the-counter pain relief pills, school officials searched her backpack but found no pills. A school nurse then had her remove her outer clothing, pull her bra and shake it, and pull out the elastic on her underpants, exposing her breasts and pelvic area to some degree. No pills were found. Because there was no indication that the drugs presented a danger to students or were concealed in her undergarments, the officials did not have sufficient justification to require the students to pull out her bra and underpants. However, the school officials were protected from civil liability by qualified immunity.

In re T.A.S., 366 N.C. 269 (Oct. 5, 2012)

The court vacated and remanded In re T.A.S., 213 N.C. App. 273 (July 19, 2011) (holding that a search of a juvenile student’s bra was constitutionally unreasonable), ordering further findings of fact. The court ordered the trial court to

make additional findings of fact, including but not necessarily limited to: the names, occupations, genders, and involvement of all the individuals physically present at the “bra lift” search of T.A.S.; whether T.A.S. was advised before the search of the Academy’s “no penalty” policy; and whether the “bra lift” search of T.A.S. qualified as a “more intrusive” search under the Academy’s Safe School Plan.

It provided that “[i]f, after entry of an amended judgment or order by the trial court, either party enters notice of appeal, counsel are instructed to ensure that a copy of the Safe School Plan, discussed at the suppression hearing and apparently introduced into evidence, is included in the record on appeal.”

In Re D.L.D., 203 N.C. App. 434 (Apr. 20, 2010)

The reasonableness standard of New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985), applied to a search of a student by an officer assigned to the school. The officer was working in conjunction with and at the direction of the assistant principal to maintain a safe and educational environment. For the reasons discussed in the opinion, the search satisfied the two-pronged inquiry for determining reasonableness: (1) whether the action was justified at its inception; and (2) whether the search as conducted was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.

Reversing the North Carolina courts, the Court held that under Jones and Jardines, satellite based monitoring for sex offenders constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. The Court stated: “a State … conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.” The Court rejected the reasoning of the state court below, which had relied on the fact that the monitoring program was “civil in nature” to conclude that no search occurred, explaining: “A building inspector who enters a home simply to ensure compliance with civil safety regulations has undoubtedly conducted a search under the Fourth Amendment.” The Court did not decide the “ultimate question of the program’s constitutionality” because the state courts had not assessed whether the search was reasonable. The Court remanded for further proceedings.

The trial court erred by failing to conduct the appropriate analysis with respect to the defendant’s argument that SMB constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court simply acknowledged that SBM constitutes a search and summarily concluded that the search was reasonable. As such it failed to determine, based on the totality of the circumstances, whether the search was reasonable. The court noted that on remand the State bears the burden of proving that the SBM search is reasonable.

State v. Blue, 246 N.C. App. 259 (Mar. 15, 2016)

(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because SBM is a civil, regulatory scheme, it is subject to the Rules of Civil Procedure and that the trial court erred by failing to exercise discretion under Rule 62(d) to stay the SBM hearing. The court concluded that because Rule 62 applies to a stay of execution, it could not be used to stay the SBM hearing. (2) With respect to the defendant’s argument that SMB constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure, the trial court erred by failing to conduct the appropriate analysis. The trial court simply acknowledged that SBM constitutes a search and summarily concluded that the search was reasonable. As such it failed to determine, based on the totality of the circumstances, whether the search was reasonable. The court noted that on remand the State bears the burden of proving that the SBM search is reasonable. 

(1) In this drug case, a search of the defendant’s person was a proper search incident to arrest. An officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle for driving with a revoked license. The officer had recognized the defendant and knew that his license was suspended. The officer arrested the defendant for driving with a revoked license, handcuffed him and placed him in the police cruiser. The officer then asked the defendant for consent to search the car. According to the officer the defendant consented. The defendant denied doing so. Although an initial search of the vehicle failed to locate any contraband, a K-9 dog arrived and “hit” on the right front fender and driver’s seat cushion. When a second search uncovered no contraband or narcotics, the officer concluded that the narcotics must be on the defendant’s person. The defendant was brought to the police department and was searched. The search involved lowering the defendant’s pants and long johns to his knees. During the search the officer pulled out, but did not pull down, the defendant’s underwear and observed the defendant’s genitals and buttocks. Cocaine eventually was retrieved from a hidden area on the fly of the defendant’s pants. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the drugs and was convicted. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the strip search could only have been conducted with probable cause and exigent circumstances. The court noted however that standard applies only to roadside strip searches. Here, the search was conducted incident to the defendant’s lawful arrest inside a private interview room at a police facility.

(2) The search of the defendant’s person, which included observing his buttocks and genitals, was reasonable. The defendant had argued that even if the search of his person could be justified as a search incident to an arrest, it was unreasonable under the totality of the circumstances. Rejecting this argument, the court noted that the search was limited to the area of the defendant’s body and clothing that would have come in contact with the cushion of the driver’s seat where the dog alerted; specifically, the area between his knees and waist. Moreover, the defendant was searched inside a private interview room at the police station with only the defendant and two officers present. The officers did not remove the defendant’s clothing above the waist. They did not fully remove his undergarments, nor did they touch his genitals or any body cavity. The court also noted the suspicion created by, among other things, the canine’s alert and the failure to discover narcotics in the car. The court thus concluded that the place, manner, justification and scope of the search of the defendant’s person was reasonable.

State v. Collins, 245 N.C. App. 288 (Feb. 2, 2016) aff'd on other grounds, 369 N.C. 60 (Sep 23 2016)

In this drug case, the court held, over a dissent, that a strip search of the defendant did not violate the fourth amendment. When officers entered a residence to serve a warrant on someone other than the defendant, they smelled the odor of burnt marijuana. When the defendant was located upstairs in the home, an officer smelled marijuana on his person. The officer patted down and searched the defendant, including examining the contents of his pockets. The defendant was then taken downstairs. Although the defendant initially gave a false name to the officers, once they determined his real name, they found out that he had an outstanding warrant from New York. The defendant was wearing pants and shoes but no shirt. After the defendant declined consent for a strip search, an officer noticed a white crystalline substance consistent with cocaine on the floor where the defendant had been standing. The officer then searched the defendant, pulling down or removing both his pants and underwear. Noticing that the defendant was clenching his buttocks, the officer removed two plastic bags from between his buttocks, one containing what appeared to be crack cocaine and the other containing what appeared to be marijuana. The court held that because there was probable cause to believe that contraband was secreted beneath the defendant’s clothing (in this respect, the court noted the crystalline substance consistent with cocaine on the floor where the defendant had been standing), it was not required to officially deem the search a strip search or to find exigent circumstances before declaring the search reasonable. Even so, the court found that exigent circumstances existed, given the observation of what appeared to be cocaine near where the defendant had been standing and the fact that the concealed cocaine may not have been sealed, leading to danger of the defendant absorbing some of the substance through his large intestine. Also, the court noted that the search occurred in the dining area of a private apartment, removed from other people and providing privacy.

In a drug case the court held that probable cause and exigent circumstances supported a roadside search of the defendant’s underwear conducted after a vehicle stop and that the search was conducted in a reasonable manner. After finding nothing in the defendant’s outer clothing, the officer placed the defendant on the side of his vehicle with the vehicle between the defendant and the travelled portion of the highway. Other troopers stood around the defendant to prevent passers-by from seeing him. The officer pulled out the front waistband of the defendant’s pants and looked inside. The defendant was wearing two pairs of underwear—an outer pair of boxer briefs and an inner pair of athletic compression shorts. Between the two pairs of underwear the officer found a cellophane package containing several smaller packages. There was probable cause to search where the defendant smelled of marijuana, officers found a scale of the type used to measure drugs in his car, a drug dog alerted in his car, and during a pat-down the officer noticed a blunt object in the inseam of the defendant’s pants. Because narcotics can be easily and quickly hidden or destroyed, especially after a defendant has notice of an officer’s intent to discover whether the defendant was in possession of them, sufficient exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search. Additionally, the search was conducted in a reasonable manner. Although the officer did not see the defendant’s private parts, the level of the defendant’s exposure is relevant to the analysis of whether the search was reasonable. The court reasoned that the officer had a sufficient basis to believe that contraband was in the defendant’s underwear, including that although the defendant smelled of marijuana a search of his outer clothing found nothing, the defendant turned away from the officer when the officer frisked his groin and thigh area, and that the officer felt a blunt object in the defendant’s crotch area during the pat-down. Finally, the court concluded that when conducting the search the officer took reasonable steps to protect defendant’s privacy.

Over a dissent, the court held that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence found as a result of a strip search. The court found that the officer had, based on the facts presented, ample basis for believing that the defendant had contraband beneath his underwear and that reasonable steps were taken to protect his privacy.

Roadside strip searches of the defendant were reasonable and did not violate the constitution. The court first rejected the State’s argument that the searches were not strip searches. During both searches the defendant’s private areas were observed by an officer and during one search the defendant’s pants were removed and an officer searched inside of the defendant’s underwear with his hand. Next, the court held that probable cause supported the searches. The officers stopped the defendant’s vehicle for speeding after receiving information from another officer and his informant that the defendant would be traveling on a specified road in a silver Kia, carrying 3 grams of crack cocaine. The strip search occurred after a consensual search of the defendant’s vehicle produced marijuana but no cocaine. The court found competent evidence to show that the informant, who was known to the officers and who had provided reliable information in the past, provided sufficient reliable information, corroborated by an officer, to establish probable cause to believe that the defendant would be carrying a small amount of cocaine in his vehicle. When the consensual search of defendant’s vehicle did not produce the cocaine, the officers had sufficient probable cause, under the totality of the circumstances, to believe that the defendant was hiding the drugs on his person. Third, the court found that exigent circumstances supported the search. Specifically, the officer knew that the defendant had prior experience with jail intake procedures and that he could reasonably expect that the defendant would attempt to get rid of evidence in order to prevent his going to jail. Finally, the court found the search reasonable. The trial court had determined that although the searches were intrusive, the most intrusive one occurred in a dark area away from the traveled roadway, with no one other than the defendant and the officers in the immediate vicinity. Additionally, the trial court found that the officer did not pull down the defendant’s underwear or otherwise expose his bare buttocks or genitals and no females were present or within view during the search. The court determined that these findings support the trial court’s conclusion that, although the searches were intrusive, they were conducted in a discreet manner away from the view of others and limited in scope to finding a small amount of cocaine based on the corroborated tip of a known, reliable informant.

A roadside strip search was unreasonable. The search was a strip search, even though the defendant’s pants and underwear were not completely removed or lowered. Although the officer made an effort to shield the defendant from view, the search was a “roadside” strip search, distinguished from a private one. Roadside strip searches require probable cause and exigent circumstances, and no exigent circumstances existed here. Note that although a majority of the three-judge panel agreed that the strip search was unconstitutional, a majority did not agree as to why this was so.

The petitioner appealed from his impaired driving conviction on the basis that the State violated the Fourth Amendment by withdrawing his blood while he was unconscious without a warrant following his arrest for impaired driving. A Wisconsin state statute permits such blood draws. The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the petitioner’s convictions, though no single opinion from that court commanded a majority, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide “[w]hether a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.”  

Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Breyer and Justice Kavanaugh announced the judgment of the court and wrote the plurality opinion. The plurality noted at the outset that the Court’s opinions approving the general concept of implied consent laws did not rest on the idea that such laws create actual consent to the searches they authorize, but instead approved defining elements of such statutory schemes after evaluating constitutional claims in light of laws developed over the years to combat drunk driving. The plurality noted that the Court had previously determined that an officer may withdraw blood from an impaired driving suspect without a warrant if the facts of a particular case establish exigent circumstances. Missouri v.McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013); Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757, 765 (1966). While the natural dissipation of alcohol is insufficient by itself to create per se exigency in impaired driving cases, exigent circumstances may exist when that natural metabolic process is combined with other pressing police duties (such as the need to address issues resulting from a car accident) such that the further delay necessitated by a warrant application risks the destruction of evidence. The plurality reasoned that in impaired driving cases involving unconscious drivers, the need for a blood test is compelling and the officer’s duty to attend to more pressing needs involving health or safety (such as the need to transport an unconscious suspect to a hospital for treatment) may leave the officer no time to obtain a warrant. Thus, the plurality determined that when an officer has probable cause to believe a person has committed an impaired driving offense and the person’s unconsciousness or stupor requires him to be taken to the hospital before a breath test may be performed, the State may almost always order a warrantless blood test to measure the driver’s blood alcohol concentration without offending the Fourth Amendment. The plurality did not rule out that in an unusual case, a defendant could show that his or her blood would not have been withdrawn had the State not sought blood alcohol concentration information and that a warrant application would not have interfered with other pressing needs or duties. The plurality remanded the case because the petitioner had no opportunity to make such a showing.

Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment only, writing separately to advocate for overruling Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013), in favor of a rule that the dissipation of alcohol creates an exigency in every impaired driving case that excuses the need for a warrant. 

Justice Sotomayer, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, dissented, reasoning that the Court already had established that there is no categorical exigency exception for blood draws in impaired driving cases, although exigent circumstances might justify a warrantless blood draw on the facts of a particular case. The dissent noted that in light of that precedent, Wisconsin’s primary argument was always that the petitioner consented to the blood draw through the State’s implied-consent law. Certiorari review was granted on the issue of whether this law provided an exception to the warrant requirement. The dissent criticized the plurality for resting its analysis on the issue of exigency, an issue it said Wisconsin had affirmatively waived.

Justice Gorsuch dissented by separate opinion, arguing that the Court had declined to answer the question presented, instead upholding Wisconsin’s implied consent law on an entirely different ground, namely the exigent circumstances doctrine. 

In three consolidated cases the Court held that while a warrantless breath test of a motorist lawfully arrested for drunk driving is permissible as a search incident to arrest, a warrantless blood draw is not. It concluded: “Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, we conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving. As in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not needed in this situation.” Having found that the search incident to arrest doctrine does not justify the warrantless taking of a blood sample, the Court turned to the argument that blood tests are justified based on the driver’s legally implied consent to submit to them. In this respect it concluded: “motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense.”

The defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by the taking of a DNA cheek swab as part of booking procedures. When the defendant was arrested in April 2009 for menacing a group of people with a shotgun and charged in state court with assault, he was processed for detention in custody at a central booking facility. Booking personnel used a cheek swab to take the DNA sample from him pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act (Maryland Act). His DNA record was uploaded into the Maryland DNA database and his profile matched a DNA sample from a 2003 unsolved rape case. He was subsequently charged and convicted in the rape case. He challenged the conviction arguing that the Maryland Act violated the Fourth Amendment. The Maryland appellate court agreed. The Supreme Court reversed. The Court began by noting that using a buccal swab on the inner tissues of a person’s cheek to obtain a DNA sample was a search. The Court noted that a determination of the reasonableness of the search requires a weighing of “the promotion of legitimate governmental interests” against “the degree to which [the search] intrudes upon an individual’s privacy.” It found that “[i]n the balance of reasonableness . . . , the Court must give great weight both to the significant government interest at stake in the identification of arrestees and to the unmatched potential of DNA identification to serve that interest.” The Court noted in particular the superiority of DNA identification over fingerprint and photographic identification. Addressing privacy issues, the Court found that “the intrusion of a cheek swab to obtain a DNA sample is a minimal one.” It noted that a gentle rub along the inside of the cheek does not break the skin and involves virtually no risk, trauma, or pain. And, distinguishing special needs searches, the Court noted: “Once an individual has been arrested on probable cause for a dangerous offense that may require detention before trial . . . his or her expectations of privacy and freedom from police scrutiny are reduced. DNA identification like that at issue here thus does not require consideration of any unique needs that would be required to justify searching the average citizen.” The Court further determined that the processing of the defendant’s DNA was not unconstitutional. The information obtained does not reveal genetic traits or private medical information; testing is solely for the purpose of identification. Additionally, the Maryland Act protects against further invasions of privacy, by for example limiting use to identification. It concluded:

In light of the context of a valid arrest supported by probable cause respondent’s expectations of privacy were not offended by the minor intrusion of a brief swab of his cheeks. By contrast, that same context of arrest gives rise to significant state interests in identifying respondent not only so that the proper name can be attached to his charges but also so that the criminal justice system can make informed decisions concerning pretrial custody. Upon these considerations the Court concludes that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure. When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. 

State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678 (June 9, 2017)

The court held, in this DWI case, that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Birchfield v. North Dakota (search incident to arrest doctrine does not justify the warrantless taking of a blood sample; as to the argument that the blood tests at issue were justified based on the driver’s legally implied consent to submit to them, the Court concluded: “motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense”), and Missouri v. McNeely (natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant; exigency must be determined on a case-by-case basis), G.S. 20-16.2(b) (allowing blood draw from an unconscious person) was unconstitutional as applied to defendant because it permitted a warrantless search that violates the Fourth Amendment. An officer, relying on G.S. 20-16.2(b), took possession of the defendant’s blood from a treating nurse while the defendant was unconscious without first obtaining a warrant. The court rejected the State’s implied consent argument: that because the case involved an implied consent offense, by driving on the road, the defendant consented to having his blood drawn for a blood test and never withdrew this statutorily implied consent before the blood draw. It continued:

Here there is no dispute that the officer did not get a warrant and that there were no exigent circumstances. Regarding consent, the State’s argument was based solely on N.C.G.S. § 20-16.2(b) as a per se exception to the warrant requirement. To be sure, the implied-consent statute, as well as a person’s decision to drive on public roads, are factors to consider when analyzing whether a suspect has consented to a blood draw, but the statute alone does not create a per se exception to the warrant requirement. The State did not present any other evidence of consent or argue that under the totality of the circumstances defendant consented to a blood draw. Therefore, the State did not carry its burden of proving voluntary consent. As such, the trial court correctly suppressed the blood evidence and any subsequent testing of the blood that was obtained without a warrant.

The defendant was found guilty by a Cleveland County jury of impaired driving and resisting a public officer and was found responsible for possession of open container. He appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to dismiss, the denial of his mid-trial motion to suppress, an evidentiary ruling, and alleging constitutional violations for lost evidence. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed.

(1) The defendant claimed there was insufficient evidence that he operated the vehicle while impaired. As to operation, the defendant was found asleep behind the wheel with the car running in the middle of the road and had a bottle of vodka between his legs. No passengers were present, and the defendant asked the officer if he could move the car, revving the engine several times. He also used the driver side door to exit the vehicle. This was sufficient to establish operation. “An individual who is asleep behind the wheel of a car with the engine running is in actual physical control of the car, thus driving the car within the meaning of the statute.”  As to impairment, while the defendant’s blood alcohol content was only 0.07, the defendant’s blood revealed the presence of marijuana, amphetamine and methamphetamine. In addition to the blood test, the defendant “failed” horizontal and vertical gaze nystagmus tests, refused a breath test, had a strong odor of alcohol, was “confused and disoriented,” and exhibited other signs of impairment. This was sufficient evidence of impairment.

The defendant also claimed there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for resisting a public officer. Specifically, he argued that he was merely confused and in pain at the time of his interactions with the officers, and that this was the cause of his “negative interactions” with the officers. The court rejected this argument, noting: “The conduct proscribed under [N.C. Gen. Stat. §] 14-223 is not limited to resisting an arrest but includes any resistance, delay, or obstruction of an officer in discharge of his duties.” Here, the defendant committed multiple acts that obstructed the officer’s duties. The defendant would not roll down his window when asked by the officer, he repeatedly tried to start his car after being commanded to stop, he refused a breath test at least 10 times, and repeatedly put his hands in his pockets during the nystagmus testing after being instructed not to do so. He also refused to get into the patrol car once arrested and refused to voluntarily allow his blood to be drawn after a search warrant for it was obtained. In the court’s words:

Through these actions and his inactions, Defendant directly opposed the officers in their efforts to discharge their investigative duties of identifying him, speaking with him, and performing field sobriety tests. Thus, Defendant resisted the officers within the meaning of the statute.

The motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence of resisting a public officer was therefore properly denied.

The defendant also claimed his motion to dismiss for insufficiency as to the possession of open container of alcohol should have been granted. He pointed out that the bottle found in his car was not missing much alcohol and the officer admitted to emptying the bottle on the side of the road. Rejecting this argument, the court observed:

[T]he amount of alcohol missing from the container is irrelevant for purposes of this offense, because a contained is opened ‘[i]f the seal on [the] container of alcoholic beverages has been broken.’ Additionally, the fact that [the officer] poured out the contents of the container goes to the weight of the evidence, not its sufficiency.

The trial court therefore did not err in denying the motion for insufficient evidence for this offense.

(2) As to the suppression motion, the issue was preserved despite the motion being untimely because the court considered and ruled on the motion. The defendant argued that the forcible blood draw violated his rights to be free to unreasonable force. He did not challenge the validity of the search warrant authorizing the blood draw. Claims of excessive force are evaluated under the Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard. Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). “Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is ‘reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of ‘the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests’ against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Id. at 22 (citations omitted). Here, the officer had a valid warrant (obtained after the defendant’s repeated refusals to provide a breath sample), and the blood draw was performed by medical professionals at a hospital. Any acts of force by police to obtain the blood sample were the result of the defendant’s own resistance. The court observed:

Defendant had no right to resist the execution of a search warrant, and in fact, his actions rose to the level of criminal conduct under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223, for resisting a public officer. . . Defendant ‘cannot resist a lawful warrant and be rewarded with the exclusion of the evidence.’

The force used to effectuate the blood draw was reasonable under the circumstances and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The defendant also argued that his motion to suppress should have been granted for failure of the State to show that his blood was drawn by a qualified professional. G.S. 20-139.1(c) provides that doctor, registered nurse, EMT, or other qualified person shall take the blood sample. “An officer’s trial testimony regarding the qualifications of the person who withdrew the blood is sufficient evidence of the person’s qualifications.” Here, the officer testified that a nurse drew the blood, although he could not identify her by name and no other proof of her qualifications was admitted.  This was sufficient evidence that the blood was drawn by qualified person, and this argument was rejected.

(3) The trial court admitted into evidence the bottle found between the defendant’s legs at the time of arrest. According to the defendant, this was an abuse of discretion because the officers admitted to destroying the content of the bottle (by pouring it out) before trial. The defendant argued this was prejudicial and required a new trial. Because the defendant offered no authority that admission of the bottle into evidence was error, this argument was treated as abandoned and not considered.

(4) During the arrest, the stopping officer forgot to turn on his body camera and only began recording the investigation mid-way through. The officer also failed to record interactions with the defendant during processing after arrest in violation of department policy. The trial court found no constitutional violation. The defendant complained on appeal that the “intentional suppression” of this camera footage violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and sought dismissal or a new trial. However, the defendant only argued the Fourteenth Amendment Brady violation on appeal. His Sixth Amendment argument was therefore abandoned and waived.

As to the alleged Brady violation, the defendant did not seek dismissal in the trial court. “We are therefore precluded from reviewing the denial of any such motion, and Defendant’s request that this Court ‘dismiss the prosecution against him’ is itself dismissed.” However, the defendant’s argument at suppression that the failure to record the blood draw violated due process and warranted suppression was preserved. Under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), suppression of material evidence relevant to guilt or punishment violates due process, regardless of the government’s good or bad faith. Here though, there was no evidence that the State suppressed anything—the video footage was simply not created. Brady rights apply to materials within the possession of the State. “Defendant essentially asks this Court to extend Brady’s holding to include evidence not collected by an officer, which we decline to do.” There was also no indication that the video footage would have been helpful to the defendant. The court therefore rejected this claim. “Although the officers’ failure to record the interaction violated departmental policy, such violation did not amount to a denial of Defendant’s due process rights under Brady in this case.”

In this impaired driving case the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress where exigent circumstances supported a warrantless blood draw. The defendant tested at .10 on a roadside test, was arrested at 2:48 AM and then was transported to the police department, where he arrived 18 minutes later. When the defendant refused to comply with further testing within 2 to 3 minutes after arriving at the police department, the detective decided to compel a blood test. The closest hospital was approximately 4 miles away from the police department and 8 miles from the magistrate’s office. The detective read the defendant his rights regarding the blood draw at the hospital at 3:24 AM and waited for the defendant to finish making a phone call before starting the blood draw at 3:55 AM. The detective testified that based on the information he had at the time, he thought the defendant was close to a blood alcohol level of .08. The detective further indicated that he thought it would have taken an additional hour to an hour and half to get a search warrant. The detective was the only officer on the scene and would have had to wait for another officer to arrive before he could travel to the magistrate to get the search warrant. The trial court’s finding regarding the detective’s reasonable belief that the delay would result in the dissipation of alcohol in the defendant’s blood was supported by competent evidence. Thus, the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the blood draw.

On appeal from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 809 S.E.2d 340 (2018), the court per curiam vacated and remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of State v. Wilson, ___ N.C. ___, 821 S.E.2d 811 (2018). In the decision below the majority held, in relevant part, that where the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s suppression motion failed to resolve disputed issues of fact central to the court’s ability to conduct a meaningful appellate review, the case must be remanded for appropriate findings of fact. In its order denying the defendant’s suppression motion, the trial court concluded that, at the time defendant was asked for consent to search his car, he had not been seized. On appeal, the defendant challenged that conclusion, asserting that because the officers retained his driver’s license, a seizure occurred. It was undisputed that the law enforcement officers’ interactions with the defendant were not based upon suspicion of criminal activity. Thus, if a seizure occurred it was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The State argued that the trial court’s findings of fact fail to establish whether the officers retained the defendant’s license or returned it to him after examination. The Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the evidence was conflicting on this critical issue and remanding for appropriate findings of fact. As noted, the Supreme Court remanded for reconsideration in light of Wilson. In Wilson,a felon in possession of a firearm case, the Supreme Court held that Michigan v. Summers justifies a seizure of the defendant where he posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of a search.

On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 803 S.E.2d 698 (2017), in this felon in possession of a firearm case, the court held that Michigan v. Summers justifies a seizure of the defendant where he posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of a search and that the search and seizure of the defendant were supported by individualized suspicion. A SWAT team was sweeping a house so that the police could execute a search warrant. Several police officers were positioned around the house to create a perimeter securing the scene. The defendant penetrated the SWAT perimeter, stating that he was going to get his moped. In so doing, he passed Officer Christian, who was stationed at the perimeter near the street. The defendant then kept going, moving up the driveway and toward the house to be searched. Officer Ayers, who was stationed near the house, confronted the defendant. After a brief interaction, Officer Ayers searched the defendant based on his suspicion that the defendant was armed. Officer Ayers found a firearm in the defendant’s pocket. The defendant, who had previously been convicted of a felony, was arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He unsuccessfully moved to suppress at trial and was convicted. The Court of Appeals held that the search was invalid because the trial court’s order did not show that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion. The Supreme Court reversed holding “that the rule in Michigan v. Summers justifies the seizure here because defendant, who passed one officer, stated he was going to get his moped, and continued toward the premises being searched, posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of the search.” The court interpreted the Summers rule to mean that a warrant to search for contraband founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to detain occupants who are within the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched and who are present during the execution of a search warrant. Applying this rule, the court determined that “a person is an occupant for the purposes of the Summers rule if he poses a real threat to the safe and efficient execution of a search warrant.” (quotation omitted). Here, the defendant posed such a threat. It reasoned: “He approached the house being swept, announced his intent to retrieve his moped from the premises, and appeared to be armed. It was obvious that defendant posed a threat to the safe completion of the search.”

         Because the Summers rule only justifies detentions incident to the execution of search warrants, the court continued, considering whether the search of the defendant’s person was justified. On this issue the court held that “both the search and seizure of defendant were supported by individualized suspicion and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment.”

In this drug case, the court held, deciding an issue of first impression, that an odor of marijuana emanating from inside a vehicle stopped at a checkpoint did not provide an officer with probable cause to conduct an immediate warrantless search of the driver. The defendant was driving the stopped vehicle; a passenger sat in the front seat. The officer was unable to establish the exact location of the odor but determined that it was coming from inside the vehicle. Upon smelling the odor, the officer ordered the defendant out of the vehicle and searched him, finding cocaine and other items. On appeal the defendant argued that although the officer smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle, there was no evidence that the odor was attributable to the defendant personally. It was not contested that the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle. Probable cause to search a vehicle however does not justify search of a passenger. The State offered no evidence that the marijuana odor was attributable to the defendant. The court held: the officer “may have had probable cause to search the vehicle, but he did not have probable cause to search defendant.” 

In Re V.C.R., 227 N.C. App. 80 (May. 7, 2013)

Although an officer had reasonable suspicion to stop a juvenile, the officer’s subsequent conduct of ordering the juvenile to empty her pockets constituted a search and this search was illegal; it was not incident to an arrest nor consensual. The district court thus erred by denying the juvenile’s motion to suppress.

On what it described as an issue of first impression in North Carolina, the court held that a drug dog’s positive alert at the front side driver’s door of a motor vehicle does not give rise to probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the person of a recent passenger of the vehicle who is standing outside the vehicle.

Probable cause and exigent circumstances supported an officer’s warrantless search of the defendant’s mouth by grabbing him around the throat, pushing him onto the hood of a vehicle, and demanding that he spit out whatever he was trying to swallow. Probable cause to believe that the defendant possessed illegal drugs and was attempting to destroy them was supported by information from three reliable informants, the fact that the defendant’s vehicle was covered in talcum powder, which is used to mask the odor of drugs, while conducting a consent search of the defendant’s person, the defendant attempted to swallow something, and that other suspects had attempted to swallow drugs in the officer’s presence. Exigent circumstances existed because the defendant attempted to swallow four packages of cocaine, which could have endangered his health.

There was probable cause supporting a warrantless search of the defendant. During a pat-down, an officer felt a digital scale in the defendant’s pocket and the defendant confirmed the nature of the object. The officer was justified in concluding that the scale was contraband given informant tips that defendant was selling drugs. Additionally, the defendant was coming from the area in which the informants claimed he was selling drugs, and he was acting nervously. The defendant did not challenge the trial court’s conclusion that exigent circumstances were present.

The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment does not permit an officer, uninvited and without a warrant, to enter the curtilage of a home to search a vehicle parked there. Officer McCall saw the driver of an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame commit a traffic infraction. The driver eluded McCall’s attempt to stop the motorcycle. A few weeks later, Officer Rhodes saw an orange and black motorcycle traveling well over the speed limit, but the driver got away from him, too. The officers compared notes, determined that the two incidents involved the same motorcyclist, and that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of Ryan Collins. After discovering photographs on Collins’ Facebook page showing an orange and black motorcycle parked at the top of the driveway of a house, Rhodes tracked down the address of the house, drove there, and parked on the street. It was later established that Collins’ girlfriend lived in the house and that Collins stayed there a few nights per week. From the street, Rhodes saw what appeared to be a motorcycle with an extended frame covered with a white tarp, parked at the same angle and in the same location on the driveway as in the Facebook photo. Rhodes, who did not have a warrant, walked toward the house. He stopped to take a photograph of the covered motorcycle from the sidewalk, and then walked onto the residential property and up to the top of the driveway to where the motorcycle was parked. Rhodes removed the tarp, revealing a motorcycle that looked like the one from the speeding incident. He ran a search of the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, which confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen. Rhodes photographed the uncovered motorcycle, put the tarp back on, left the property, and returned to his car to wait for Collins. When Collins returned, Rhodes approached the door and knocked. Collins answered, agreed to speak with Rhodes, and admitted that the motorcycle was his and that he had bought it without title. Collins was charged with receiving stolen property. He unsuccessfully sought to suppress the evidence that Rhodes obtained as a result of the warrantless search of the motorcycle. He was convicted and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed. The Court characterized the case as arising “at the intersection of two components of the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and the protection extended to the curtilage of a home.” After reviewing the law on these doctrines, the Court turned to whether the location in question is curtilage. It noted that according to photographs in the record, the driveway runs alongside the front lawn and up a few yards past the front perimeter of the house. The top portion of the driveway that sits behind the front perimeter of the house is enclosed on two sides by a brick wall about the height of a car and on a third side by the house. A side door provides direct access between this partially enclosed section of the driveway and the house. A visitor endeavoring to reach the front door would have to walk partway up the driveway, but would turn off before entering the enclosure and instead proceed up a set of steps leading to the front porch. When Rhodes searched the motorcycle, it was parked inside this partially enclosed top portion of the driveway that abuts the house. The Court concluded that the driveway enclosure here is properly considered curtilage. The Court continued, noting that by physically intruding on the curtilage, the officer not only invaded the defendant’s fourth amendment interest in the item searched—the motorcycle—but also his fourth amendment interest in the curtilage of his home. Finding the case an “easy” one, the Court concluded that the automobile exception did not justify an invasion of the curtilage. It clarified: “the scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself.” The Court rejected Virginia’s request that it expand the scope of the automobile exception to permit police to invade any space outside an automobile even if the Fourth Amendment protects that space. It continued:

Just as an officer must have a lawful right of access to any contraband he discovers in plain view in order to seize it without a warrant, and just as an officer must have a lawful right of access in order to arrest a person in his home, so, too, an officer must have a lawful right of access to a vehicle in order to search it pursuant to the automobile exception. The automobile exception does not afford the necessary lawful right of access to search a vehicle parked within a home or its curtilage because it does not justify an intrusion on a person’s separate and substantial Fourth Amendment interest in his home and curtilage.

It also rejected Virginia’s argument that the Court’s precedent indicates that the automobile exception is a categorical one that permits the warrantless search of a vehicle anytime, anywhere, including in a home or curtilage. For these and other reasons discussed in the Court’s opinion, the Court held that “the automobile exception does not permit an officer without a warrant to enter a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle therein.” It left for resolution on remand whether Rhodes’ warrantless intrusion on the curtilage may have been reasonable on a different basis, such as the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.

In this case in which the defendant was convicted of drug trafficking and related charges, the court held that although the trial court erred by finding that a vehicle was within the curtilage of the defendant’s residence, it properly found that officers had probable cause to search the vehicle. Officers conducted a drug investigation of the defendant, including surveillance of his residence. During the investigation, a confidential police informant arranged and engaged in a controlled purchase of heroin from the defendant’s residence. A couple of months later the same confidential informant conducted another controlled purchase of heroin at the defendant’s residence. Officers saw the confidential informant purchase the drugs from the defendant at the trunk of a black 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis parked on the other side of the road from the defendant’s residence. Officers saw the vehicle regularly parked in this location during their investigation. As a result of the investigation, Officer Kimel got a search warrant for the defendant’s residence; the warrant did not mention the Grand Marquis. When the officers arrived to execute the search warrant, Kimel saw the vehicle parked across the street. The back and sides of the residence were surrounded by a 7- or 8-foot-high chain link fence; a short wooden fence was in the front of the residence. Kimel asked another officer have his K-9 sniff the vehicle. The dog gave a positive alert for drugs. Kimel obtained the keys to the vehicle from the defendant’s pocket and searched the car. In the trunk, officers found the defendant’s wallet, guns, ammunition, a digital scale, and drugs. After the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence obtained from the search of the vehicle, the defendant pled guilty to multiple drug charges, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. On appeal the defendant argued that the officers searched the vehicle without either a search warrant or probable cause.

            The court began by holding that the trial court erred by concluding that the vehicle was within the curtilage of the residence while parked on the side of a public street opposite the home and outside the home’s fenced-in area. The State had conceded this issue at oral argument.

            The court went on to find however that the officers had probable cause to search the vehicle based on: the controlled purchases by the informant, during which times the Grand Marquis was always present; the officers’ observation of a drug transaction taking place at the trunk of the Grand Marquis; the Grand Marquis parked on a public street near the defendant’s residence during the officers’ investigation; the defendant’s possession of the keys to the Grand Marquis; and the K-9’s positive alert outside of the vehicle for the potential presence of narcotics. It concluded: “Based upon the automobile being located on a public road exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, probable cause justified the officers in conducting the warrantless search of the Grand Marquis.”

            In so holding, the court declined to consider the defendant’s argument, raised for the first time on appeal, that the reliability of the K-9 was not sufficiently established under Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237 (2013), noting that a party may not assert on appeal a theory that was not raised at the trial court. It further noted that the K-9 sniff was not a search and the dog’s positive alert provided support for the trial court’s determination that officers had probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle. The court did however note that officers had probable cause to search the vehicle even without the sniff.

The court rejected the defendant’s claim that counsel was ineffective by failing to object to the admission of cocaine found during an officer’s warrantless search of the defendant’s vehicle; the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State was required to prove that the defendant’s car was “readily mobile” in order for the automobile exception to the warrant requirement to apply. An officer searched the vehicle after smelling a strong odor of marijuana and seeing an individual sitting in the passenger seat with marijuana on his lap. The cocaine was found during a subsequent search of the vehicle. The vehicle was parked on the street when the search occurred and no evidence suggested that it was incapable of movement.

Although a search of the defendant’s vehicle was not proper under Gant, it was authorized under the automobile exception where officers had probable cause that the vehicle contained marijuana. After officers saw a vehicle execute a three-point turn in the middle of an intersection, strike a parked vehicle, and continue traveling on the left side of the road, they activated their blue lights to initiate a traffic stop. Before the vehicle stopped, they saw a brown beer bottle thrown from the driver’s side window. After the driver and passenger exited the vehicle, the officers detected an odor of alcohol and marijuana from the inside of the car and discovered a partially consumed bottle of beer in the center console. The defendant was arrested for hit and run and possession of an open container, put in handcuffs, and placed in the back of the officers’ cruiser. One of the officers searched the vehicle and retrieved the beer bottle from the center console, a grocery bag containing more beer, and a plastic baggie containing several white rocks, which turned out to be cocaine, in car’s glove compartment. After the defendant was charged with possession of cocaine and other offenses, he moved to suppress the evidence found pursuant to the search of his car. The court concluded that although a search of the car was not proper under Gant, it was proper under the automobile exception. Specifically, the fact that the officers smelled a strong odor of marijuana inside the vehicle provided probable cause to search.

The exclusionary rule (a deterrent sanction baring the prosecution from introducing evidence obtained by way of a Fourth Amendment violation) does not apply when the police conduct a search in compliance with binding precedent that is later overruled. Alabama officers conducted a routine traffic stop that eventually resulted in the arrests of driver Stella Owens for driving while intoxicated and passenger Willie Davis for giving a false name to police. The police handcuffed both individuals and placed them in the back of separate patrol cars. The police then searched the passenger compartment of Owens’s vehicle and found a revolver inside Davis’s jacket pocket. The search was done in reliance on precedent in the jurisdiction that had interpreted New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981), to authorize automobile searches incident to arrests of recent occupants, regardless of whether the arrestee was within reaching distance of the vehicle at the time of the search. Davis was indicted on a weapons charge and unsuccessfully moved to suppress the revolver. He was convicted. While Davis’s case was on appeal, the Court decided Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), adopting a new, two-part rule under which an automobile search incident to a recent occupant’s arrest is constitutional (1) if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle during the search, or (2) if the police have reason to believe that the vehicle contains evidence relevant to the crime of arrest. Analyzing whether to apply the exclusionary rule to the search at issue, the Court determined that “[the] acknowledged absence of police culpability dooms Davis’s claim.” Slip Op. at 10. It stated: “Because suppression would do nothing to deter police misconduct in these circumstances, and because it would come at a high cost to both the truth and the public safety, we hold that searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule.” Slip Op. at 1.

Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (Apr. 21, 2009)

Holding that officers may search a vehicle incident to arrest only if (1) the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment when the search is conducted; or (2) it is reasonable to believe that evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle. For more complete analysis of this ruling, see the online paper here.

State v. Mbacke, 365 N.C. 403 (Jan. 27, 2012)

The court reversed the court of appeals and determined that a search of the defendant’s vehicle incident to his arrest for carrying a concealed gun did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The defendant was indicted for, among other things, trafficking in cocaine and carrying a concealed gun. Officers were dispatched to a specific street address in response to a 911 reporting that a black male armed with a black handgun, wearing a yellow shirt, and driving a red Ford Escape was parked in his driveway and that the male had “shot up” his house the previous night. Officers Walley and Horsley arrived at the scene less than six minutes after the 911 call. They observed a black male (later identified as the defendant) wearing a yellow shirt and backing a red or maroon Ford Escape out of the driveway. The officers exited their vehicles, drew their weapons, and moved toward the defendant while ordering him to stop and put his hands in the air. Officer Woods then arrived and blocked the driveway to prevent escape. The defendant initially rested his hands on his steering wheel, but then lowered them towards his waist. Officers then began shouting at the defendant to keep his hands in sight and to exit his vehicle. The defendant raised his hands and stepped out of his car, kicking or bumping the driver’s door shut as he did so. Officers ordered the defendant to lie on the ground and handcuffed him, advising him that he was being detained because they had received a report that a person matching his description was carrying a weapon. After the defendant said that he had a gun in his waistband and officers found the gun, the defendant was arrested for carrying a concealed gun. The officers secured the defendant in the back of a patrol car, returned to his vehicle, and opened the driver’s side door. Officer Horsley immediately saw a white brick wrapped in green plastic protruding from beneath the driver’s seat. As Officer Horsley was showing this to Officer Walley, the defendant attempted to escape from the patrol car. After re-securing the defendant, the officers searched his vehicle incident to the arrest but found no other contraband. The white brick turned out to be 993.8 grams of cocaine. The court noted that the case required it to apply Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009) (officers may search a vehicle incident to arrest only if (1) the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment when the search is conducted; or (2) it is reasonable to believe that evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle). It began its analysis by concluding that as used in the second prong of the Gant test, the term “reasonable to believe” establishes a threshold lower than probable cause that “parallels the objective ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard sufficient to justify a Terry stop.” Thus, it held that “when investigators have a reasonable and articulable basis to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in a suspect’s vehicle after the occupants have been removed and secured, the investigators are permitted to conduct a search of that vehicle.” Applying that standard, the court concluded:

[D]efendant was arrested for . . . carrying a concealed gun. The arrest was based upon defendant’s disclosure that the weapon was under his shirt. Other circumstances . . . such as the report of defendant’s actions the night before and defendant’s furtive behavior when confronted by officers, support a finding that it was reasonable to believe additional evidence of the offense of arrest could be found in defendant’s vehicle. Accordingly, the search was permissible under Gant . . . .”

The court ended by noting that it “[was] not holding that an arrest for carrying a concealed weapon is ipso facto an occasion that justifies the search of a vehicle.” It expressed the belief that “the ‘reasonable to believe’ standard required by Gant will not routinely be based on the nature or type of the offense of arrest and that the circumstances of each case ordinarily will determine the propriety of any vehicular searches conducted incident to an arrest.”

After the defendant’s arrest for impaired driving, officers properly searched his vehicle as a search incident to arrest. Applying Arizona v. Gant, the court found that the officer had a reasonable basis to believe that evidence of impaired driving might be found in the vehicle. The defendant denied ownership, possession, and operation of the vehicle to the officer both verbally and by throwing the car keys under the vehicle. Based on the totality of the circumstances, including the strong odor of alcohol on the defendant, the defendant’s efforts to hide the keys and refusal to unlock the vehicle, and the officer’s training and experience with regard to impaired driving investigations, the trial court properly concluded that the officer reasonably believed that the vehicle may contain evidence of the offense. In the factual discussion, the court noted that the officer had testified that he had conducted between 20-30 impaired driving investigations, that at least 50% of those cases involved discovery of evidence associated with impaired driving inside the vehicle, such as open containers of alcohol, and that he had been trained to search a vehicle under these circumstances.

A search of the defendant’s vehicle was properly done incident to the defendant’s arrest for an open container offense, where the officer had probable cause to arrest before the search even though the formal arrest did not occur until after the search was completed. The court noted that under Gant “[a]n officer may conduct a warrantless search of a suspect’s vehicle incident to his arrest if he has a reasonable belief that evidence related to the offense of arrest may be found inside the vehicle.” Here, the trial court’s unchallenged findings of fact that it is common to find alcohol in vehicles of individuals stopped for alcohol violations; and that the center console in defendant’s car was large enough to hold beer cans support the conclusion that the arresting officer had a reasonable belief that evidence related to the open container violation might be found in the defendant’s vehicle. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the search was an unconstitutional “search incident to citation,” noting that the defendant was arrested, not issued a citation.

The search of a vehicle driven by the defendant was valid under Gant as incident to the arrest of the defendant’s passenger for possession of drug paraphernalia. Officers had a reasonable belief that evidence relevant to the passenger’s possession of drug paraphernalia might be found in the vehicle. Additionally, the objective circumstances provided the officers with probable cause for a warrantless search of the vehicle. The drug paraphernalia found on the passenger, an anonymous tip that the vehicle would be transporting drugs, the fact that there were outstanding arrest warrants for the car’s owner, the defendant’s nervous behavior while driving and upon exiting the vehicle, and an alert by a drug-sniffing dog provided probable cause for the warrantless search of the vehicle.

Although the search of the defendant’s vehicle was not valid as one incident to arrest under Gant, it was a valid consent search.

State v. Foy, 208 N.C. App. 562 (Dec. 21, 2010)

The trial court erred by suppressing evidence obtained pursuant to a search incident to arrest. After stopping the defendant’s vehicle, an officer decided not to charge him with impaired driving but to allow the defendant to have someone pick him up. The defendant consented to the officer to retrieving a cell phone from the vehicle. While doing that, the officer saw a weapon and charged the defendant with carrying a concealed weapon. Following the arrest, officers searched the defendant’s vehicle, finding addition contraband, which was suppressed by the trial court. The court noted that under Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), officers may search a vehicle incident to arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or if it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. When these justifications are absent, a search of the vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies. Citing State v. Toledo, 204 N.C. App. 170 (2010), the court held that having arrested the defendant for carrying a concealed weapon, it was reasonable for the officer to believe that the vehicle contained additional offense-related contraband, within the meaning of the second Gant exception.

The defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the police searched his vehicle incident to his arrest for driving with a revoked driver’s license. Under Gant (discussed above), the officers could not reasonably have believed that evidence of the defendant’s driving while license suspended might have been found in the car. Additionally, because the defendant was in the police car when the officers conducted the search, he could not have accessed the vehicle’s passenger compartment at the time of the searched.

A search of a tire found in the undercarriage of the defendant’s vehicle was proper. An officer stopped the defendant for following too closely. The officer asked for and received consent to search the vehicle. During the consent search, the officer performed a “ping test” on a tire found inside the vehicle. When the ping test revealed a strong odor of marijuana, the officer arrested the defendant and searched the rest of the vehicle. At that point, the officer found a second tire located in the vehicle’s undercarriage, which also contained marijuana. The search was justified because (1) the discovery of marijuana in the first tire gave the officer probable cause to believe that the vehicle was being used to transport marijuana and therefore the officer had probable cause to search any part of the vehicle that may have contained marijuana and (2) it was reasonable to believe that the vehicle contained evidence of the crime of arrest under Gant.

State v. Carter, 200 N.C. App. 47 (Sept. 15, 2009)

Applying Gant (discussed immediately above) and holding that the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence (papers) obtained during a warrantless search of his vehicle subsequent to his arrest for driving with an expired registration and failing to notify the DMV of an address change. Because the defendant had been removed from the vehicle, handcuffed, and was sitting on a curb when the search occurred, there was no reason to believe that he was within reaching distance or otherwise able to access the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Additionally, there was no evidence that the arresting officer believed that the papers were related to the charged offenses and furthermore, it would be unreasonable to think that papers seen on the passenger seat of the car were related to those offenses.

Pennsylvania State Troopers pulled over a car driven by Terrence Byrd. Byrd was the only person in the car. During the traffic stop the troopers learned that the car was rented and that Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement as an authorized driver. For this reason, the troopers told Byrd they did not need his consent to search the car, including its trunk where he had stored personal effects. A search of the trunk uncovered body armor and 49 bricks of heroin. The defendant was charged with federal drug crimes. He moved to suppress the evidence. The Federal District Court denied the motion and the Third Circuit affirmed. Both courts concluded that, because Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement, he lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the question whether a driver has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car when he or she is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement. The Government argued, in part, that drivers who are not listed on rental agreements always lack an expectation of privacy in the automobile based on the rental company’s lack of authorization alone. The Court found that “[t]his per se rule rests on too restrictive a view of the Fourth Amendment’s protections.” It held, in part: “the mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy.” The Court remanded on two arguments advanced by the Government: that one who intentionally uses a third party to procure a rental car by a fraudulent scheme for the purpose of committing a crime is no better situated than a car thief (who, the Court noted, would lack a legitimate expectation of privacy); and that probable cause justified the search in any event.

In this Cabarrus County case, the defendant was convicted of two counts of felony possession of Schedule I controlled substance and having attained habitual felon status. The charges arose from substances recovered from the vehicle defendant was driving when he was stopped for failing to wear his seatbelt. The officer who approached the car smelled the odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the car. The officer told the defendant and his passenger that if they handed over everything they had, he would simply cite them for possession of marijuana. The passenger in the car then admitted that he had smoked a marijuana joint earlier and retrieved a partially smoked marijuana cigarette from his sock. The officer then searched the car and discovered gray rock-like substances that when tested proved to be Cyclopropylfentanyl (a fentanyl derivative compound) and a pill that was N-ethylpentylone (a chemical compound similar to bath salts). 

(1) At trial, the defendant moved to suppress evidence of the drugs recovered from his car. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by failing to issue a written order and in finding that the search was supported by probable cause. The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not err by failing to enter a written order denying the defendant’s motion to suppress as there was no material conflict in the evidence and the trial court’s oral ruling explained its rationale. The Court further held that regardless of whether the scent of marijuana emanating from a vehicle continues to be sufficient to establish probable cause (now that hemp is legal and the smell of the two is indistinguishable), the officer in this case had probable cause based on additional factors, which included the passenger’s admission that he had just smoked marijuana and the partially smoked marijuana cigarette he produced from his sock. The Court also considered the officer’s subjective belief that the substance he smelled was marijuana to be additional evidence supporting probable cause, even if the officer’s belief might have been mistaken. The Court rejected the defendant’s contention that the probable cause had to be particularized to him, citing precedent establishing that if probable cause justifies the search of a vehicle, an officer may search every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search. 

(2) The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that Cyclopropylfentanyl and N-ethylpentylone were controlled substances since those substances are not specifically listed as named controlled substances under Schedule I in G.S. 90-89.  The Court rejected the defendant’s argument on the basis that the classification of these substances was a legal issue within the province of the trial court.  Furthermore, the Court determined that even if the classification was a factual issue, the defendant was not prejudiced because the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the substances were controlled substances fitting within the catch-all provision of Schedule I. 

(3) The defendant argued on appeal that because he denied knowing the identity of the substances found in his vehicle the trial court erred in denying his request to instruct the jury that he must have known that what he possessed was a controlled substance. The Court of Appeals found no error. The Court characterized the defendant’s statements to the arresting officer as “amount[ing] to a denial of any knowledge whatsoever that the vehicle he was driving contained drugs” and noted that the defendant never specifically denied knowledge of the contents of the cloth in which the Cyclopropylfentanyl was wrapped, nor did he admit that the substances belonged to him while claiming not to know what they were. The Court concluded that these facts failed to establish the prerequisite circumstance for giving the instruction requested, namely that the defendant did not know the true identity of what he possessed. The Court further noted that defense counsel was allowed to explain to the jury during closing argument that knowing possession was a required element of the offense and the jury instructions required the State to prove that the defendant knowingly possessed the controlled substance and was aware of its presence.

A search of a tire found in the undercarriage of the defendant’s vehicle was proper. An officer stopped the defendant for following too closely. The officer asked for and received consent to search the vehicle. During the consent search, the officer performed a “ping test” on a tire found inside the vehicle. When the ping test revealed a strong odor of marijuana, the officer arrested the defendant and searched the rest of the vehicle. At that point, the officer found a second tire located in the vehicle’s undercarriage, which also contained marijuana. The search was justified because the discovery of marijuana in the first tire gave the officer probable cause to believe that the vehicle was being used to transport marijuana and therefore the officer had probable cause to search any part of the vehicle that may have contained marijuana.

Standing alone, the defendant’s statement that a plastic bag in his car contained “cigar guts” did not establish probable cause to search the defendant’s vehicle. Although the officer testified that gutted cigars had become a popular means of consuming controlled substances, that evidence established a link between hollowed out cigars and marijuana, not between loose tobacco and marijuana. There was no evidence that the defendant was stopped in a drug-ridden area, at an unusual time of day, or that the officer had any basis, apart from the defendant’s statements, for believing that the defendant possessed marijuana.

State v. Lowe, 369 N.C. 360 (Dec. 21, 2016)

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the court held that a search of a vehicle located on the premises was within the scope of the warrant. The vehicle in question was parked in the curtilage of the residence and was a rental car of the defendant, an overnight guest at the house. If a search warrant validly describes the premises to be searched, a car on the premises may be searched even though the warrant contains no description of the car. In departing from this general rule, the Court of Appeals held that the search of the car was invalid because the officers knew that the vehicle in question did not belong to the suspect in the drug investigation. Noting that the record was unclear as to what the officers knew about ownership and control of the vehicle, the court concluded; “Nonetheless, regardless of whether the officers knew the car was a rental, we hold that the search was within the scope of the warrant.”

The government’s installation of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements on public streets constitutes a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Suspecting that the defendant was involved in drug trafficking, the government obtained a search warrant for use of a GPS device on the defendant’s vehicle; the warrant authorized officers to install the device in the District of Columbia within 10 days. Officers ended up installing the device on the undercarriage of the vehicle while it was parked in a public parking lot in Maryland, 11 days after the warrant was signed. Over the next 28 days, the government used the device to track the vehicle’s movements, and once had to replace the device’s battery when the vehicle was parked in a different public lot in Maryland. By means of signals from multiple satellites, the device established the vehicle’s location within 50 to 100 feet, and communicated that location by cellular phone to a government computer. It relayed more than 2,000 pages of data over the 4-week period. The defendant was charged with several drug offenses. He unsuccessfully sought to suppress the evidence obtained through the GPS device. Before the U.S. Supreme Court the government conceded noncompliance with the warrant and argued only that a warrant was not required for the GPS device. Concluding that the evidence should have been suppressed, the Court characterized the government’s conduct as having “physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information.” So characterized, the Court had “no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted.” The Court declined to address whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the undercarriage of his car and in the car’s locations on the public roads, concluding that such an analysis was not required when the intrusion—as here—“encroached on a protected area.”

The discovery of marijuana on a passenger provided probable cause to search a vehicle. After stopping the defendant and determining that the defendant had a revoked license, the officer told the defendant that the officer’s K-9 dog would walk around the vehicle. At that point, the defendant indicated that his passenger had a marijuana cigarette, which she removed from her pants. The officer then searched the car and found marijuana in the trunk.

In this case involving a welfare check that resulted in officers entering petitioner Caniglia’s home without a warrant and seizing his firearms, the court held that its decision in Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973) upholding as reasonable a “caretaking search” of an impounded vehicle for a firearm did not create a standalone doctrine that justifies warrantless searches and seizures in the home.  Following an argument where Caniglia put a gun on a table and told his wife to shoot him, officers accompanied his wife to their shared home to assess his welfare.  During that visit, Caniglia agreed to be taken for a mental health evaluation and officers entered his home to confiscate two pistols against his expressly stated wishes.  Caniglia later sued, alleging that officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by the warrantless seizure of him and his pistols. The First Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the officers solely on the basis that the seizures fell within a freestanding “community caretaking exception” to the warrant requirement it extrapolated from Cady.  Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Thomas noted Cady’s “unmistakable distinction between vehicles and homes” and the Court’s repeated refusal to expand the scope of exceptions to the warrant requirement in the context of searches and seizures in homes.  Finding that the First Circuit’s recognition of a freestanding community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement went “beyond anything this Court has recognized,” the Court vacated the judgment below and remanded for further proceedings.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Breyer, concurred by noting that the Court’s opinion was not contrary to the exigent circumstances doctrine.  Justice Alito concurred by noting his view that the Court correctly had rejected a special Fourth Amendment rule for a broad category of cases involving “community caretaking” but had not settled difficult questions about the parameters of all searches and seizures conducted for “non-law-enforcement purposes.”  Justice Kavanaugh concurred and elaborated on his observations of the applicability of the exigent circumstances doctrine in cases where officers enter homes without warrants to assist persons in need of aid.

Because an officer violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights by searching the curtilage of his home without a warrant, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The officer saw a vehicle with its doors open at the back of a 150-yard driveway leading to the defendant’s home. Concerned that the vehicle might be part of a break-in or home invasion, the officer drove down the driveway, ran the vehicle’s tags, checked—but did not knock—on the front door, checked the windows and doors of the home for signs of forced entry, “cleared” the sides of the house, and then went through a closed gate in a chain-link fence enclosing the home’s backyard and approached the storm door at the back of the house. As the officer approached the door, which was not visible from the street, he smelled marijuana, which led to the defendant’s arrest for drug charges. At the suppression hearing, the State relied on two exceptions to the warrant requirement to justify the officer’s search of the curtilage: the knock and talk doctrine and the community caretaker doctrine. The court found however that neither exception applies. First, the officer did more than nearly knock and talk. Specifically, he ran a license plate not visible from the street, walked around the house examining windows and searching for signs of a break-in, and went first to the front door without knocking and then to a rear door not visible from the street and located behind a closed gate. “These actions went beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held are the permissible actions during a knock and talk.” Likewise, the community caretaker doctrine does not support the officer’s action. “The presence of a vehicle in one’s driveway with its doors open is not the sort of emergency that justifies the community caretaker exception.” The court also noted that because the fourth amendment’s protections “are at their very strongest within one’s home,” the public need justifying the community caretaker exception “must be particularly strong to justify a warrantless search of a home.”

The Government conducts a search under the Fourth Amendment when it accesses historical cell phone records that provide a comprehensive chronicle of the user’s past movements. Police officers arrested four men suspected of robbing Radio Shack and TMobile stores in Detroit. One of the men confessed to a series of robberies in Michigan and Ohio, identified 15 accomplices, and gave law enforcement some of their cell phone numbers. Based on this information, prosecutors applied for court orders under the Stored Communications Act (SCA) to obtain cell phone records for defendant Timothy Carpenter. The SCA permits the Government to compel the disclosure of certain telecommunications records when it “offers specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe” that the records sought “are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.” Federal Magistrate Judges issued two orders directing Carpenter’s wireless carriers—MetroPCS and Sprint—to disclose “cell/site sector [information] for [Carpenter’s] telephone[ ] at call origination and at call termination for incoming and outgoing calls” during the four-month period when the string of robberies occurred. The first order sought 152 days of cell-site records from MetroPCS, which produced records spanning 127 days. The second order requested seven days of CSLI from Sprint, which produced two days of records covering the period when Carpenter’s phone was “roaming” in northeastern Ohio. Altogether the Government obtained 12,898 location points cataloging Carpenter’s movements—an average of 101 data points per day.

Carpenter was charged with six counts of robbery and six counts of carrying a firearm during a federal crime of violence. He moved to suppress the cell-site data provided by the wireless carriers, arguing that the Government’s seizure of the records violated the Fourth Amendment because they had been obtained without a warrant supported by probable cause. The District Court denied the motion. At trial FBI agent Christopher Hess offered expert testimony about the cell-site data. Hess explained that each time a cell phone taps into the wireless network, the carrier logs a time-stamped record of the cell site and particular sector that were used. With this information, Hess produced maps that placed Carpenter’s phone near four of the charged robberies. Carpenter was convicted on all but one count. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Sixth Circuit, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case.

The Court began by noting that for many years Fourth Amendment search doctrine was “tied to common-law trespass” and focused on whether the Government “obtains information by physically intruding on a constitutionally protected area.” But, in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967), the Court established that “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places,” and expanded its conception of the Amendment to protect certain expectations of privacy as well. It explained: “When an individual seeks to preserve something as private, and his expectation of privacy is one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable, we have held that official intrusion into that private sphere generally qualifies as a search and requires a warrant supported by probable cause.” (quotations omitted).

The Court noted that the digital data at issue in this case does not fit neatly under existing precedents. Instead, requests for cell-site records lie at the intersection of two lines of cases. The first set of cases addresses a person’s expectation of privacy in his physical location and movements, including United States v. Knotts, 460 U. S. 276 (1983) (monitoring a beeper signal in a container in an automobile on public highways did not violate the Fourth Amendment), and United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012)(the government’s installation of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements on public streets constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment). In the second set of cases, including Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979),and United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976), the Court applied the “third-party doctrine” and has drawn a line between what a person keeps to himself and what he shares with others, holding that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” Against this review, the Court presented the issue as follows:

The question we confront today is how to apply the Fourth Amendment to a new phenomenon: the ability to chronicle a person’s past movements through the record of his cell phone signals. Such tracking partakes of many of the qualities of the GPS monitoring we considered in Jones. Much like GPS tracking of a vehicle, cell phone location information is detailed, encyclopedic, and effortlessly compiled.

At the same time, the fact that the individual continuously reveals his location to his wireless carrier implicates the third-party principle of Smith and Miller. But while the third-party doctrine applies to telephone numbers and bank records, it is not clear whether its logic extends to the qualitatively different category of cell-site records. After all, when Smith was decided in 1979, few could have imagined a society in which a phone goes wherever its owner goes, conveying to the wireless carrier not just dialed digits, but a detailed and comprehensive record of the person’s movements

It held:

We decline to extend Smith and Miller to cover these novel circumstances. Given the unique nature of cell phone location records, the fact that the information is held by a third party does not by itself overcome the user’s claim to Fourth Amendment protection. Whether the Government employs its own surveillance technology as in Jones or leverages the technology of a wireless carrier, we hold that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI. The location information obtained from Carpenter’s wireless carriers was the product of a search.

The Court characterized its decision as “a narrow one,” noting:

We do not express a view on matters not before us: real-time CSLI or “tower dumps” (a download of information on all the devices that connected to a particular cell site during a particular interval). We do not disturb the application of Smith and Miller or call into question conventional surveillance techniques and tools, such as security cameras. Nor do we address other business records that might incidentally reveal location information. Further, our opinion does not consider other collection techniques involving foreign affairs or national security.

Having found that the acquisition of Carpenter’s CSLI was a search, the Court went on to conclude that the Government must generally obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before acquiring such records. It noted that the showing required in the SCA “falls well short of the probable cause required for a warrant.” Thus, an order issued under the SCA “is not a permissible mechanism for accessing historical cell-site records. Before compelling a wireless carrier to turn over a subscriber’s CSLI, the Government’s obligation is a familiar one—get a warrant.” The Court continued, noting that while the Government will generally need a warrant to access CSLI, case-specific exceptions may support a warrantless search of an individual’s cellsite records, such as exigent circumstances.

The police may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested. This decision involved a pair of cases in which both defendants were arrested and cell phones were seized. In both cases, officers examined electronic data on the phones without a warrant as a search incident to arrest. The Court held that “officers must generally secure a warrant before conducting such a search.” The Court noted that “the interest in protecting officer safety does not justify dispensing with the warrant requirement across the board.” In this regard it added however that “[t]o the extent dangers to arresting officers may be implicated in a particular way in a particular case, they are better addressed through consideration of case-specific exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as the one for exigent circumstances.” Next, the Court rejected the argument that preventing the destruction of evidence justified the search. It was unpersuaded by the prosecution’s argument that a different result should obtain because remote wiping and data encryption may be used to destroy digital evidence. The Court noted that “[t]o the extent that law enforcement still has specific concerns about the potential loss of evidence in a particular case, there remain more targeted ways to address those concerns. If the police are truly confronted with a ‘now or never’ situation—for example, circumstances suggesting that a defendant’s phone will be the target of an imminent remote-wipe attempt—they may be able to rely on exigent circumstances to search the phone immediately” (quotation omitted). Alternatively, the Court noted, “if officers happen to seize a phone in an unlocked state, they may be able to disable a phone’s automatic-lock feature in order to prevent the phone from locking and encrypting data.” The Court noted that such a procedure would be assessed under case law allowing reasonable steps to secure a scene to preserve evidence while procuring a warrant. Turning from an examination of the government interests at stake to the privacy issues associated with a warrantless cell phone search, the Court rejected the government’s argument that a search of all data stored on a cell phone is materially indistinguishable the other types of personal items, such as wallets and purses. The Court noted that “[m]odern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse” and that they “differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person.” It also noted the complicating factor that much of the data viewed on a cell phone is not stored on the device itself, but rather remotely through cloud computing. Concluding, the Court noted:

We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost.

Our holding, of course, is not that the information on a cell phone is immune from search; it is instead that a warrant is generally required before such a search, even when a cell phone is seized incident to arrest.

(Slip Op at. p. 25). And finally, the Court noted that even though the search incident to arrest does not apply to cell phones, other exceptions may still justify a warrantless search of a particular phone, such as exigent circumstances.

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 810 S.E. 2d 719 (2018) (discussed in an earlier blog post by Shea Denning, https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/state-v-terrell-private-search-doctrine/), the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision that an officer’s warrantless search of a defendant’s USB drive following a prior search by a private individual violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. While examining a thumb drive belonging to the defendant, the defendant’s girlfriend saw an image of her 9-year-old granddaughter sleeping, exposed from the waist up. Believing the image was inappropriate, the defendant’s girlfriend contacted the sheriff’s office and gave them the thumb drive. Later, a detective conducted a warrantless search of the thumb drive to locate the image in question, during which he discovered other images of what he believed to be child pornography before he found the photograph of the granddaughter. At that point the detective applied for and obtained a warrant to search the contents of the thumb drive for “contraband images of child pornography and evidence of additional victims and crimes.” The initial warrant application relied only on information from the defendant’s girlfriend, but after the State Bureau of Investigation requested additional information, the detective included information about the images he found in his initial search of the USB drive. The SBI’s forensic examination turned up 12 images, ten of which had been deleted and archived in a way that would not have been viewable without special forensic capabilities. After he was charged with multiple sexual exploitation of a minor and peeping crimes, the defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress all of the evidence obtained as a result of the detective’s warrantless search. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the girlfriend’s private viewing of the images frustrated the defendant’s expectation of privacy in them, and that the detective’s subsequent search therefore did not violate the Fourth Amendment. After his trial and conviction, the defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the girlfriend’s opening of the USB drive and viewing some of its contents did not frustrate the defendant’s privacy interest in the entire contents of the device. To the contrary, digital devices can retain massive amounts of information, organized into files that are essentially containers within containers. Because the trial court did not make findings establishing the precise scope of the girlfriend’s search, it likewise could not find that the detective had the level of “virtual certainty” contemplated by United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109 (1984), that the device contained nothing else of significance, or that a subsequent search would not tell him anything more than he already had been told. The search therefore was not permissible under the private-search doctrine. The court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of whether the warrant would have been supported by probable cause without the evidence obtained through the unlawful search.

Justice Newby dissented, writing that the majority’s application of the virtual certainty test needlessly eliminates the private-search doctrine for electronic storage devices unless the private searcher opens every file on the device.

State v. Wilkerson, 363 N.C. 382 (Aug. 28, 2009)

Seizure and search of the defendant’s cell phone was proper as a search incident to arrest. The defendant was arrested for two murders shortly after they were committed. While in custody, he received a cell phone call, at which point the seizure occurred. [Note: The more recent Riley decision, above.]

State v. Ladd, 246 N.C. App. 295 (Mar. 15, 2016)

In this peeping with a photographic device case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress with respect to evidence obtained during a search of the defendant’s external hard drives. The court rejected the notion that the defendant consented to a search of the external hard drives, concluding that while he consented to a search of his laptops and smart phone, the trial court’s findings of fact unambiguously state that he did not consent to a search of other items. Next, the court held that the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the external hard drives, and that the devices did not pose a safety threat to officers, nor did the officers have any reason to believe that the information contained in the devices would have been destroyed while they pursued a search warrant, given that they had custody of the devices. The court found that the Supreme Court’s Riley analysis with respect to cellular telephones applied to the search of the digital data on the external data storage devices in this case, given the similarities between the two types of devices. The court concluded: “Defendant possessed and retained a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the external data storage devices …. The Defendant’s privacy interests in the external data storage devices outweigh any safety or inventory interest the officers had in searching the contents of the devices without a warrant.”

The court reversed and remanded for further findings of fact regarding the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a search of the digital contents of a GPS device found on the defendant’s person which, as a result of the search, was determined to have been stolen. The court held that under Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the search was not justified as a search incident to arrest. As to whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the GPS device, the court held that a defendant may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in a stolen item if he acquired it innocently and does not know that the item was stolen. Here, evidence at the suppression hearing would allow the trial court to conclude that defendant had a legitimate possessory interest in the GPS. However, because the trial court failed to make a factual determination regarding whether the defendant innocently purchased the GPS device, the court reversed and remanded for further findings of fact, providing additional guidance for the trial court in its decision.

The trial court properly issued an order authorizing a pen register for the defendant’s phone. The order was issued pursuant to the Stored Communications Act (SCA). The SCA requires only reasonable suspicion for issuance of an order for disclosure. The order in question was based on information provided by a known drug dealer informant, Oliver. The court found that there were “multiple indications of reliability” of Oliver’s statements, including that he made substantial admissions against his penal interest. Also, Oliver provided a nickname, general description of the defendant, background information from dealing with him previously, and current travel information of the suspect. Oliver spoke with the officer, and the two spoke more than once, adding to the reliability of his tip. These facts met the standard under the SCA.

State v. Perry, 243 N.C. App 156 (Sept. 15, 2015)

In this drug case, no fourth amendment violation occurred when law enforcement officers obtained the defendant’s cell cite location information (CSLI) from his service provider, AT&T, without a warrant based on probable cause. The court noted that while courts have held that “real time” CSLI may be obtained only pursuant to a warrant supported by probable cause, the Stored Communications Act (SCA) allows for access to “historical” information upon a lesser showing. It continued: “The distinguishing characteristic separating historical records from “real-time” information is the former shows where the cell phone has been located at some point in the past, whereas the latter shows where the phone is presently located through the use of GPS or precision location data.” The court concluded that the CSLI at issue was historical information:

[Officers] followed Defendant’s historical travel by entering the coordinates of cell tower “pings” provided by AT&T into a Google Maps search engine to determine the physical location of the last tower “pinged.” Defendant’s cell phone was never contacted, “pinged,” or its precise location directly tracked by the officers. The officers did not interact with Defendant’s cell phone, nor was any of the information received either directly from the cell phone or in “real time.” All evidence shows the cell tower site location information provided by AT&T was historical stored third-party records and properly disclosed under the court’s order as expressly provided in the SCA.

The court found it significant that an officer testified that there was a 5- to 7-minute delay in the CSLI that he received from AT&T. The court went on to conclude that retrieval of the “historical” information was not a search under the fourth amendment. Noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has not decided whether “historical” CSLI raises a fourth amendment issue, the question is one of first impression North Carolina. The court distinguished the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012) (the government’s installation of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements on public streets constitutes a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment)in three respects. First, unlike in Jones, here, there was no physical trespass on the defendant’s property. Second, the tracking in question here was not “real-time” the court reiterated: “officers only received the coordinates of historical cell tower ‘pings’ after they had been recorded and stored by AT&T, a third party.” Third, the trespass in Jones was not authorized by a warrant or a court order of any kind whereas here a court order was entered. And, “[m]ost importantly,” Jones did not rely on the third-party doctrine. Citing decisions from the Third, Fifth and Eleventh Circuits, the court held that obtaining the CSLI did not constitute a search under the fourth amendment. The court distinguished the recent Fourth Circuit opinion in United States v. Graham, on grounds that in that case the government obtained the defendant’s historical CSLI for an extended period of time. Here, only two days of information were at issue. The court rejected the Graham court’s conclusion that the third-party doctrine did not apply to CSLI information because the defendants did not voluntarily disclose it to their service providers. The court continued, concluding that even if it were to find that a search warrant based on probable cause was required, the good faith exception would apply.

One judge concurred in the final disposition but disagreed with the majority’s characterization of the information as historical rather than real-time. That judge “believe[d that] allowing the majority’s characterization of the information provided by AT&T to law enforcement, based on the facts in this case, would effectively obliterate the distinction between ‘historical’ and ‘real-time’ cell site information.” However, she agreed that the good faith exception applied.

The defendant in this case pleaded guilty to manslaughter and armed robbery, while preserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress historical cell site location information (“CSLI”) that the state obtained without a search warrant. Evidence at the suppression hearing showed that police responded to a homicide and learned that a white Altima was seen leaving the scene. Officers soon located and boxed in the car but the driver fled on foot, discarding a bloody handgun as he ran. Inside the car officers found drugs, a gun, and a blood-covered cell phone belonging to the defendant. Officers applied for a court order to obtain the records of the phone, including five days of CSLI from around the time of the homicide. The application was sworn under oath and supported by affidavit, and the order was issued based on a finding of probable cause. The phone records revealed the defendant was in the area of the shooting at the time it occurred, and near the location of the white Altima when it was abandoned. The defendant moved to suppress the records on the basis that they were not obtained pursuant to a search warrant based on probable cause, violating his state and federal constitutional rights. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the court order in this case was the equivalent of a search warrant supported by probable cause. Upon review, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The court first addressed defendant’s federal constitutional claim. Citing Carpenter v. United States, 201 L.Ed.2d 507 (2018), the appellate court agreed that obtaining historical CSLI constituted a search, which requires a warrant supported by probable cause. A court order issued pursuant to the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) based only on “reasonable grounds” to believe the records would be “relevant and material” to the investigation would not satisfy that standard. However, the order in this case was obtained two years before Carpenter was decided, and it was issued in compliance with the law at that time. Therefore, as in Carpenter, “even assuming law enforcement did conduct a warrantless search in violation of defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, the federal good faith exception to the exclusionary rule would apply.”

Turning to the state constitutional claim, and noting that the state right at issue must be interpreted at least as broadly as the federal right, the court held that “a warrantless search of historical CSLI constitutes an unreasonable search in violation of a defendant’s rights under the North Carolina Constitution as well.” But after reviewing the statutory requirements for a search warrant and the probable cause standard, the court concluded that the order in this case did satisfy the warrant requirement. First, although it was denominated a court order rather than a warrant, it nevertheless “contained all of the information required in a search warrant” such as the applicant’s name, sworn allegations of fact to support the applicant’s belief, and a request to produce the records. Second, although a court order issued under the SCA is only required to meet a “reasonable grounds” standard akin to reasonable suspicion, the order in this case was actually based upon a finding that there was “Probable Cause that the information sought is relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation, involving a First Degree Murder.” That finding of probable cause was “a significant distinction which compels a different outcome than that of Carpenter. Accordingly, because the trial court determined there was probable cause to search defendant’s historical CSLI, the requirements for a warrant were met and defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated.” Since it held that the warrant requirement was met, the majority declined to address whether a good faith exception could have applied under state law.

In a partial concurrence, Judge Dillon disagreed with the majority’s holding that the court order in this case was the equivalent of a search warrant. In his view, the application failed to provide a sufficient basis for finding probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be discovered in the particular place to be searched. However, he concurred in the result on the grounds that both the federal and state constitutional claims were refuted by the good faith exception. He would have held that North Carolina does have a good faith exception, pursuant to the 2011 amendment to G.S. 15A-974, which provides legislative authority for the exception that was lacking when State v. Carter, 322 N.C. 709 (1988) was decided. Alternatively, pursuant to state case law, he would have held that obtaining historical CSLI did not constitute a “search” for state constitutional purposes.

(1) In this case where a group of motel owners and a lodging association challenged a provision of the Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) requiring motel owners to turn over to the police hotel registry information, the Court held that facial challenges under the Fourth Amendment are not categorically barred. With respect to the relevant LAMC provisions, §41.49 requires hotel operators to record information about their guests, including: the guest’s name and address; the number of people in each guest’s party; the make, model, and license plate number of any guest’s vehicle parked on hotel property; the guest’s date and time of arrival and scheduled departure date; the room number assigned to the guest; the rate charged and amount collected for the room; and the method of payment. Guests without reservations, those who pay for their rooms with cash, and any guests who rent a room for less than 12 hours must present photographic identification at the time of check-in, and hotel operators are required to record the number and expiration date of that document. For those guests who check in using an electronic kiosk, the hotel’s records must also contain the guest’s credit card information. This information can be maintained in either electronic or paper form, but it must be “kept on the hotel premises in the guest reception or guest check-in area or in an office adjacent” thereto for a period of 90 days. LAMC section 41.49(3)(a) states, in pertinent part, that hotel guest records “shall be made available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection,” provided that “[w]henever possible, the inspection shall be conducted at a time and in a manner that minimizes any interference with the operation of the business.” A hotel operator’s failure to make his or her guest records available for police inspection is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The respondents brought a facial challenge to §41.49(3)(a) on Fourth Amendment grounds, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. As noted, the Court held that facial challenges under the Fourth Amendment are not barred. (2) Turning to the merits of the claim, the Court held that the challenged portion on the LAMC is facially unconstitutional because it fails to provide hotel operators with an opportunity for precompliance review. The Court reasoned, in part:

[A]bsent consent, exigent circumstances, or the like, in order for an administrative search to be constitutional, the subject of the search must be afforded an opportunity to obtain precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker. And, we see no reason why this minimal requirement is inapplicable here. While the Court has never attempted to prescribe the exact form an opportunity for precompliance review must take, the City does not even attempt to argue that §41.49(3)(a) affords hotel operators any opportunity whatsoever. Section 41.49(3)(a) is, therefore, facially invalid. (citations omitted)

Clarifying the scope of its holding, the Court continued, “As they often do, hotel operators remain free to consent to searches of their registries and police can compel them to turn them over if they have a proper administrative warrant—including one that was issued ex parte—or if some other exception to the warrant requirement applies, including exigent circumstances.” The Court went on to reject Justice Scalia’s suggestion that hotels are “closely regulated” and that the ordinance is facially valid under the more relaxed standard that applies to searches of that category of businesses.

Reasonable suspicion is not required for a close visual inspection of arrestees who will be held in the general population of a detention facility. The petitioner was arrested and taken to the Burlington County Detention Center. Burlington County jail procedures required every arrestee to shower with a delousing agent. Officers would check arrestees for scars, marks, gang tattoos, and contraband as they disrobed. Petitioner claims he was also instructed to open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around, and lift his genitals. The petitioner was later transferred to the Essex County Correctional Facility. At that facility all arriving detainees passed through a metal detector and waited in a group holding cell for a more thorough search. When they left the holding cell, they were instructed to remove their clothing while an officer looked for body markings, wounds, and contraband. Without touching the detainees, an officer looked at their ears, nose, mouth, hair, scalp, fingers, hands, arms, armpits, and other body openings. Petitioner alleges he was required to lift his genitals, turn around, and cough in a squatting position. After a mandatory shower, during which his clothes were inspected, petitioner was admitted to the facility. He was released the next day. Petitioner filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 arguing that persons arrested for a minor offense could not be required to remove their clothing and expose their private areas to close visual inspection as a routine part of the intake process. Rather, he contended, officials could conduct this kind of search only if they had reason to suspect a particular inmate of concealing a weapon, drugs, or other contraband. The district court granted the petitioner’s motion for summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed. The Court affirmed, stating in part:

The question here is whether undoubted security imperatives involved in jail supervision override the assertion that some detainees must be exempt from the more invasive search procedures at issue absent reasonable suspicion of a concealed weapon or other contraband. The Court has held that deference must be given to the officials in charge of the jail unless there is “substantial evidence” demonstrating their response to the situation is exaggerated. Petitioner has not met this standard, and the record provides full justifications for the procedures used.

Slip op. at 9-10 (citation omitted). The Court noted that correctional officials have a significant interest in conducting a thorough search as a standard part of the intake process to identify disease, gang affiliation, and locate contraband. The Court rejected the petitioner’s assertion that certain detainees, such as those arrested for minor offenses, should be exempt from this process unless they give officers a particular reason to suspect them of hiding contraband. It concluded: “It is reasonable, however, for correctional officials to conclude this standard would be unworkable. The record provides evidence that the seriousness of an offense is a poor predictor of who has contraband and that it would be difficult in practice to determine whether individual detainees fall within the proposed exemption.” Slip op. at 14. 

The defendant was on probation for a conviction of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and he was classified by his probation officer as “extreme high risk” for supervision purposes. Officers from several law enforcement agencies, working in conjunction with probation officers, conducted warrantless searches of the residences of high risk probationers in the county, including the defendant. Officers found drugs and paraphernalia during the search of defendant’s residence, and he was charged with several drug-related felonies. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence from the warrantless search, arguing that it was illegal because it was not “directly related” to his probation supervision, as required by G.S. 15A-1343(b)(13). The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s suppression motion. The facts of this case were distinguishable from State v. Powell, __ N.C. App. __, 800 S.E.2d 745 (2017). In Powell, a U.S. Marshals task force conducted warrantless searches of random probationer’s homes as part of an ongoing operation for its own purposes and did not even notify the probation office. The Powell court held that those warrantless searches were not “directly related” to probation supervision. By contrast, the defendant in this case was selected for the enforcement action by his probation officer based on “his risk assessment, suspected gang affiliation, and positive drug screen,” and the “purpose of the search was to give the added scrutiny and closer supervision required of ‘high risk’ probationers such as the Defendant.” The search was therefore directly related to his supervision.

Because the State failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that a warrantless search was authorized by G.S. 15A-1343(b)(13), the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The defendant was subjected to the regular condition of probation under G.S. 15A-1343(b)(13). This provision requires that the probationer “Submit at reasonable times to warrantless searches by a probation officer of the probationer's person and of the probationer's vehicle and premises while the probationer is present, for purposes directly related to the probation supervision . . . .” Here, the search of the defendant’s home occurred as part of an ongoing operation of a US Marshal’s Service task force. The court noted that while prior case law makes clear that the presence or participation of law enforcement officers does not, by itself, render a warrantless search under the statute unlawful, the State must meet its burden of satisfying the “purpose” element of the statute. The State failed to meet its burden here. To conclude otherwise would require the court to read the phrase “for purposes directly related to the probation supervision” out of the statute. The court emphasized however that its opinion should not be read as diminishing the authority of probation officers to conduct warrantless searches of probationers’ homes or to utilize the assistance of law enforcement officers in conducting such searches. Rather, it held that on the specific facts of this case the State failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the search was authorized under the statute.

Because an officer violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights by searching the curtilage of his home without a warrant, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The officer saw a vehicle with its doors open at the back of a 150-yard driveway leading to the defendant’s home. Concerned that the vehicle might be part of a break-in or home invasion, the officer drove down the driveway, ran the vehicle’s tags, checked—but did not knock—on the front door, checked the windows and doors of the home for signs of forced entry, “cleared” the sides of the house, and then went through a closed gate in a chain-link fence enclosing the home’s backyard and approached the storm door at the back of the house. As the officer approached the door, which was not visible from the street, he smelled marijuana, which led to the defendant’s arrest for drug charges. At the suppression hearing, the State relied on two exceptions to the warrant requirement to justify the officer’s search of the curtilage: the knock and talk doctrine and the community caretaker doctrine. The court found however that neither exception applies. First, the officer did more than nearly knock and talk. Specifically, he ran a license plate not visible from the street, walked around the house examining windows and searching for signs of a break-in, and went first to the front door without knocking and then to a rear door not visible from the street and located behind a closed gate. “These actions went beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held are the permissible actions during a knock and talk.” Likewise, the community caretaker doctrine does not support the officer’s action. “The presence of a vehicle in one’s driveway with its doors open is not the sort of emergency that justifies the community caretaker exception.” The court also noted that because the fourth amendment’s protections “are at their very strongest within one’s home,” the public need justifying the community caretaker exception “must be particularly strong to justify a warrantless search of a home.”

Because a search of a government employee’s text messages sent and received on a government-issued pager was reasonable, there was no violation of Fourth Amendment rights.

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