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., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

(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.

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