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

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.

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