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., 09/26/2021
E.g., 09/26/2021

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.

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