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., 10/06/2022
E.g., 10/06/2022
State v. Jordan [Duplicated], ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022 NCCOA 215 (Apr. 5, 2022) temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 871 S.E.2d 101 (Apr 21 2022)

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police received a report of a stolen car and information about its possible location. Officers went to the location, which was part residence and part commercial establishment. A car matching the description of the stolen vehicle was in the back parking lot. As police watched, a man came out of the building and approached the car as if to enter it. He noticed the unmarked police car and immediately returned to the building, alerting the occupants to the presence of police. Police pulled into the driveway intending to detain the man. The defendant opened the door of the building from inside and the man who had approached the stolen car went inside, although the door was left open. An officer approached and asked the man to come out and speak with police before immediately stepping into the building through the open door. That officer noticed a safe next to the defendant and saw the defendant close the safe, lock it, and place the key in his pocket. More officers arrived on scene and noticed drug paraphernalia in plain view. Officers swept the house and discovered a gun in a bedroom. At this point, officers established that a man inside either owned or leased the building and requested his consent to search. The man initially refused but assented when officers threatened to place everyone in handcuffs and to obtain a search warrant. The defendant informed officers that anything they found in the home was not his and that he did not live there. He denied owning the safe, but a woman who was present at the time later informed officers that the safe belonged to the defendant. Officers obtained a search warrant for the safe and discovered money, drugs, paraphernalia, and a gun inside. The defendant was subsequently charged with trafficking, firearm by felon, habitual felon, and other offenses. He moved to suppress. The trial court denied the motion, apparently on the basis that the defendant lacked standing (although because no written order was entered, the findings and conclusions of the trial court were not easily determined). The defendant was convicted at trial of the underlying offenses and pled guilty to having obtained habitual felon status. The trial court imposed a minimum term of 225 months in consecutive judgments. On appeal, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals reversed.

(1) The defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the building. He opened the door when it was knocked and was one of only four people inside the home at a late hour. The defendant further had apparent permission to keep the safe inside and clearly had an interest in it as the person with its key and the ability to exclude others. While the defendant did not own or lease the property, this was not enough to defeat his expectation of privacy. The defendant also disclaimed ownership of the safe to police, and the State argued that this amounted to abandonment, defeating any privacy interest in the safe. The court disagreed, noting that the defendant only made that remark after the police illegally entered the home and that abandonment does not apply in such a situation. In its words: “[W]hen an individual ‘discards property as the product of some illegal police activity, he will not be held to have voluntarily abandoned the property or to have necessarily lost his reasonable expectation of
privacy with respect to it[.]’” Jordan Slip op. at 14 (citation omitted). Thus, the defendant had standing to challenge the police entry and search.

(2) The trial court determined that officers had reasonable suspicion to speak with the man who was seen approaching the stolen car. However, this did not justify warrantless entry into the home. The State argued that the entry was supported by exigent circumstances, in that the keys to the stolen car and the drug paraphernalia seen inside the building could have been easily destroyed. However, there was no evidence that the first officer who approached the home saw any drug paraphernalia at the time and the officer therefore could not have had a legitimate concern about its destruction. There was likewise no explanation from the State regarding the need for immediate warrantless entry to preserve the car keys evidence. Because officers had already seen the man approach the car with the keys and because possession of a stolen car may be established by constructive possession, there was no immediate need to obtain the car keys. Further, there was no immediate risk of destruction of evidence where the occupants of the home left the door open, and an officer entered the home within “moments” of arrival. Exigent circumstances therefore did not support the warrantless entry.

(3) The State also argued that the person with a property interest in the building gave valid consent, and that this consent removed any taint of the initial illegal entry. Illegally obtained evidence may be admissible where the link between the illegal police activity and the discovery of evidence is sufficiently attenuated. Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590, 603-04 (1975). Here, the taint of the illegal entry had not dissipated. Officers obtained consent soon after entering the home, no intervening circumstances arose between the entry and the obtaining of consent, and officers purposefully and flagrantly entered the building without a warrant or probable cause. Any consent was therefore tainted by the initial police illegality and could not justify the search.

(4) Although police did ultimately obtain a search warrant for the safe, the information contained in the search warrant application was based on information obtained by police after they were inside the building. There was no evidence that officers saw any drugs prior to entry, so any evidence obtained as a result was the fruit of the poisonous tree. Without the drugs evidence, the stolen car in the parking lot, the man walking up to the stolen car, and his abrupt return from the car to the building did not supply probable cause to search the building or safe. According to the court:

Because the affidavit supporting the issuance of the search warrant, stripped of the facts obtained by the officers’ unlawful entry into the residence, does not give rise to probable cause to search the residence for the evidence of drugs and drug paraphernalia described in the warrant, ‘the warrant and the search conducted under it were illegal and the evidence obtained from them was fruit of the poisonous tree.’ Id. at 24.

The denial of the motion to suppress was therefore reversed and the case was remanded for any further proceedings.

Where the defendant had no ownership or possessory interest in the warehouse that was searched, he had no standing to challenge the search on Fourth Amendment grounds.

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