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., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

A dog sniff that prolongs the time reasonably required for a traffic stop violates the Fourth Amendment. After an officer completed a traffic stop, including issuing the driver a warning ticket and returning all documents, the officer asked for permission to walk his police dog around the vehicle. The driver said no. Nevertheless, the officer instructed the driver to turn off his car, exit the vehicle and wait for a second officer. When the second officer arrived, the first officer retrieved his dog and led it around the car, during which time the dog alerted to the presence of drugs. A search of the vehicle revealed a large bag of methamphetamine. All told, 7-8 minutes elapsed from the time the officer issued the written warning until the dog’s alert. The defendant was charged with a drug crime and unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized from his car, arguing that the officer prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion to conduct the dog sniff. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The Eighth Circuit held that the de minimus extension of the stop was permissible. The Supreme Court granted certiorari “to resolve a division among lower courts on the question whether police routinely may extend an otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion, in order to conduct a dog sniff.”

The Court reasoned that an officer may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop, but “he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.” The Court noted that during a traffic stop, beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’s mission includes “ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic] stop” such as checking the driver’s license, determining whether the driver has outstanding warrants, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. It explained: “These checks serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.” A dog sniff by contrast “is a measure aimed at detect[ing] evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing.” (quotation omitted). It continued: “Lacking the same close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries, a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission.”

Noting that the Eighth Circuit’s de minimus rule relied heavily on Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977) (per curiam) (reasoning that the government’s “legitimate and weighty” interest in officer safety outweighs the “de minimis” additional intrusion of requiring a driver, already lawfully stopped, to exit the vehicle), the Court distinguished Mimms:

Unlike a general interest in criminal enforcement, however, the government’s officer safety interest stems from the mission of the stop itself. Traffic stops are “especially fraught with danger to police officers,” so an officer may need to take certain negligibly burdensome precautions in order to complete his mission safely. On-scene investigation into other crimes, however, detours from that mission. So too do safety precautions taken in order to facilitate such detours. Thus, even assuming that the imposition here was no more intrusive than the exit order in Mimms, the dog sniff could not be justified on the same basis. Highway and officer safety are interests different in kind from the Government’s endeavor to detect crime in general or drug trafficking in particular. (citations omitted)

The Court went on to reject the Government’s argument that an officer may “incremental[ly]” prolong a stop to conduct a dog sniff so long as the officer is reasonably diligent in pursuing the traffic-related purpose of the stop, and the overall duration of the stop remains reasonable in relation to the duration of other traffic stops involving similar circumstances. The Court dismissed the notion that “by completing all traffic-related tasks expeditiously, an officer can earn bonus time to pursue an unrelated criminal investigation.” It continued:

If an officer can complete traffic-based inquiries expeditiously, then that is the amount of “time reasonably required to complete [the stop’s] mission.” As we said in Caballes and reiterate today, a traffic stop “prolonged beyond” that point is “unlawful.” The critical question, then, is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket . . . but whether conducting the sniff “prolongs”—i.e., adds time to—“the stop”. (citations omitted).

In this case, the trial court ruled that the defendant’s detention for the dog sniff was not independently supported by individualized suspicion. Because the Court of Appeals did not review that determination the Court remanded for a determination by that court as to whether reasonable suspicion of criminal activity justified detaining the defendant beyond completion of the traffic infraction investigation.

State v. White, 836 F.3d 437 (Sept. 9, 2016)

A local West Virginia law enforcement officer stopped a car that had veered out of its lane. In addition to the driver, there was a front seat passenger, the defendant, and one back seat passenger, Bone. When approaching the driver’s window, he smelled an odor of burned marijuana emanating from the car. The driver, whom the officer concluded was not impaired, denied knowledge of the marijuana. The officer requested that the defendant exit the car and asked him about the marijuana odor, but he denied anything illegal in the car. While talking with Bone, the officer saw a firearm in a piece of plastic molding on the front side of the passenger seat where the defendant had been sitting. The defendant was arrested and later convicted in federal district court of possession of a firearm by a felon.

The defendant conceded that the stop of the vehicle was supported by reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation under West Virginia law, but he contended that the officer unconstitutionally prolonged the stop. The fourth circuit noted that its case law provides that the odor of marijuana alone can provide probable cause to believe that marijuana is present in a particular place. So the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop to investigate the marijuana odor. And during that investigation the officer found the firearm. The court ruled that therefore the officer did not unconstitutionally prolong the traffic stop.

In this drug trafficking case arising out of a traffic stop, the court affirmed the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that the law enforcement officer who arrested the defendant violated the Fourth amendment by prolonging the stop without the defendant’s consent or a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity.  Highway Patrol Trooper Lamm, a member of the Patrol’s Criminal Interdiction Unit who was assigned to aggressively enforce traffic laws while being on the lookout for other criminal activity including drug interdiction and drug activity, clocked the black male defendant’s vehicle by radar being operated at a speed of 78 miles per hour in a 65 mile-per-hour zone.  Lamm initiated a traffic stop and observed at its outset that there was a black female passenger and a female pit bull dog inside the vehicle.  The defendant provided Lamm with his New York driver’s license and the rental agreement for the vehicle, which indicated that the female passenger, Usha Peart who also was the defendant’s fiancée, was the renter and that the defendant was an additional authorized driver.  Trooper Lamm ordered the defendant out of the vehicle, which Lamm characterized as displaying “signs of . . . hard [continuous] driving,” and into the front seat of Lamm’s patrol car, where he further ordered the defendant to close the door of the patrol car, which the defendant did after expressing some reluctance.  Trooper Lamm did not consider the defendant to be free to leave at this point and began to question the defendant about his travel and other activities.  Upon confirming that things were sufficiently in order regarding the rental car, Lamm completed the traffic stop and returned all paperwork to the defendant, telling him that the stop was concluded.  About 20 minutes had elapsed at this point.  After telling the defendant that the stop had ended, Lamm said “I’m going to ask you a few more questions if it is okay with you,” and construed the defendant’s continued presence in his patrol car as voluntary.  Lamm testified that despite informing the defendant that the stop had ended, defendant would still have been detained, even if he denied consent to search the vehicle and wanted to leave.  Lamm asked the defendant for consent to search the vehicle, to which he replied “you could break the car down,” but further explained that Lamm should seek consent from Peart since she had rented the car.  Lamm told the defendant to “sit tight” in the patrol vehicle as Lamm went to confer with Peart.  At this time, Trooper Ellerbe, also a member of the Criminal Interdiction Unit, arrived at the scene in response to Lamm’s request for backup where he was informed by Lamm that Lamm was going to attempt to obtain consent to search from Peat.  Ellerbe then stationed himself next to Lamm’s passenger seat where the defendant remained seated with the door closed.  Lamm proceeded to talk with Peart and obtained her signature on the State Highway Patrol form “Written Consent to Search,” which he had completed himself.  Lamm then discovered cocaine in the backseat area of the vehicle and directed Ellerbe to place the defendant in handcuffs.

With this recitation of the factual circumstances surrounding the stop and search, the court proceeded to analyze, under the two-pronged analysis of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), (1) whether the stop was reasonable at its inception, and (2) whether the continued stop was “sufficiently limited in scope and duration to satisfy the conditions of an investigative seizure.”  Focusing on the second prong of the analysis because the defendant conceded that the stop was lawful at is inception, the court cited its previous decision in State v. Bullock, 370 N.C. 256 (2017) while explaining that “the duration of a traffic stop must be limited to the length of time that is reasonably necessary to accomplish the mission of the stop,” and that a law enforcement officer may not detain a person “even momentarily without reasonable, objective grounds for doing so.”  The critical question on this second prong in the traffic stop context is whether Trooper Lamm “diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel [his] suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant” or whether Lamm unlawfully extended an otherwise-completed stop.  Reviewing its own precedent and that of the U.S. Supreme Court, the court explained that all of Trooper Lamm’s investigative activities until the point where Lamm returned the defendant’s paperwork, issued the warning ticket, and told the defendant that the stop had ended were lawful.  At that point, however, the mission of the stop was accomplished and Lamm unlawfully prolonged it by detaining the defendant in his patrol car and asking the defendant further questions without reasonable suspicion.  As to whether reasonable suspicion existed to prolong the stop, the court found that inconsistencies in Lamm’s testimony demonstrated that he was unable to articulate an objective basis for his purported reasonable suspicion and was unable to articulate the time at which he formulated such suspicion.  The court disagreed with dissenting justices who took the view that the defendant’s nervousness, his explanation of travel plans, the condition of the rental car, and the fact that it had been paid for in cash provided reasonable suspicion, saying that these circumstances were generally consistent with lawful travel and were unremarkable.  The court concluded by agreeing with the Court of Appeals that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the defendant’s unlawful detention.

Justice Newby dissented, explaining that in his view, and as the trial court had found, the defendant consented to the prolonging of the stop in order to allow Trooper Lamm to ask him a few more questions.

Justice Davis, joined by Justices Newby and Ervin, also dissented, expressing the view that even is the defendant’s consent to search was not voluntary, Trooper Lamm possessed reasonable suspicion to extend the stop.  In finding that reasonable suspicion existed, Justice Davis noted the defendant and his passenger’s inconsistent statements regarding their travel plans, certain features of the rental car agreement, the fact that the car had been paid for in cash, and the condition of the interior of the car, including that dog food was strewn about and that air fresheners were present.

State v. Downey, 370 N.C. 507 (Mar. 2, 2018)

The court per curiam affirmed a divided decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 796 S.E.2d 517 (2017), affirming an order denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. Over a dissent, the court of appeals had held that reasonable suspicion supported extension of the traffic stop. After an officer stopped the defendant for a traffic violation, he approached the vehicle and asked to see the driver’s license and registration. As the defendant complied, the officer noticed that his hands were shaking, his breathing was rapid, and that he failed to make eye contact. He also noticed a prepaid cell phone inside the vehicle and a Black Ice air freshener. The officer had learned during drug interdiction training that Black Ice freshener is frequently used by drug traffickers because of its strong scent and that prepaid cell phones are commonly used in drug trafficking. The officer determined that the car was not registered to the defendant, and he knew from his training that third-party vehicles are often used by drug traffickers. In response to questioning about why the defendant was in the area, the defendant provided vague answers. When the officer asked the defendant about his criminal history, the defendant responded that he had served time for breaking and entering and that he had a cocaine-related drug conviction. After issuing the defendant a warning ticket for the traffic violation and returning his documentation, the officer continued to question the defendant and asked for consent to search the vehicle. The defendant declined. He also declined consent to a canine sniff. The officer then called for a canine unit, which arrived 14 minutes after the initial stop ended. An alert led to a search of the vehicle and the discovery of contraband. The court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop, noting that before and during the time in which the officer prepared the warning citation, he observed the defendant’s nervous behavior; use of a particular brand of powerful air freshener favored by drug traffickers; the defendant’s prepaid cell phone; the fact that the defendant’s car was registered to someone else; the defendant’s vague and suspicious answers to the officer’s questions about why he was in the area; and the defendant’s prior conviction for a drug offense. These circumstances, the court of appeals held, constituted reasonable suspicion to extend the duration of stop.

State v. Bullock, 370 N.C. 256 (Nov. 3, 2017)

On an appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 785 S.E.2d 746 (2016), the court reversed, concluding that the stop at issue was not unduly prolonged. An officer puller over the defendant for several traffic violations. During the traffic stop that ensued, officers discovered heroin inside a bag in the car. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the search was unduly prolonged under Rodriguez. The trial court denied the motion and the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the stop had been unduly prolonged. The Supreme Court reversed. After initiating the stop, the officer asked the defendant, the vehicle’s sole occupant, for his license and registration. The defendant’s hand trembled as he provided his license. Although the car was a rental vehicle, the defendant was not listed as a driver on the rental agreement. The officer noticed that the defendant had two cell phones, a fact he associated, based on experience, with those transporting drugs. The defendant was stopped on I-85, a major drug trafficking thoroughfare. When the officer asked the defendant where he was going, the defendant said he was going to his girlfriend’s house on Century Oaks Drive and that he had missed his exit. The officer knew however that the defendant was well past the exit for that location, having passed three exits that would have taken him there. The defendant said that he recently moved to North Carolina. The officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle and sit in the patrol car, telling him that he would receive a warning, not a ticket. At this point the officer frisked the defendant, finding $372 in cash. The defendant sat in the patrol car while the officer ran the defendant’s information through law enforcement databases, and the two continued to talk. The defendant gave contradictory statements about his girlfriend. Although the defendant made eye contact with the officer when answering certain questions, he looked away when asked about his girlfriend and where he was traveling. The database checks revealed that the defendant was issued a driver’s license in 2000 and that he had a criminal history in North Carolina starting in 2001, facts contradicting his earlier claim to have just moved to the state. The officer asked the defendant for permission to search the vehicle. The defendant agreed to let the officer search the vehicle but declined to allow a search of a bag and two hoodies. When the officer found the bag and hoodies in the trunk, the defendant quickly objected that the bag was not his, contradicting his earlier statement, and said he did not want it searched. The officer put the bag on the ground and a police dog alerted to it. Officers opened the bag and found a large amount of heroin. The defendant did not challenge the validity of the initial stop. The court began by noting during a lawful stop, an officer can ask the driver to exit the vehicle. Next, it held that the frisk was lawful for two reasons. First, frisking the defendant before putting them in the patrol car enhanced the officer safety. And second, where, as here, the frisk lasted only 8-9 seconds it did not measurably prolong stop so as to require reasonable suspicion. The court went on to find that asking the defendant to sit in the patrol car did not unlawfully extend the stop. The officer was required to check three databases before the stop could be finished and it was not prolonged by having the defendant in the patrol car while this was done. This action took a few minutes to complete and while it was being done, the officer was free to talk with the defendant “at least up until the moment that all three database checks had been completed.” The court went on to conclude that the conversation the two had while the database checks were running provided reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop. It noted that I-85 is a major drug trafficking corridor, the defendant was nervous and had two cell phones, the rental car was in someone else’s name, the defendant gave an illogical account of where he was going, and cash was discovered during the frisk. All of this provided reasonable suspicion of drug activity that justified prolonging the stop shortly after the defendant entered the patrol car. There, as he continued his conversation with the officer, he gave inconsistent statements about his girlfriend and the database check revealed that the defendant had not been truthful about a recent move to North Carolina. This, combined with the defendant’s broken eye contact, allowed the officer to extend the stop for purposes of the dog sniff.

State v. Reed, 370 N.C. 267 (Nov. 3, 2017)

On appeal from a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 791 S.E.2d 486 (2016), the court vacated and remanded for reconsideration in light of its decision in State v. Bullock, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (2017), holding that a stop was not unduly prolonged.

State v. Warren, 368 N.C. 756 (Mar. 18, 2016)

On appeal pursuant from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 775 S.E.2d 362 (2015), the court per curiam affirmed. In this post-Rodriguez case, the court of appeals had held that the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the scope and duration of a routine traffic stop to allow a police dog to perform a drug sniff outside the defendant’s vehicle. The court of appeals noted that under Rodriguez v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 191 L.Ed. 2d 492 (2015), an officer who lawfully stops a vehicle for a traffic violation but who otherwise does not have reasonable suspicion that any crime is afoot beyond a traffic violation may execute a dog sniff only if the check does not prolong the traffic stop. It further noted that earlier N.C. case law applying the de minimus rule to traffic stop extensions had been overruled by Rodriguez. The court of appeals continued, concluding that in this case the trial court’s findings support the conclusion that the officer developed reasonable suspicion of illegal drug activity during the course of his investigation of the traffic offense and was therefore justified to prolong the traffic stop to execute the dog sniff. Specifically:

Defendant was observed and stopped “in an area [the officer] knew to be a high crime/high drug activity area[;]” that while writing the warning citation, the officer observed that Defendant “appeared to have something in his mouth which he was not chewing and which affected his speech[;]”that “during his six years of experience [the officer] who has specific training in narcotics detection, has made numerous ‘drug stops’ and has observed individuals attempt to hide drugs in their mouths and . . . swallow drugs to destroy evidence[;]” and that during their conversation Defendant denied being involved in drug activity “any longer.”

State v. Leak, 368 N.C. 570 (Dec. 18, 2015)

The supreme court vacated the decision below, State v. Leak, ___ N.C. App. ___, 773 S.E.2d 340 (2015), and ordered that the court of appeals remand to the trial court for reconsideration of the defendant’s motion to suppress in light of Rodriguez v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015). The court of appeals had held that the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when an officer, who had approached the defendant’s legally parked car without reasonable suspicion, took the defendant’s driver’s license to his patrol vehicle. The court of appeals concluded that until the officer took the license, the encounter was consensual and no reasonable suspicion was required: “[the officer] required no particular justification to approach defendant and ask whether he required assistance, or to ask defendant to voluntarily consent to allowing [the officer] to examine his driver’s license and registration.” However, the court of appeals concluded that the officer’s conduct of taking the defendant’s license to his patrol car to investigate its status constituted a seizure that was not justified by reasonable suspicion. Citing Rodriguez (police may not extend a completed vehicle stop for a dog sniff, absent reasonable suspicion), the court of appeals rejected the suggestion that no violation occurred because any seizure was “de minimus” in nature.

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.

State v. Williams, 366 N.C. 110 (June 14, 2012)

The court affirmed State v. Williams, 215 N.C. App. 1 (Aug. 16, 2011) (reasonable articulable suspicion justified extending the traffic stop). The officer stopped the vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger for having illegally tinted windows and issued a citation. The officer then asked for and was denied consent to search the vehicle. Thereafter he called for a canine trained in drug detection; when the dog arrived it alerted on the car and drugs were found. Several factors supported the trial court’s determination that reasonable suspicion supported extending the stop. First, the driver told the officer that she and the defendant were coming from Houston, Texas, which was illogical given their direction of travel. Second, the defendant’s inconsistent statement that they were coming from Kentucky and were traveling to Myrtle Beach “raises a suspicion as to the truthfulness of the statements.” Third, the driver’s inability to tell the officer where they were going, along with her illogical answer about driving from Houston, permitted an inference that she “was being deliberately evasive, that she had been hired as a driver and intentionally kept uninformed, or that she had been coached as to her response if stopped.” Fourth, the fact that the defendant initially suggested the two were cousins but then admitted that they just called each other cousins based on their long-term relationship “could raise a suspicion that the alleged familial relationship was a prearranged fabrication.” Finally, the vehicle, which had illegally tinted windows, was owned by a third person. The court concluded:

Viewed individually and in isolation, any of these facts might not support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. But viewed as a whole by a trained law enforcement officer who is familiar with drug trafficking and illegal activity on interstate highways, the responses were sufficient to provoke a reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot and to justify extending the detention until a canine unit arrived.

 

In this case from Burke County, an officer observed the defendant driving ten miles over the speed limit and believed that the vehicle’s window tint was illegal. When the officer approached, he smelled a slight odor of marijuana and a strong odor of cologne. He also observed that the car windows were not tinted but rather had “shades” covering them. While running license and background checks of the defendant, the officer called for a canine unit and a backup officer. When he returned to the defendant’s vehicle, the odor of marijuana was stronger. The defendant denied having drugs in the car and gave no indications of impairment during field sobriety testing. While the officer was writing a warning ticket, a canine unit arrived. The dog alerted on the car, and the defendant ultimately admitted that a gun was inside. A search revealed the gun, cash, digital scales, cocaine, and synthetic opioids. The defendant moved to suppress. He also sought to admit evidence of a relationship between the backup officer on scene and a woman whose house the defendant had been at immediately before the stop and challenged the reliability of the canine sniff. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, allowed a limited offer of proof regarding the relationship between the woman and the officer (but excluded the evidence as irrelevant), and found the canine was reliable. The defendant pled guilty to trafficking opium and appealed.

(1) The stop of the defendant’s car was supported by reasonable suspicion based on the officer’s observation of speeding (which was confirmed by radar), as well as the suspected window tint violation. The officer developed additional reasonable suspicion of a drug offense based on the odor of marijuana emanating from the defendant’s car. The canine unit arrived on scene 12 minutes into the traffic stop and conducted its sniff of the defendant’s car within one minute while the stopping officer was writing a warning ticket. The officer therefore acted within the mission of the stop throughout the encounter and the stop was not improperly extended. The search of the defendant’s car was also supported by probable cause based on the odor of marijuana and the positive canine alert.

(2) The defendant complained that his offer of proof regarding the relationship between one officer on the scene and a woman whose house the defendant had traveled from prior to the stop was improperly limited. The Court of Appeals noted that “a trial court may limit an offer of proof by allowing counsel to articulate what a defendant’s showing would have been by identifying witnesses and presenting a detailed forecast of evidence for the record.” Walton Slip op. at 11. Here, the fact of the relationship was established before the trial court and that was a sufficient offer of proof on the issue. The court also found that because this officer was not the stopping officer and had limited involvement in the case, the trial court did not commit prejudicial error in limiting or excluding this evidence.

(3) The defendant also argued that the trial court incorrectly found the canine was properly trained and reliable. Under Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237 (2013), a certified or well-trained canine’s alert can supply probable cause to search under the totality of circumstances. A defendant is permitted to demonstrate that the animal was not properly trained or reliable in arguing against probable cause based on the alert. The defendant pointed to the fact that one of the dog’s certifications was expired at the time of the sniff. The court rejected this a determinative factor, finding the dog had been repeatedly certified by two different organizations and had at least one unexpired certification at the time. This was sufficient evidence of the dog’s reliability, absent any showing by the defendant that its training or performance was deficient. The fact that the officer handling the canine had gaps in his training inconsistent with departmental policies was similarly not determinative. While the officer’s training is a relevant consideration in the analysis, this alone was insufficient to overcome the showing that the dog was properly trained and reliable.

The case was therefore affirmed in all respects.

While parked on the side of the road, a trooper saw a truck pass by and believed that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt. After the trooper stopped the truck and approached the passenger side, he realized that passenger was wearing his seat belt, but the gray belt had not been visible against the passenger’s gray shirt. The passenger stated that he was wearing his seat belt the whole time, and the trooper did not cite him for a seat belt infraction.

However, upon approaching the window, the trooper had also immediately noticed an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle. The trooper asked the passenger and the driver (the defendant) if they had been drinking, and both men said yes. The trooper asked the men to step out of the truck, and saw that the defendant’s eyes were red, glassy, and bloodshot. After further investigation, the trooper determined the defendant was impaired and charged him with DWI. The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing there was no reasonable suspicion to support the initial or extended vehicle stop. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the trooper had a mistaken but lawful basis for the initial stop, and he developed reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity that warranted an extension of the stop. The defendant proceeded to trial, was convicted of DWI, and appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the findings and rulings denying the suppression motion. First, the trial court’s findings of fact were adequately supported by the trooper’s testimony. Second, even though the trooper’s initial belief that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt turned out to be mistaken, it was nevertheless objectively reasonable (“failing to see a gray seat belt atop a gray shirt is one a reasonable officer could make”) and the extension of the stop was permissible based on the trooper “instantaneously” smelling an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle, raising a reasonable suspicion of DWI. Defendant’s related constitutional arguments concerning the extension of the stop and probable cause to arrest were not properly raised at the trial level, so they were dismissed on appeal. As to defendant’s remaining arguments regarding his trial (denial of motion to dismiss at close of evidence, allowing a “positive” PBT reading into evidence, and qualifying the trooper as an expert in HGN), the appellate court likewise found no error.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress, which argued that officers improperly extended a traffic stop. Officers initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle for a passenger seatbelt violation. The defendant was in the passenger seat. That seat was leaned very far back while the defendant was leaning forward with his head near his knees in an awkward position. The defendant’s hands were around his waist, not visible to the officer. The officer believed that based on the defendant’s position he was possibly hiding a gun. When the officer introduced himself, the defendant glanced up, looked around the front area of the vehicle, but did not change position. The officer testified that the defendant’s behavior was not typical. The defendant was unable to produce an identity document, but stated that he was not going to lie about his identity. The officer testified that this statement was a sign of deception. The officer asked the defendant to exit the vehicle. When the defendant exited, he turned and pressed against the vehicle while keeping both hands around his waist. The defendant denied having any weapons and consented to a search of his person. Subsequently a large wad of paper towels fell from the defendant’s pants. More than 56 grams of cocaine was in the paper towels and additional contraband was found inside the vehicle. The defendant was charged with drug offenses. He unsuccessfully moved to suppress. On appeal he argued that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop. The court disagreed, holding that the officer’s conduct did not prolong the stop beyond the time reasonably required to complete its mission. When the defendant was unable to provide identification, the officer “attempted to more efficiently conduct the requisite database checks” and complete the mission of the stop by asking the defendant to exit the vehicle. Because the officer’s conduct did not extend the traffic stop, no additional showing of reasonable suspicion was required.

In this DWI case, an officer did not unduly prolong a traffic stop. While on patrol, officers ran a vehicle’s tag and learned that the registered owner was a male with a suspended license. An officer stopped the vehicle based on the suspicion that it was being driven without a valid license. The officer who approached the vehicle immediately saw that the defendant, a female, was in the driver’s seat and that a female passenger was next to her. Although the officer determined that the owner was not driving the vehicle, the defendant ended up charged with DWI. On appeal, the defendant argued that while the officers may have had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle, the stop became unlawful when they verified that the male owner was not driving the vehicle. The court disagreed, stating:

Defendant’s argument is based upon a basic erroneous assumption: that a police officer can discern the gender of a driver from a distance based simply upon outward appearance. Not all men wear stereotypical “male” hairstyles nor do they all wear “male” clothing. The driver’s license includes a physical description of the driver, including “sex.” Until [the] Officer . . . had seen Defendant’s driver’s license, he had not confirmed that the person driving the car was female and not its owner. While he was waiting for her to find her license, he noticed her difficulty with her wallet, the odor of alcohol, and her slurred speech.

Additionally, the time needed to complete a stop includes the time for ordinary inquiries incident to the stop, including checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the vehicle’s registration and proof of insurance. The officer’s mission upon stopping the vehicle included talking with the defendant to inform her of the basis for the stop, asking for her driver’s license, and checking that the vehicle’s registration and insurance had not expired. While the officer was pursuing these tasks, the defendant avoided rolling her window all the way down and repeatedly fumbled through cards trying to find her license. Additionally because she was mumbling and had a slight slur in her speech, the officer leaned towards the window where he smelled an odor of alcohol. This evidence gave him reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was intoxicated. Because he developed this reasonable suspicion while completing the original mission of the stop, no fourth amendment violation occurred.

In this DWI case, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence discovered after a roadside breath test. Specifically, the defendant asserted that the results of roadside sobriety tests and intoxilyzer test should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree of an illegal search and seizure caused by an unlawfully compelled roadside breath test. The court disagreed. An officer observed the defendant exit a bar after midnight and swerve several times within his driving lane; after the initial traffic stop—the legality of which the defendant did not challenge—the officer smelled a strong odor of alcohol, the defendant presented his debit card when asked for his driver’s license, and the defendant initially denied but later admitted drinking alcohol. These facts were sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion to justify prolonging the initial stop to investigate the defendant’s potential impairment, including administering the roadside sobriety tests. These findings, in conjunction with findings regarding the defendant’s performance on the roadside sobriety tests supported a conclusion that the officer had probable cause to arrest the defendant for DWI, justifying the later intoxilyzer test. Therefore, the trial court properly refused to suppress the results of the roadside sobriety tests and the intoxilyzer test.

In this case involving drug charges and a charge of driving without an operator’s license, the court declined to address the defendant’s argument that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop and search the defendant, finding that the search was justified as a search incident to arrest for two offenses for which the officer had probable cause to arrest. An officer was on the lookout for a gold Kia sedan in connection with an earlier incident at the Green Valley Inn. As the officer was monitoring an intersection, he saw a Kia sedan drive through a red light. The officer conducted a traffic stop. The officer approached the vehicle and immediately saw an open beer container in the center console. The officer asked the defendant for his license and registration. The defendant said he did not have a license but handed over a Pennsylvania ID card, with a shaky hand. After noticing the defendant’s red, glassy eyes and detecting an odor of alcohol from the vehicle, the officer asked the defendant to exit the car so that he could search it and have the defendant perform sobriety tests. Before searching the vehicle the officer frisked the defendant. As the officer returned to his police car to check the defendant’s license for outstanding warrants, the defendant spontaneously handed the officer his car keys. Because it was cold, the officer allowed the defendant to sit in the back of the patrol car as he ran the license and warrant checks. The officer determined that the defendant’s license was expired, the vehicle was not registered to the defendant, and the defendant had no outstanding warrants. While sitting in the officer’s vehicle, the defendant voluntarily made a variety of spontaneous statements and asked the officer if he could drive him back to the Green Valley Inn after the traffic stop completed. After doing the license and warrants check, the officer conducted standardized field sobriety tests, which were performed to his satisfaction. He then asked for and got consent to search the defendant, finding powder and crack cocaine in the defendant’s pockets.

          On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the stop after determining that the defendant was not intoxicated. The court however concluded that the officer did not need reasonable suspicion to extend the stop; the court reasoned that because the officer had probable cause to justify arrest, the search was justified as a search incident to arrest. Specifically, the officer’s discovery of the open container and that the defendant was driving without an operator’s license gave the officer probable cause to arrest. An officer may conduct a warrantless search incident to a lawful arrest; a search is incident to an arrest even if conducted prior to the formal arrest.

          For similar reasons, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that his consent to search was invalid because it was given while the stop was unduly prolonged. The court reasoned that because probable cause existed for the arrest and the search was justified as a search incident to an arrest, the defendant’s consent was unnecessary.

          The court went on to hold that even if the search was unlawful, discovery of the contraband on the defendant’s person was inevitable. Here, the officer testified that he would not have allowed the defendant to drive away from the traffic stop because he was not licensed to operate a motor vehicle. The officer testified that he would have searched the defendant before giving him a ride or transporting him to jail because of his practice of searching everyone transported in his patrol car. Also, the defendant repeatedly asked the officer if he would give him a ride back to the Green Valley Inn. Thus, the State established that the cocaine would have been inevitably discovered because the officer would have searched the defendant for weapons or contraband before transporting him to another location or jail.

(1) In this drug trafficking case, the court held that the fact that the defendant’s truck crossed over a double yellow line justified the stop. The officer saw the defendant’s vehicle cross the center line of the road by about 1 inch. The court stated:

[T]here is a “bright line” rule in some traffic stop cases. Here, the bright line is a double yellow line down the center of the road. Where a vehicle actually crosses over the double yellow lines in the center of a road, even once, and even without endangering any other drivers, the driver has committed a traffic violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-146 (2017). This is a “readily observable” traffic violation and the officer may stop the driver without violating his constitutional rights.

(2) After a proper traffic stop, the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop for six or seven minutes for a dog sniff. The officer was patrolling the road based on complaints about drug activity and had been advised by the SBI to be on the lookout for the defendant based upon reports that he was bringing large quantities of methamphetamine to a supplier who lived off of the road. After the officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle, he identified the defendant as the person noted in the lookout warning. The defendant was confused, spoke so quickly that he was hard to understand, and began to stutter and mumble. The defendant did not make eye contact with the officer and his nervousness was “much more extreme” than a typical stopped driver. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy and the skin under his eyes was ashy. Based on his training and experience, the officer believed the defendant’s behavior and appearance were consistent with methamphetamine use. The defendant told the officer he was going to “Rabbit’s” house. The officer knew that “Rabbit” was involved with methamphetamine and that he lived nearby. When the defendant exited his car, he put his hand on the car for stability. These facts alone would have given the officer reasonable suspicion. But additionally, a woman the officer knew had given drug information to law enforcement in the past approached and told the officer she had talked to Rabbit and the defendant had “dope in the vehicle.” These facts were more than sufficient to give the officer a reasonable suspicion that the defendant had drugs in his vehicle and justify extension of the stop for a dog sniff.

The traffic stop at issue was not unduly extended. The defendant, a passenger in the stopped vehicle, argued that officers extended, without reasonable suspicion, the traffic stop after issuing the driver a warning citation. The stopping officer had extensive training in drug interdiction, including the detection of behaviors by individuals tending to indicate activity related to the use, transportation, and other activity associated with controlled substances, and had investigated more than 100 drug cases. The officer observed a sufficient number of “red flags” before issuing the warning citation to support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and therefore justifying extending the stop. When the officer first encountered the vehicle, he observed body language by both the driver and the defendant that he considered evasive; the driver exhibited extreme and continued nervousness throughout the stop and was unable to produce any form of personal identification; the driver and the defendant gave conflicting accounts of their travel plans and their relationship to each other; the officer observed an open sore on the defendant’s face that appeared, based on the officer’s training and experience, related to the use of methamphetamine; and background checks revealed that the driver had an expired license.

An officer had reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop. A six-year officer who had received training in identification of drugs and had participated in 100 drug arrests pulled into the parking lot of a Motel 6, a high crime area. When he entered the lot, he saw two men sitting in a car. After the officer passed, the vehicle exited the lot at high speed. The officer stopped the car after observing a traffic violation. The vehicle displayed a temporary license tag. When the officer approached for the driver’s information, the driver was “more nervous than usual.” The officer asked why the two were at the motel, and the driver stated that they did not enter a room there. The passenger—the defendant—did not have any identifying documents but gave the officer his name. The officer went to his patrol car to enter the information in his computer and called for backup, as required by department regulations when more than one person is in a stopped vehicle. While waiting for backup to arrive, he entered the vehicle’s VIN number in a 50-state database, not having a state registration to enter. He determined that the vehicle was not stolen. Although neither the driver nor the passenger had outstanding warrants, both had multiple prior drug arrests. Shortly after, and 12 minutes after the stop began, the backup officer arrived. The two discussed the stop; the stopping officer told the backup officer that he was going to issue the driver a warning for unsafe movement but asked the backup officer to approach the defendant. The two approached the vehicle some 14 minutes after the stop was initiated. The stopping officer asked the driver to step to the rear the vehicle so that they could see the intersection where the traffic violation occurred while the officer explained his warning. The officer gave the driver a warning, returned his documents and asked to search the vehicle. The driver declined. While the stopping officer was speaking with the driver, the backup officer approached the defendant and saw a syringe in the driver’s seat. He asked the defendant to step out of the car and the defendant complied, at which point the officer saw a second syringe in the passenger seat. Four minutes into these conversations, the backup officer informed the stopping officer of the syringe caps. The stopping officer asked the driver if he was a diabetic and the driver said that he was not. The stopping officer then searched the vehicle, finding the contraband at issue. On appeal, the court held that the stop was not improperly extended. It noted that the stopping officer was engaged in “conduct within the scope of his mission” until the backup officer arrived after 12 minutes. Database searches of driver’s licenses, warrants, vehicle registrations, and proof of insurance all fall within the mission of a traffic stop. Additionally the officer’s research into the men’s criminal histories was permitted as a precaution related to the traffic stop, as was the stopping officer’s request for backup. Because officer safety stems from the mission of the traffic stop itself, time devoted to officer safety is time that is reasonably required to complete the mission of the stop. Even if a call for backup was not an appropriate safety precaution, here the backup call did not actually extend the stop because the stopping officer was still doing the required searches when the backup officer arrived. By the time the backup officer arrived, the stopping officer had developed a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to extend the stop. The stopping officer was a trained officer who participated 100 drug arrests; he saw the driver and passenger in a high crime area; after he drove by them they took off at a high speed and made an illegal turn; the driver informed the officer that the two were at the motel but did not go into a motel room; the driver was unusually nervous; and both men had multiple prior drug arrests. These facts provided reasonable suspicion to extend the stop. Even if these facts were insufficient, other facts support a conclusion that reasonable suspicion existed, including the men’s surprise at seeing the officer in the motel lot; the titling of the vehicle to someone other than the driver or passenger; the driver’s statement that he met a friend at the motel but did not know the friend’s name; and the fact that the officer recognized the defendant as someone who had been involved in illegal drug activity. Finally, drawing on some of the same facts, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that any reasonable suspicion supporting extension of the stop was not particularized to him. The court also noted that an officer may stop and detain a vehicle and its occupants if an officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.

 

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.

(1) In this post-Rodriguez case, the court held that because no reasonable suspicion existed to prolong the defendant’s detention once the purpose of a traffic stop had concluded, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a consent search of her vehicle during the unlawful detention. The court found that the evidence showed only two circumstances that could possibly provide reasonable suspicion for extending the duration of the stop: the defendant was engaging in nervous behavior and she had associated with a known drug dealer. It found the circumstances insufficient to provide the necessary reasonable suspicion. Here, the officer had a legitimate basis for the initial traffic stop: addressing the defendant’s failure to dim her high beam lights. Addressing this infraction was the original mission of the traffic stop. Once the officer provided the defendant with a warning on the use of high beams, the original mission of the stop was concluded. Although some of his subsequent follow-up questions about the address on her license were supported by reasonable suspicion (regarding whether she was in violation of state law requiring a change of address on a drivers license), this “new mission for the stop” concluded when the officer decided not to issue her a ticket in connection with her license. At this point, additional reasonable suspicion was required to prolong the detention. The court agreed with the defendant that her nervousness and association with a drug dealer did not support a finding of reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop. Among other things, the court noted that nervousness, although a relevant factor, is insufficient by itself to establish reasonable suspicion. It also concluded that “a person’s mere association with or proximity to a suspected criminal does not support a conclusion of particularized reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity without more competent evidence.” These two circumstances, the court held, “simply give rise to a hunch rather than reasonable, particularized suspicion.” (2) The defendant’s consent to search the vehicle was not obtained during a consensual encounter where the officer had not returned the defendant’s drivers license at the time she gave her consent.

(1) In this post-Rodriguez case, the court held that reasonable suspicion supported the officer’s extension of the duration of the stop, including: the officer smelled marijuana on the defendant’s person, the officer learned from the defendant him that he had an impaired driving conviction based on marijuana usage, the defendant provided a “bizarre” story regarding the nature of his travel, the defendant was extremely nervous, and the officer detected “masking odors.” (2) The defendant’s consent to search his car, given during a lawful extension of the stop, was clear and unequivocal.

In this drug trafficking case, the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend a traffic stop. After Officer Ward initiated a traffic stop and asked the driver for his license and registration, the driver produced his license but was unable to produce a registration. The driver’s license listed his address as Raleigh, but he could not give a clear answer as to whether he resided in Brunswick County or Raleigh. Throughout the conversation, the driver changed his story about where he resided. The driver was speaking into one cell phone and had two other cell phones on the center console of his vehicle. The officer saw a vehicle power control (VPC) module on the floor of the vehicle, an unusual item that might be associated with criminal activity. When Ward attempted to question the defendant, a passenger, the defendant mumbled answers and appeared very nervous. Ward then determined that the driver’s license was inactive, issued him a citation and told him he was free to go. However, Ward asked the driver if he would mind exiting the vehicle to answer a few questions. Officer Ward also asked the driver if he could pat him down and the driver agreed. Meanwhile, Deputy Arnold, who was assisting, observed a rectangular shaped bulge underneath the defendant’s shorts, in his crotch area. When he asked the defendant to identify the item, the defendant responded that it was his male anatomy. Arnold asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle so that he could do a patdown; before this could be completed, a Ziploc bag containing heroin fell from the defendant’s shorts. The extension of the traffic stop was justified: the driver could not answer basic questions, such as where he was coming from and where he lived; the driver changed his story; the driver could not explain why he did not have his registration; the presence of the VPC was unusual; and the defendant was extremely nervous and gave vague answers to the officer’s questions.

The trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress where the defendant was subjected to a seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, the officer continued to detain the defendant after completing the original purpose of the stop without having reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. The officer initiated a traffic stop because of a headlights infraction and a potential noise violation. The defendant turned his headlights on before he stopped and apologized to the officer for not having his headlights on. The officer asked the defendant for his license and registration and said that if everything checked out, the defendant would soon be cleared to go. The defendant did not smell of alcohol, did not have glassy eyes, was not sweating or fidgeting, and made no contradictory statements. A check revealed that the defendant's license and registration were valid. However a criminal history check revealed that the defendant had a history of drug charges and felonies. When the officer re-approached the car, he told the defendant to keep his music down because of a noise ordinance. At this point the officer smelled a strong odor that he believed was a fragrance to cover up the smell of drugs. The officer asked the defendant about the odor, and the defendant showed him a small, clear glass bottle, stating that it was a body oil. Still holding the defendant’s license and registration, the officer asked for consent to search. The defendant declined consent but after the officer said he would call for a drug dog, the defendant agreed to the search. Contraband was found and the defendant moved to suppress. The court began by following State v. Myles, 188 N.C. App. 42, aff'd per curiam, 362 N.C. 344 (2008), and concluding that the purpose of the initial stop was concluded by the time the officer asked for consent to search. The court held that once the officer returned to the vehicle and told the defendant to keep his music down, the officer had completely addressed the original purpose for the stop. It continued:

Defendant had turned on his headlights, he had been warned about his music, his license and registration were valid, and he had no outstanding warrants. Consequently, [the officer] was then required to have "defendant's consent or 'grounds which provide a reasonable and articulable suspicion in order to justify further delay' before" asking defendant additional questions.

Next, the court held that the officer had no reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity in order to extend the stop beyond its original scope: “a strong incense-like fragrance, which the officer believes to be a ‘cover scent,’ and a known felony and drug history are not, without more, sufficient to support a finding of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” Finally, the court rejected the argument that the detention of the defendant after the original purpose had ended was proper because it equated to a “de minimis” extension for a drug dog sniff. The court declined to extend the de minimis analysis to situations where—as here—no drug dog was at the scene prior to the completion of the purpose of the stop.

In a drug trafficking case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress drugs seized from a truck during a vehicle stop. The defendant argued that once the officer handed the driver the warning citation, the purpose of the stop was over and anything that occurred after that time constituted unconstitutionally prolonged the stop. The court noted that officers routinely check relevant documentation while conducting traffic stops. Here, although the officer had completed writing the warning citation, he had not completed his checks related to the licenses, registration, insurance, travel logs, and invoices of the commercial vehicle. Thus, “The purpose of the stop was not completed until [the officer] finished a proper document check and returned the documents to [the driver and the passenger, who owned the truck].” The court noted that because the defendant did not argue the issue, it would not address which documents may be properly investigated during a routine commercial vehicle stop.

The trial court erred by granting the defendant’s motion to suppress on grounds that officers impermissibly prolonged a lawful vehicle stop. Officers McKaughan and Jones stopped the defendant’s vehicle after it twice weaved out of its lane. The officers had a drug dog with them. McKaughan immediately determined that the defendant was not impaired. Although the defendant’s hand was shaking, he did not show extreme nervousness. McKaughan told the defendant he would not get a citation but asked him to come to the police vehicle. While “casual conversation” ensued in the police car, Jones stood outside the defendant’s vehicle. The defendant was polite, cooperative, and responsive. Upon entering the defendant’s identifying information into his computer, McKaughan found an “alert” indicating that the defendant was a “drug dealer” and “known felon.” He returned the defendant’s driver’s license and issued a warning ticket. While still in the police car, McKaughan asked the defendant if he had any drugs or weapons in his car. The defendant said no. After the defendant refused to give consent for a dog sniff of the vehicle, McKaughan had the dog do a sniff. The dog alerted to narcotics in the vehicle and a search revealed a bag of cocaine. The period between when the warning ticket was issued and the dog sniff occurred was four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Surveying two lines of cases from the court which “appear to reach contradictory conclusions” on the question of whether a de minimis delay is unconstitutional, the court reconciled the cases and held that any prolonged detention of the defendant for the purpose of the drug dog sniff was de minimis and did not violate his rights. [Author’s note: State v. Warren, ___ N.C. App. ___, 775 S.E.2d 362 (2015), indicates that this case was overruled by Rodriguez].

The trial court erred by concluding that an officer lacked reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant beyond the scope of a routine traffic stop. The officer lawfully stopped the vehicle for a seatbelt violation but then extended the detention for arrival of a canine unit. The State argued that numerous factors established reasonable suspicion that the defendant was transporting contraband: an overwhelming odor of air freshener in the car; the defendant claimed to have made a five hour round trip to go shopping but had not purchased anything; the defendant was nervous; the defendant had pending drug charges and was known as a distributor of marijuana and cocaine; the defendant was driving in a pack of cars; the car was registered to someone else; the defendant never asked why he had been stopped; the defendant was “eating on the go”; and a handprint indicated that something recently had been placed in the trunk. Although the officer did not know about the pending charges until after the canine unit was called, the court found this to be a relevant factor. It reasoned: “The extended detention of defendant is ongoing from the time of the traffic citation until the canine unit arrives and additional factors that present themselves during that time are relevant to why the detention continued until the canine unit arrived.” Even discounting several of these factors that might be indicative of innocent behavior, the court found that other factors--nervousness, the smell of air freshener, inconsistency with regard to travel plans, driving a car not registered to the defendant, and the pending charges--supported a finding that reasonable suspicion existed.

Reasonable suspicion supported the length of the stop. The officer’s initial questions regarding the defendant’s license, route of travel, and occupation were within the scope of the traffic stop. Any further detention was appropriate in light of the following facts: the defendant did not have a valid driver’s license; although the defendant said he had just gotten off work at a construction job, he was well kept with clean hands and clothing; the defendant “became visibly nervous by breathing rapidly[;] . . . his heart appeared to be beating rapidly[,] he exchanged glances with his passenger and both individuals looked at an open plastic bag in the back seat of the vehicle”; an officer observed dryer sheets protruding from an open bag containing a box of clear plastic wrap, which, due to his training and experience, the officer knew were used to package and conceal drugs; and the defendant told the officer that the car he was driving belonged to a friend but that he wasn’t sure of the friend’s name.

The trial court properly denied a motion to suppress asserting that a vehicle stop was improperly prolonged. An officer stopped the truck after observing it follow too closely and make erratic lane changes. The occupants were detained until a Spanish language consent to search form could be brought to the location. The defendant challenged as unconstitutional this detention, which lasted approximately one hour and ten minutes. The court distinguished cases cited by the defendant, explaining that in both, vehicle occupants were detained after the original purpose of the initial investigative detention had been addressed and the officer attempted to justify an additional period of detention solely on the basis of the driver’s nervousness or uncertainty about travel details, a basis held not to provide a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. Here, however, since none of the occupants had a driver’s license or other identification, the officer could not issue a citation and resolve the initial stop. Because the challenged delay occurred when the officer was attempting to address issues arising from the initial stop, the court determined that it need not address whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to justify a prolonged detention. Nevertheless, the court went on to conclude that even if the officer was required to have such a suspicion in order to justify the detention, the facts supported the existence of such a suspicion. Specifically: (a) the driver did not have a license or registration; (b) a man was in the truck bed covered by a blanket; (c) the defendant handed the driver a license belonging to the defendant’s brother; (d) the occupants gave inconsistent stories about their travel that were confusing given the truck’s location and direction of travel; (e) no occupant produced identification or a driver’s license; (f) the men had no luggage despite the fact that they were traveling from North Carolina to New York; and (g) the driver had tattoos associated with criminal gang activity.

There were no grounds providing reasonable and articulable suspicion for extending a vehicle stop once the original purpose of the stop (suspicion that the driver was operating the vehicle without a license) had been addressed. After the officer verified that the driver had a valid license, she extended the stop by asking whether there was anything illegal in the vehicle, and the defendant gave consent to search the vehicle. The encounter did not become consensual after the officer verified that the driver was licensed. Although such an encounter could have become consensual if the officer had returned the driver’s license and registration, here there was no evidence that the driver’s documentation was returned. Because the extended detention was unconstitutional, the driver’s consent was ineffective to justify the search of the vehicle and the weapon and drugs found were fruits of the poisonous tree.

Reasonable suspicion supported prolonging the detention of the defendant after the officer returned his license and the car rental contract and issued him a verbal warning for speeding. The defendant misidentified his passenger and was nervous. Additionally other officers had informed the officer that they had been conducting narcotics surveillance on the vehicle; that they had observed passenger appear to put something under his seat which might be drugs or a weapon; and that the officer should be careful in conducting the traffic stop.

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