State v. Aguilar, 2022-NCCOA-903, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Dec. 29, 2022)

In this Union County case, defendant appealed his conviction for trafficking by possession and transportation of heroin, arguing error in the denial of his motion to suppress the results of a warrantless search of his vehicle. The Court of Appeals found no error.

In January of 2020, the Union County Sheriff's Office was observing several individuals involved in drug trafficking based on information from two confidential informants. Based on the observations and information received, officers ended up detaining defendant and searching his vehicle, finding heroin after searching the vehicle. Although a canine unit was present, the dog did not alert on a search around the perimeter of the car. Despite the lack of alert, the officers believed they had probable cause based on “the tips provided by two unrelated confidential informants and officers’ observations that confirmed these specific tips.” Slip Op. at 4. Defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of trafficking heroin but reserved his right to appeal the dismissal of his motion to suppress.

The court walked through each challenged finding of fact and conclusion of law, determining that none of the issues highlighted by defendant represented error. In particular, the court explained that the lack of an alert from the canine unit did not prevent the officers from having probable cause, and noted “[d]efendant has cited no case, either before the trial court or on appeal, holding that officers cannot have probable cause to search a vehicle if a canine search is conducted and the canine fails to alert . . . [n]or did we find such a case.” Id. at 29. Because the totality of the circumstances supported probable cause, the court found no error in the trial court’s conclusion.