State v. Armstrong, 236 N.C. App. 130 (Sept. 2, 2014)

Although a search of the defendant’s vehicle was not proper under Gant, it was authorized under the automobile exception where officers had probable cause that the vehicle contained marijuana. After officers saw a vehicle execute a three-point turn in the middle of an intersection, strike a parked vehicle, and continue traveling on the left side of the road, they activated their blue lights to initiate a traffic stop. Before the vehicle stopped, they saw a brown beer bottle thrown from the driver’s side window. After the driver and passenger exited the vehicle, the officers detected an odor of alcohol and marijuana from the inside of the car and discovered a partially consumed bottle of beer in the center console. The defendant was arrested for hit and run and possession of an open container, put in handcuffs, and placed in the back of the officers’ cruiser. One of the officers searched the vehicle and retrieved the beer bottle from the center console, a grocery bag containing more beer, and a plastic baggie containing several white rocks, which turned out to be cocaine, in car’s glove compartment. After the defendant was charged with possession of cocaine and other offenses, he moved to suppress the evidence found pursuant to the search of his car. The court concluded that although a search of the car was not proper under Gant, it was proper under the automobile exception. Specifically, the fact that the officers smelled a strong odor of marijuana inside the vehicle provided probable cause to search.