State v. Augustin, ___ N.C. App. ___, 824 S.E.2d 854 (Feb. 19, 2019)

In this carrying a concealed handgun case, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress where the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant. While patrolling a high crime area, the officer saw the defendant and Ariel Peterson walking on a sidewalk. Aware of multiple recent crimes in the area, the officer stopped his car and approached the men. The officer had prior interactions with the defendant and knew he lived some distance away. The officer asked the men for their names. Peterson initially gave a false name; the defendant did not. The officer asked them where they were coming from and where they were going. Both gave vague answers; they claimed to have been at Peterson’s girlfriend’s house and were walking back to the defendant’s home, but were unable or unwilling to say where the girlfriend lived. When the defendant asked the officer for a ride to his house, the officer agreed and the three walked to the patrol car. The officer informed the two that police procedure required him to search them before entering the car. As the officer began to frisk Peterson, Peterson ran away. The officer turned to the defendant, who had begun stepping away. Believing the defendant was about to run away, the officer grabbed the defendant’s shoulders, placed the defendant on the ground, and handcuffed him. As the officer helped the defendant up, he saw that a gun had fallen out of the defendant’s waistband. Before the trial court, the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress discovery of the gun. He pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was unlawfully seized when the officer discovered the gun. Agreeing with the defendant that exercising a constitutional right to leave a consensual encounter should not be used against a defendant “to tip the scale towards reasonable suspicion,” the court noted that the manner in which a defendant exercises this right “could, in some cases, be used to tip the scale.” However, the court found that it need not determine whether it was appropriate for the trial court to consider the fact that the defendant was backing away in its reasonable suspicion calculus. Rather, the trial court’s findings regarding the men’s behavior before the defendant backed away from the officer were sufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion. The defendant was in an area where a “spree of crime” had occurred; Peterson lied about his name; they both gave vague answers about where they were coming from; and Peterson ran away while being searched. This evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant.