State v. Bedient, 247 N.C. App. 314 (May. 3, 2016)

(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.