State v. Carter, 200 N.C. App. 47 (Sept. 15, 2009)

Holding that the plain view exception to the warrantless arrest rule did not apply. When the officer approached the defendant’s vehicle from the passenger side to ask about an old and worn temporary tag, he inadvertently noticed several whole papers in plain view on the passenger seat. The officer then returned to his cruiser to call for backup. When the officer came back to the defendant’s vehicle to arrest the defendant, the previously intact papers had been torn to pieces. Under the plain view doctrine, police may seize contraband or evidence if (1) the officer was in a place where the officer had a right to be when the evidence was discovered; (2) the evidence was discovered inadvertently; and (3) it was immediately apparent to the police that the items observed were evidence of a crime or contraband. The court found that the first two prongs of the test were satisfied but that the third prong was not. It concluded that the officer’s suspicion that the defendant was trying to conceal information on the papers was not sufficient to bypass the warrant requirement.