State v. Cobb, ___ N.C. App. ___, 845 S.E.2d 870 (Jun. 16, 2020)

An officer initiated a voluntary encounter with the defendant sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car. The officer detected a marijuana odor, and the defendant admitted he was smoking a blunt and handed it to the officer. Once backup arrived, the officer asked the defendant to step out of the car and searched him incident to arrest. Upon discovering a “wad of money” totaling thousands of dollars and asking defendant about it, the defendant fled on foot. During the resulting pursuit and takedown, the defendant attempted to take the officer’s firearm and also placed a bag of white powder in his mouth. Believing the defendant was destroying evidence and putting himself at risk, the officer forcibly removed the bag from the defendant’s mouth. The defendant resisted and bit the officer’s finger hard enough to break the skin. The powder later field-tested positive for cocaine. At the defendant’s subsequent trial for assault inflicting serious injury on an officer and attempted common law robbery, testimony about the bag of white powder and the positive field test was admitted. The defendant was convicted of lesser charges, and pleaded guilty to attaining habitual felon status. 

The appellate court held that admission of evidence about the field test result was error. The test result was irrelevant since the test was conducted after the assault and attempted robbery were over, and defendant was not charged with any controlled substance offenses. Testimony about the officer’s belief that the powder was cocaine was relevant to explain why the officer believed it was necessary to remove the bag from the defendant’s mouth, but the confirmatory test had no relevance to establishing any of the elements of the charged offenses. However, the error was not prejudicial in light of all the other evidence of defendant’s guilt as to the charged offenses.

Defendant’s remaining argument, alleging a fatal variance in the habitual felon indictment, was waived since the defendant pleaded guilty. The error, which incorrectly listed one of the defendant’s convictions as occurring in superior court rather than district court, did not constitute an exceptional circumstance that warranted allowing discretionary review under Rule 2.