State v. Downey, 370 N.C. 507 (Mar. 2, 2018)

The court per curiam affirmed a divided decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 796 S.E.2d 517 (2017), affirming an order denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. Over a dissent, the court of appeals had held that reasonable suspicion supported extension of the traffic stop. After an officer stopped the defendant for a traffic violation, he approached the vehicle and asked to see the driver’s license and registration. As the defendant complied, the officer noticed that his hands were shaking, his breathing was rapid, and that he failed to make eye contact. He also noticed a prepaid cell phone inside the vehicle and a Black Ice air freshener. The officer had learned during drug interdiction training that Black Ice freshener is frequently used by drug traffickers because of its strong scent and that prepaid cell phones are commonly used in drug trafficking. The officer determined that the car was not registered to the defendant, and he knew from his training that third-party vehicles are often used by drug traffickers. In response to questioning about why the defendant was in the area, the defendant provided vague answers. When the officer asked the defendant about his criminal history, the defendant responded that he had served time for breaking and entering and that he had a cocaine-related drug conviction. After issuing the defendant a warning ticket for the traffic violation and returning his documentation, the officer continued to question the defendant and asked for consent to search the vehicle. The defendant declined. He also declined consent to a canine sniff. The officer then called for a canine unit, which arrived 14 minutes after the initial stop ended. An alert led to a search of the vehicle and the discovery of contraband. The court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop, noting that before and during the time in which the officer prepared the warning citation, he observed the defendant’s nervous behavior; use of a particular brand of powerful air freshener favored by drug traffickers; the defendant’s prepaid cell phone; the fact that the defendant’s car was registered to someone else; the defendant’s vague and suspicious answers to the officer’s questions about why he was in the area; and the defendant’s prior conviction for a drug offense. These circumstances, the court of appeals held, constituted reasonable suspicion to extend the duration of stop.