State v. Eddings, 280 N.C. App. 204, 2021-NCCOA-590 (Nov. 2, 2021)

In this Buncombe County case, the defendant was convicted by a jury of possession with intent to sell or deliver fentanyl, possession of fentanyl, possession of firearm by a felon, and maintaining a building for keeping or selling controlled substances. Officers conducted a search of the defendant’s home when they believed it to be the place where another man, Robert Jones, obtained drugs that were sold to a confidential informant. That suspicion was based on officers’ multiple observations of Jones visiting the defendant’s address for short periods before engaging in controlled purchases, including an incident in which officers conducted a traffic stop on Jones immediately after he visited the defendant’s address, which prompted Jones to ingest narcotics while officers were pursuing him. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained pursuant to the search, arguing that the warrant affidavit lacked sufficient probable cause. The trial court denied the motion.

Over a dissent, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. The majority concluded that the affidavit lacked sufficient facts to establish probable cause in that it did not describe how much time passed between Jones leaving the defendant’s house and being pulled over, how Jones obtained drugs, or why law enforcement believed the defendant’s address was the source of supply. The Court thus concluded that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress, and that the defendant was entitled to a new trial.

A dissenting judge would have concluded that the affidavit provided a sufficient basis for probable cause to search the defendant’s residence. The judge noted that the affidavit’s references to drug purchases by Jones in “recent days” was a specific enough reference to the passage of time, and the trial court’s reference to officers’ stop of Jones after leaving the defendant’s residence as “immediate” was accurate under a commonsense reading of the warrant.