State v. France, 279 N.C. App. 436, 2021-NCCOA-498 (Sept. 21, 2021)

In this case involving drug offenses, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence arising from a traffic stop because the duration of the stop was not impermissibly prolonged under Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015).  Two officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle based upon observing its broken taillight.  One officer requested identification from the occupants of the car, informed them of the reason for the stop, and returned to the patrol car to conduct warrant checks.  During this time the other officer requested that a canine unit respond to the stop.  The officer conducting warrant checks learned that a passenger had outstanding arrest warrants and placed him under arrest, at which time the officer discovered that the passenger was carrying a pistol and disarmed him.  The other officer immediately returned to the patrol car to begin the process of issuing a citation for the taillight and finish warrant checks on the remaining occupants.  While drafting the citation, the canine unit arrived and indicated a positive alert after walking around the vehicle.  The officers then searched the vehicle and found drug evidence.  The court determined that at all times prior to the canine alert the officers were diligently pursuing the purpose of the stop, conducting ordinary inquiries incident to the stop, or taking necessary safety precautions.  The court further determined that the request for the canine unit did not measurable extend the stop.  Assuming for argument that any of the officers’ actions unrelated to the initial purpose of the stop did extend its duration, they were justified by reasonable suspicion because a stopping officer encountered the defendant’s vehicle earlier in the evening and witnessed a hand-to-hand drug transaction, the stop occurred in a high crime area late at night, and a passenger with outstanding arrest warrants was armed with a loaded gun.

The court vacated a civil judgment for attorney’s fees because the trial court erred by not providing the defendant notice and an opportunity to be heard before entering the judgment.