State v. Furtch, COA22-643, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Jun. 20, 2023)

In this Henderson County case, defendant appealed his convictions for trafficking methamphetamine, possession with intent to manufacture, sell and/or deliver, and maintaining a vehicle used for keeping and selling a controlled substance, arguing error in the denial of his motion to suppress the results obtained from an unconstitutionally extended traffic stop. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In February of 2019, two officers from the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office performing drug interdiction pulled over defendant for weaving and following another vehicle too closely. The officers had received a tip from the narcotics unit to be on the lookout for a silver minivan similar to the vehicle defendant was driving. The officers decided to issue a warning citation to defendant for traveling left of the centerline and following too closely. One officer asked defendant to step out of the vehicle, frisked him for weapons, then explained the warning to him outside the vehicle. While the officer was explaining the warning citation, a K-9 unit performed a free air sniff around the vehicle and alerted, leading to a search that discovered methamphetamine. 

Rejecting defendant’s argument that the officers deviated from the mission of the stop and unconstitutionally extended it, the Court of Appeals turned to precedent supporting an officer’s ability to perform ordinary inquiries related to a stop as long as they do not measurably extend the duration. The court also noted that a K-9 free air sniff could be conducted without reasonable suspicion if it did not prolong the stop. Here, the court explained that the officers were permitted to order defendant out of his car and pat him down to ensure their safety during the stop, and these steps did not measurably extend the stop’s duration or convert it into an unlawful seizure. Likewise, “[a]lthough the K-9 free air sniff was unrelated to the reasons for the traffic stop, it did not prolong the traffic stop and was therefore permissible.” Slip Op. at 16. Finding no error, the court affirmed the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress.