State v. Goins, 370 N.C. 157 (Sept. 29, 2017)

For the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion below, the court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals in State v. Goins___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 466 (July 5, 2016). In that case, the Court of Appeals held, over a dissent, that a stop of the defendant’s vehicle was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The stop occurred in an area of high crime and drug activity. The Court of Appeals majority concluded that the defendant’s mere presence in such an area cannot, standing alone, provide the necessary reasonable suspicion for the stop. Although headlong flight can support a finding of reasonable suspicion, here, it determined, the evidence was insufficient to show headlong flight. Among other things, there was no evidence that the defendant saw the police car before leaving the premises and he did not break any traffic laws while leaving. Although officers suspected that the defendant might be approaching a man at the premises to conduct a drug transaction, they did not see the two engage in suspicious activity. The officers’ suspicion that the defendant was fleeing from the scene, without more, did not justify the stop. The dissenting judge concluded that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The dissenting judge criticized the majority for focusing on a “fictional distinction” between suspected versus actual flight. The dissenting judge concluded: considering the past history of drug activity at the premises, the time, place, manner, and unbroken sequence of observed events, the defendant’s actions upon being warned of the police presence, and the totality of the circumstances, the trial court correctly found that the officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop.