State v. Heath, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-37 (Jan. 18, 2022)

The defendant was stopped in Cleveland County for driving left of center and driving without an active license. The officer recognized the defendant and knew her to be involved in drugs. While running license and warrants checks, the officer asked to search the car. The defendant refused. According to the officer, a drug dog was called, but before it could arrive, the defendant admitted to possessing drugs. According to the defendant, the officer searched her car without consent, found drugs, removed them from the car, and then put them back inside the car for canine training purposes. When the canine arrived, it alerted on the car, leading to the discovery of methamphetamine, marijuana, and paraphernalia, and the defendant was charged accordingly. She moved to suppress, and the trial court denied the motion.

The findings of fact in the denial order reflected that the defendant did not consent, but the conclusions of law upholding the search were based on the defendant’s consent. The order also failed to resolve the factual dispute regarding when the drugs were actually seized in relation to when the canine sniff occurred. These issues required that the order be vacated, and the matter remanded for new findings. In the court’s words:

Because the findings of fact are not sufficient to allow proper appellate review, we must remand for further findings of fact, particularly regarding whether and when defendant consented to a search and the timing of the search and seizure in relation to the consent and the call for, arrival, and sniff of the canine officer.” Heath Slip op. at 8-9.