State v. Humphreys, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Dec. 31, 2020)

The defendant was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer based on events that occurred in the parking lot outside her daughter’s high school. A drug sniffing dog alerted to the defendant’s car, which her daughter had driven to the school. The defendant came to the school to observe the search of her vehicle. She remained close to the officers who were conducting the search, used profanity throughout the encounter, and refused to comply with officers’ requests for her to back up and away. The defendant said to a class of students walking through the parking lot on the way to their weightlifting class, “‘[y]ou-all about to see a black woman – an unarmed black woman get shot.’” Slip op. at 3.

While officers were searching the car, the defendant walked out of an officer’s view for about three seconds. She then refused to stand precisely where she was instructed to stand, telling officers, “you can keep an eye on me from right here.” Slip op. at 4. One of the officers asked her, “‘are you refusing to come back here?’” Id. The defendant said, “’I’m not breaking no law.’” Id. The officer then arrested her. The defendant asked what she was being arrested for and told the officers she had broken no law.

At the close of the evidence in her trial for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges for insufficient evidence.  The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was convicted.  She appealed.

(1) The Court of Appeals determined that the defendant’s conduct, viewed in the light most favorable to the State, was not disorderly conduct in violation of G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6) as it did not constitute a substantial interference with and disruption and confusion of the operation of the school in its program of instruction and training of its students. Defendant’s behavior did not cause students to be directed around the area of the search — the search alone required that redirection. And the defendant did not disrupt classroom instruction when she spoke to students as they were walking through the parking lot on the way to class. Finally, her use of profanity did not interfere with students by drawing their attention to the commotion; that would have happened anyway given the presence of the police officer and the dog.

The only interference with a school function caused by defendant that the appellate court identified was the class of high school students hearing profanity during their normal walk to class. The Court held that alone did not constitute a substantial interference.

(2) The Court of Appeals held that there was not substantial evidence to show that the defendant resisted, delayed, or obstructed a sheriff’s deputy in discharging his official duties or that she acted willfully and unlawfully. First, the Court noted that merely remonstrating with an officer or criticizing or questioning (in an orderly manner) an officer who is performing his duty does not amount to obstructing or delaying an officer in the performance of his duties. The Court noted that the defendant’s actions and words were not aggressive or suggestive of violence. Instead, she orderly (if loudly) remonstrated by remaining where she could see the officer executing the search. Moreover, the Court concluded that the evidence did not indicate that the defendant stood near her car with a purpose to do so without authority or careless of whether she had the right to stand there. In fact, on the scene, she stated, “‘I’m not breaking no law’” when she was told she needed to return to the deputy and then was arrested. Slip op. at 4. The Court thought it clear that even after the officers asked the defendant to move several times, she believed she had the right to stand and observe the search, so long as the deputy could see her and she was not obstructing the other officer’s search of the vehicle. The Court held that a reasonable mind would not conclude that the evidence supported a finding that the defendant acted purposely and deliberately, indicating a purpose to act whether she had the right or not.