State v. Hunter, 2022-NCCOA-683, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Oct. 18, 2022)

In this Gaston County case, defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress after entering a no contest plea to possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia, and failure to stop at a stop sign. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.


In October of 2020, police officers observed a car roll through a stop sign and pulled over the vehicle. When officers approached, defendant was behind the wheel; one officer took defendant’s license and information to perform a warrant check, while the other officer stayed with defendant and shined a flashlight through the windows to observe the vehicle. After shining the light around the vehicle, the officer noticed a plastic baggie next to the driver’s door, and defendant was detained while the officers retrieved and tested the baggie. The baggie tested positive for crack-cocaine.


On appeal, defendant argued that the stop was inappropriately pretextual, and that the officer shining a flashlight lacked probable cause to search his vehicle. The Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining that “[o]fficers who lawfully approach a car and look inside with a flashlight do not conduct a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” Slip Op. at 4-5, quoting State v. Brooks, 337 N.C. 132, 144 (1994). The court then turned to the stop, explaining that “both the United States Supreme Court and our North Carolina Supreme Court have ruled that an officer’s subjective motive for a stop has no bearing on the Fourth Amendment analysis.” Slip Op. at 9, citing Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996); and State v. McClendon, 350 N.C. 630, 635-36 (1999). Having established for Fourth Amendment analysis that the subjective motive for the stop was irrelevant and that a flashlight through defendant’s window was not a search, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny the motion.