State v. Jonas, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-660 (Dec. 7, 2021)

temp. stay granted, ___ N.C. ___, 865 S.E.2d 886 (Dec. 22, 2021)

In this Cabarrus County case, the defendant was convicted of possession of a Schedule II controlled substance based on 0.1 grams of methamphetamine found in a backpack in the trunk of a vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that it was seized in connection with a traffic stop that was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The trial court denied the motion. Defendant pled guilty, without a plea arrangement with the State, and appealed.

(1) G.S. 15-979(b) provides that an order finally denying a motion to suppress may be reviewed upon an appeal from a judgment of conviction, including a judgment entered upon a plea of guilty. The North Carolina Supreme Court held in State v. Reynolds, 298 N.C. 380 (1979), that when a defendant intends to appeal from the denial of a motion to suppress pursuant to G.S. 15A-979(b), the defendant must give notice of that intention to the prosecutor and the court before plea negotiations are finalized. Absent such notice, the right to appeal is waived. The Court of Appeals held that the Reynolds notice requirement did not apply in the instant case because the defendant did not plead guilty as part of a plea arrangement. Thus, the defendant had a statutory right to appeal without having provided notice to the State and the trial court before entering his guilty plea.

(2) The officer who stopped the car in which the defendant was traveling testified that he stopped the car because it emerged from the empty parking lot of a closed business, a trailer had recently been stolen in that area, and the car was equipped with transporter plate, which the officer had never seen placed on a vehicle other than a truck. The Court of Appeals noted that, despite the officer’s belief to the contrary, G.S. 20-79.2 “clear[ly] and unambiguous[ly]” permits transporter plates to be used on motor vehicles generally, not just trucks. Though the Fourth Amendment tolerates objectively reasonable mistakes, the Court concluded that the officer’s mistake about the transporter plates was not objectively reasonable because the statute was not ambiguous. Thus, the officer’s belief regarding the transporter plates could not support reasonable suspicion. The Court determined that the additional facts that the business was closed and there was a recent trailer theft in the area were insufficient to support reasonable suspicion. Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. It reversed the trial court’s order and remanded the case to the trial court for entry of an order vacating the defendant’s guilty plea.