State v. Lenoir, ___ N.C. App. ___, 816 S.E.2d 880 (Jun. 5, 2018)

In this possession of a firearm by a felon case, the court held that the affidavit contained insufficient details to support issuance of the search warrant. When officers went to the defendant’s home to conduct a knock and talk, the defendant’s brother answered the door and invited them in. An officer asked if anyone else was present and the brother said he was alone. The brother however gave consent for an officer to check a back bedroom. In the bedroom the officer saw a woman lying on a bed and a “glass smoke pipe” on a dresser. The officer applied for and was issued a search warrant for the residence. A search of the home revealed a shotgun in the bedroom. After the defendant admitted that he owned the gun, he was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence from the search. The defendant was convicted and appealed. Applying the plain error standard, the court began by addressing whether the trial court did in fact err by denying the motion to suppress. Here, the affidavit stated that the officer saw a “smoke pipe used for methamphetamine” in the bedroom. It did not mention the officer’s training and experience, nor did the officer offer information explaining the basis for his belief that the pipe was being used to smoke methamphetamine as opposed to tobacco. The affidavit did not explain how the officer was qualified to distinguish between a pipe used for lawful versus unlawful purposes. And it did not purport to describe in any detail the appearance of the pipe or contain any indication as to whether it appeared to have been recently used. It further lacked any indication that information had been received connecting the defendant or his home to drugs. The court stated: “a pipe—standing alone--is neither contraband nor evidence of a crime.” Because the affidavit was insufficient to establish probable cause for issuance of the warrant, the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The court went on to find that this error constituted plain error.