State v. Swain, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-101 (Apr. 6, 2021)

In a prior decision, State v. Swain, 259 N.C. App. 253 (2018) (“Swain I”), the defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. The defendant argued that the cocaine discovered in this drug trafficking case was based on a search warrant affidavit that contained false statements in violation of Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). The appellate court in Swain I concluded that it could not adequately review the defendant’s arguments because the trial court had not entered a written order resolving factual disputes in the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, so the matter was remanded to the trial court for entry of a written order clarifying the court’s findings. However, since the judge who conducted the hearing had retired, another superior court judge reviewed the hearing transcript and prepared a written order denying the defendant’s motion.

The appellate court found that this procedure was improper and a new hearing should have been held, for two reasons. First, pursuant to G.S. 15A-977 and State v. Bartlett, 368 N.C. 309 (2015), only the judge who presided over the hearing could make findings of fact concerning the evidence presented. Second, the appellate court pointed out that when it remanded this matter in Swain I, it had already concluded that the transcript alone provided an insufficient basis to resolve the conflicts in the evidence, and those disputes remained unresolved by the new order. Therefore, the court once again vacated the trial court’s order and remanded with instructions to hold a new evidentiary hearing and enter a written order resolving any factual disputes and ruling on the motion.