State v. Travis, 245 N.C. App. 120 (Jan. 19, 2016)

In this drug case, the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop. The officer, who was in an unmarked patrol vehicle in the parking lot of a local post office, saw the defendant pull into the lot. The officer knew the defendant because he previously worked for the officer as an informant and had executed controlled buys. When the defendant pulled up to the passenger side of another vehicle, the passenger of the other vehicle rolled down his window. The officer saw the defendant and the passenger extend their arms to one another and touch hands. The vehicles then left the premises. The entire episode lasted less than a minute, with no one from either vehicle entering the post office. The area in question was not known to be a crime area. Based on his training and experience, the officer believed he had witnessed hand-to-hand drug transaction and the defendant’s vehicle was stopped. Based on items found during the search of the vehicle, the defendant was charged with drug crimes. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. Although it found the case to be a “close” one, the court found that reasonable suspicion supported the stop. Noting that it had previously held that reasonable suspicion supported a stop where officers witnessed acts that they believed to be drug transactions, the court acknowledged that the present facts differed from those earlier cases, specifically that the transaction in question occurred in daylight in an area that was not known for drug activity. Also, because there was no indication that the defendant was aware of the officer’s presence, there was no evidence that he displayed signs of nervousness or took evasive action to avoid the officer. However, the court concluded that reasonable suspicion existed. It noted that the actions of the defendant and the occupant of the other car “may or may not have appeared suspicious to a layperson,” but they were sufficient to permit a reasonable inference by a trained officer that a drug transaction had occurred. The court thought it significant that the officer recognized the defendant and had past experience with him as an informant in connection with controlled drug transactions. Finally, the court noted that a determination that reasonable suspicion exists need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.