State v. Verkerk, 367 N.C. 483 (Jun. 12, 2014)

Reversing the court of appeals in a DWI case where the defendant was initially stopped by a firefighter, the court determined that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress which challenged the firefighter’s authority to make the initial stop. After observing the defendant’s erratic driving and transmitting this information to the local police department, the firefighter stopped the defendant’s vehicle. After some conversation, the driver drove away. When police officers arrived on the scene, the firefighter indicated where the vehicle had gone. The officers located the defendant, investigated her condition and charged her with DWI. On appeal, the defendant argued that because the firefighter had no authority to stop her, evidence from the first stop was improperly obtained. However, the court determined that it need not consider the extent of the firefighter’s authority to conduct a traffic stop or even whether the encounter with him amounted to a “legal stop.” The court reasoned that the firefighter’s observations of the defendant’s driving, which were transmitted to the police before making the stop, established that the police officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. The court noted that this evidence was independent of any evidence derived from the firefighter’s stop.