State v. Warren, 368 N.C. 756 (Mar. 18, 2016)

On appeal pursuant from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 775 S.E.2d 362 (2015), the court per curiam affirmed. In this post-Rodriguez case, the court of appeals had held that the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the scope and duration of a routine traffic stop to allow a police dog to perform a drug sniff outside the defendant’s vehicle. The court of appeals noted that under Rodriguez v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 191 L.Ed. 2d 492 (2015), an officer who lawfully stops a vehicle for a traffic violation but who otherwise does not have reasonable suspicion that any crime is afoot beyond a traffic violation may execute a dog sniff only if the check does not prolong the traffic stop. It further noted that earlier N.C. case law applying the de minimus rule to traffic stop extensions had been overruled by Rodriguez. The court of appeals continued, concluding that in this case the trial court’s findings support the conclusion that the officer developed reasonable suspicion of illegal drug activity during the course of his investigation of the traffic offense and was therefore justified to prolong the traffic stop to execute the dog sniff. Specifically:

Defendant was observed and stopped “in an area [the officer] knew to be a high crime/high drug activity area[;]” that while writing the warning citation, the officer observed that Defendant “appeared to have something in his mouth which he was not chewing and which affected his speech[;]”that “during his six years of experience [the officer] who has specific training in narcotics detection, has made numerous ‘drug stops’ and has observed individuals attempt to hide drugs in their mouths and . . . swallow drugs to destroy evidence[;]” and that during their conversation Defendant denied being involved in drug activity “any longer.”