State v. Knudsen, COA12–1475.

Citation747 S.E.2d 641
Case DateAugust 20, 2013
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)

747 S.E.2d 641

STATE of North Carolina
Eric Lars KNUDSEN.

No. COA12–1475.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Aug. 20, 2013.

[747 S.E.2d 643]

Appeal by the State from order entered 11 January 2013 by Judge Patrice A. Hinnant in Superior Court, Forsyth County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 4 June 2013.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney General Robert C. Montgomery and Assistant Attorney General Joseph L. Hyde, for the State.

Rudolf Widenhouse & Fialko, Chapel Hill, by M. Gordon Widenhouse, Jr.; and Ashley Canon, for Defendant–Appellee.

McGEE, Judge.

Eric Lars Knudsen (Defendant) was charged with driving while impaired on 20 July 2011 in violation of N.C. Gen.Stat. § 20–138.1. Defendant pleaded guilty to the charge in Forsyth County District Court on 27 March 2012, and received a sixty-day suspended sentence and twelve months' unsupervised probation.

On that same day, Defendant filed notice of appeal to superior court. Defendant filed a “Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Reasonable Suspicion” on 27 April 2012, and a hearing was held in superior court on 14 June 2012. A written order was filed on 11 January 2013, in which the trial court held that Defendant was illegally stopped and seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. All evidence resulting from that seizure was suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

At the hearing, Officer B.L. Williams (Officer Williams) and Corporal R.A. Necessary (Corporal Necessary), with the Winston–Salem Police Department, testified for the State. The officers' testimony tended to show the following:

Officer Williams, a bicycle officer with the police department, was on routine patrol in the 500–600 block of North Trade Street in downtown Winston–Salem, on the evening of 28 July 2011. Corporal Necessary was also

[747 S.E.2d 644]

on patrol in that same area in a marked police department vehicle. At approximately 11:10 p.m., Corporal Necessary observed Defendant get into a 2007 blue Volkswagen Rabbit (the vehicle) while holding a cup that looked similar to cups that were commonly used at downtown bars to serve mixed drinks. The vehicle was parked near Finnegan's, a local restaurant and pub.

Corporal Necessary testified that, as he was driving south on Trade Street, he saw Defendant open the driver's side door and get into the vehicle, which was parked on the west side of Trade Street, facing south. At this point, Corporal Necessary slowed down drastically, and noticed that the headlights of the vehicle had come on. After passing by the vehicle, Corporal Necessary spotted Officer Williams in the street on his bicycle, facing north. Corporal Necessary stopped, relayed to Officer Williams what he had seen, and asked Officer Williams if he would ride by the vehicle and determine if the cup Corporal Necessary had seen Defendant holding contained alcohol. When Corporal Necessary stopped to talk to Officer Williams, he was very close to the vehicle, roughly a car length and a half away. After speaking with Officer Williams, Corporal Necessary then turned his police cruiser around, passed by the vehicle again, and turned right on Sixth Street.

Officer Williams, riding north on his bicycle in the southbound lane, approached the vehicle and noticed that its lights were on and that the engine was running. Officer Williams was in his police uniform, which included a weapon. According to Officer Williams' testimony, he rode past the vehicle at an arm's length distance, and made it obvious that he was looking inside the vehicle. Officer Williams observed two men sitting in the front seat. Defendant, who was sitting in the driver's seat, was holding a clear, light-colored, Solo-type cup, similar to ones used in downtown bars.

After passing by the vehicle, Officer Williams rode a short distance away and stopped on the sidewalk at an entrance to a parking lot so that he could contact Corporal Necessary and relay what he had just seen. As he was doing so, the two males exited the vehicle, and began walking the short distance down the sidewalk towards Officer Williams. Corporal Necessary, who had been planning on leaving the area, saw Defendant and the other male get out of the vehicle and walk toward Officer Williams. Instead of leaving the area, Corporal Necessary decided to park his police cruiser behind Officer Williams, blocking the entrance of the parking lot in the process. Corporal Necessary testified as follows:

I was actually going to leave the area at that point. And I was traveling extremely slow. [Defendant] and the other white male get out and start walking down the sidewalk towards Officer Williams. When I seen this, I pulled in.

Q. And how close were you when you saw the defendant walking with the passenger on the sidewalk?

A. I'm still in the car on the road, and I turned. It's kind of hard to explain. I'll show you. This is the entrance to the parking lot. I'm in this lane. I drove down, faced towards the entrance to the parking lot, at an angle, and stopped and got out.

Corporal Necessary further testified that, when he got out of his cruiser, Officer Williams and Defendant were already talking. Corporal Necessary stayed roughly three to four feet behind Officer Williams and Defendant as they spoke. As Defendant walked towards Officer Williams and was approximately an arm's length away, Officer Williams asked Defendant, “what do you have in the cup?”

There is conflicting testimony about whether Defendant had the cup in his hands while on the sidewalk. Officer Williams testified that, although he saw the cup in Defendant's hand while Defendant was in the vehicle, he believed that Defendant did not have the cup with him on the sidewalk. However, Corporal Necessary testified that Defendant did, in fact, have the cup in his hand while he was on the sidewalk. Corporal Necessary further testified that, when Officer Williams asked Defendant what was in the cup, Defendant replied, “water” and handed the cup to Officer Williams, who determined that the cup contained water. Officer Williams stated

[747 S.E.2d 645]

that Defendant's clothes were not messy, but that his eyes appeared “a little glazy and his face was kind of flush.”

Both Officer Williams and Corporal Necessary admitted that, prior to speaking with Defendant, they did not know where Defendant had been, where he was going, or what was in the cup that had first drawn their attention. Defendant never moved the vehicle and Officer Williams, who testified that he was roughly three feet from Defendant, did not notice any odor of alcohol on Defendant.

Following this testimony, the trial court granted Defendant's motion. The State appeals.


The issues presented on appeal by the State are (1) whether the trial court erred in its written findings of fact, (2) whether the trial court erred in concluding as a matter of law that Defendant was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and (3) even if Defendant was seized, whether the trial court erred in concluding that the seizure was unsupported by a reasonable suspicion.


The State first argues that portions of findings of fact numbers eight, nine, and twelve in the trial court's 14 June 2012 order are erroneous. The scope of review of a suppression order is “strictly limited to determining whether the trial judge's underlying findings of fact are supported by competent evidence, in which event they are conclusively binding on appeal, and whether those factual findings in turn support the judge's ultimate conclusions of law.” State v. Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 134, 291 S.E.2d 618, 619 (1982) (citations omitted).

We accord great deference to a trial court's findings of fact, as it is entrusted with the duty to “hear testimony, weigh and resolve any conflicts in the evidence, find the facts, and, then based upon those findings, render a legal decision, in the first instance, as to whether or not a constitutional violation of some kind has occurred.” Id. at 134, 291 S.E.2d at 619–20. The findings of fact that are not challenged by the State on appeal are binding and deemed to be supported by competent evidence. State v. Biber, 365 N.C. 162, 168, 712 S.E.2d 874, 878 (2011). For the portions that are challenged, this Court looks to discern whether competent evidence exists to support the finding made by the trial court. If there is competent evidence to support the trial court's finding, then it is similarly binding on appeal, “even if the evidence is conflicting.” State v. Blackstock, 165 N.C.App. 50, 55, 598 S.E.2d 412, 416 (2004) (citing State v. Braxton, 344 N.C. 702, 709, 477 S.E.2d 172, 176 (1996)). It is with this deference in mind that we analyze the State's contentions.

The trial court made the following findings of fact relevant to this appeal:

1. On July 28, 2011, at approximately 10:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.[,] Officer B.L. Williams was on routine patrol within the city limits of Winston–Salem, N.C. He was working the evening shift in the downtown district of Winston–Salem between the 500 and 600 blocks of North Trade Street. On the date and time in question, Officer Williams was operating a police issued bicycle.

2. While on patrol, Officer Williams met Corporal Necessary who was also on routine patrol. Corporal Necessary was operating a marked patrol vehicle and was working as a member of the Forsyth County Driving While Impaired Task Force.

3. Corporal Necessary told Officer Williams that he thought he had seen an individual walking downtown with a clear cup in his hand and get into his car. Corporal Necessary gave a description of the car and its location and asked Officer Williams to check on this individual. Corporal Necessary did not tell Officer Williams that he believed the Defendant to be impaired. There was nothing about the manner in which the Defendant was walking that gave Corporal Necessary reason to believe that Defendant was impaired. There was nothing about the...

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13 cases
  • State v. Mangum, COA16-344
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • December 6, 2016
    ...left unchallenged "on appeal are binding and deemed to be supported by competent evidence." State v. Knudsen , 229 N.C.App. 271, 275, 747 S.E.2d 641, 645 (2013) (citation omitted). "This deference is afforded the trial judge because he is in the best position to weigh the evidence, given th......
  • State v. Hester, COA16-1120
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • July 18, 2017
    ...something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch."803 S.E.2d 21 State v. Knudsen , 229 N.C.App. 271, 284, 747 S.E.2d 641, 650 (2013) (quotation omitted). "An officer has reasonable suspicion if a reasonable, cautious officer, guided by his experience and training, wou......
  • State v. Mangum, COA16-344
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • December 6, 2016
    ...left unchallenged "on appeal are binding and deemed to be supported by competent evidence." State v. Knudsen, 229 N.C. App. 271, 275, 747 S.E.2d 641, 645 (2013) (citation omitted). "This deference is afforded the trial judge because he is in the best position to weigh the evidence, given th......
  • State v. Steele
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • April 20, 2021
    ...presumably carrying a weapon, and was driving in his clearly-marked patrol vehicle. See State v. Knudsen , 229 N.C. App. 271, 282, 747 S.E.2d 641, 649 (2013) ("Several North Carolina Supreme Court opinions have also found the fact that an officer was in uniform to be a significant factor to......
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