State v. Mangum, COA16-344

CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
Decision Date06 December 2016
Docket NumberNo. COA16-344,COA16-344


No. COA16-344


December 6, 2016

Pitt County, No. 13 CRS 51897

Appeal by defendant from order entered 8 October 2015 by Judge W. Russell Duke, Jr. in Pitt County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 7 September 2016.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Robert T. Broughton, for the State.

Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Nicholas C. Woomer-Deters, for defendant-appellant.


Where the trial court's findings of fact were supported by competent evidence, and its conclusions of law were supported by the findings of fact, the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress the stop of his vehicle.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On 1 March 2013 at approximately 6:55 p.m., Lieutenant James Andrews of the Grifton, North Carolina Police Department received an anonymous phone call about an intoxicated person driving a black, four-door Hyundai leaving a Dollar

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General store and traveling north on Highland Boulevard. Shortly thereafter, Lt. Andrews saw a black Hyundai drive north on Highland Boulevard, past the police station. Lt. Andrews observed that the vehicle was traveling roughly 20 miles per hour in a 35 miles-per-hour (m.p.h.) zone. After following the vehicle a short distance, Lt. Andrews watched it stop at the intersection of McCrae and Highland Streets—where there is no stop sign, traffic light, or traffic control device—for "longer than usual." The Hyundai resumed motion, turned right on McCrae Street, still proceeding at 20 miles per hour in a 35 m.p.h. zone, and then stopped at a railroad crossing for 15 to 20 seconds, although there was no train coming and no signal to stop. The first road that intersects McCrae Street after crossing the tracks is Gordon Street, and the next is Brooks Alley. After the Hyundai crossed the tracks, Lt. Andrews activated the blue emergency lights on his police cruiser and signaled the vehicle to pull over; it did not do so for another two to three blocks. This failure to yield, which lasted for approximately two minutes, prompted Lt. Andrews to "bump" his siren a number of times. The vehicle turned left onto Pitt Street, proceeded for approximately one hundred yards, and stopped in the middle of the road. Lt. Andrews arrested the driver, John Eddie Mangum (defendant), for impaired driving. Defendant was found guilty in district court, and appealed to superior court.

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Prior to trial in superior court, defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop. On 20 August 2015, after a hearing on defendant's suppression motion, the trial court orally granted the motion in open court, and the State gave notice of appeal. On the next day, however, the trial court reversed its ruling and denied defendant's motion to suppress. The trial court entered a written order denying the suppression motion on 18 September 2015.

The trial court's pertinent findings in its order denying the suppression motion were that: (1) Lt. Andrews received a concerned citizen report that a drunk driver operating a black, four-door Hyundai was headed north on Highland Boulevard; (2) while Lt. Andrews followed him, defendant drove well below the speed limit; (3) defendant stopped for an unusual period of time before making a right turn, despite the absence of a stop sign or light; (4) defendant stopped for approximately fifteen or twenty seconds before crossing the railroad tracks, despite the fact that no train was approaching; (5) defendant did not immediately stop when Lt. Andrews activated his blue lights, but instead continued driving for approximately two minutes and traveled another two or three blocks; and (6) defendant stopped in the middle of Pitt Street, a narrow road with no bank or curb. Based on these findings, the trial court concluded that "based upon the totality of circumstances, there was a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop . . . [d]efendant's vehicle."

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Defendant pleaded guilty and preserved his right to appeal the suppression ruling. The trial court sentenced defendant to six months' imprisonment, suspended the sentence, and placed defendant on supervised probation for 24 months. Defendant appeals.

II. Standard of Review

Our review of a suppression order is limited to determining "whether competent evidence supports the trial court's findings of fact and whether the findings [in turn] support the [trial court's] conclusions of law." State v. Biber, 365 N.C. 162, 167-68, 712 S.E.2d 874, 878 (2011). Because the trial court 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[,]" State v. Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 134, 291 S.E.2d 618, 620 (1982), "[w]e accord great deference to [the] trial court's findings of fact," and any findings 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 that he has heard all of the testimony and observed the demeanor of the witnesses." State v. Hughes, 353 N.C. 200, 207, 539 S.E.2d 625, 631 (2000).

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However, "[a] trial court's conclusions of law on a motion to suppress are reviewed de novo and are subject to a full review, under which this Court considers the matter anew and freely substitutes its own judgment for that of the trial court. . . . The conclusions of law 'must be legally correct, reflecting a correct application of applicable legal principles to the facts found.' " Knudsen, 229 N.C. App. at 281, 747 S.E.2d at 649 (citations omitted).

III. Motion to Suppress

A. Factual Findings

Defendant first argues that one of the trial court's findings of fact is unsupported by the evidence and therefore erroneous. Specifically, defendant challenges Finding of Fact No. 25, which states in relevant part: "The Hyundai did not stop immediately in response to [Lt. Andrews' activation of the] blue lights, and instead continued two additional blocks east past Gordon Street and Brooks Alley."

Lt. Andrews made four statements at the suppression hearing as to when he activated his blue emergency lights. On direct examination, Lt. Andrews stated that he activated his lights immediately after he crossed the railroad tracks, adding that "[w]e went two blocks . . . [and] passed Gordon Street and Brooks Alley." On cross-examination, Lt. Andrews confirmed this statement, but shortly thereafter, he consulted his notes and indicated that his lights were activated at Brooks Alley. Toward the end of cross-examination, defense counsel asked, "And you also testified

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that you had your lights on at - maybe - you said Brook [sic] Alley - when you turned your blue lights on; is that correct?" to which Lt. Andrews replied, "Yes, ma'am." According to defendant, the "only reasonable inference to be drawn from this [statement] is that . . . [Lt.] Andrews was revising his earlier testimony to conform with his notes, which indicated that he activated his blue lights at Brooks Alley."

Our review of the written suppression order, however, reveals that the trial court explicitly addressed this discrepancy in Findings of Fact Nos. 22 and 23:

22. . . . Once the Hyundai crossed the railroad tracks, [Lt.] Andrews made the decision to activate emergency equipment and stop the Hyundai.

23. On cross-examination by counsel for [d]efendant [Lt.] Andrews acknowledged that he wrote in his notes from the DWI stop that he activated his blue lights at Brook [sic] Alley.

As a result, Finding of Fact No. 25 represents the trial court's reconciliation of Lt. Andrews' conflicting statements regarding the point at which he activated his blue lights. This finding is supported by Lt. Andrews' statement on direct examination and his confirmation of that statement on cross-examination. That Lt. Andrews went on to acknowledge that his notes differed from his recollection is of no moment. Our Supreme Court has specifically noted that when "supported by competent evidence, the trial court's findings of fact are conclusive on appeal, even if conflicting evidence was also introduced." State v. Wilkerson, 363 N.C. 382, 434,

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683 S.E.2d 174, 205 (2009) (citation omitted). "Furthermore, a trial court's resolution of a conflict in the evidence will not be disturbed on appeal[.]" State v. Steen, 352 N.C. 227, 237, 536 S.E.2d 1, 7 (2000) (citation omitted). Properly harmonized, Findings of Fact Nos. 22, 23, and 25 suggest that the trial court credited Lt. Andrews' initial statements after it considered the differing statements he gave during the latter portions of his cross-examination. Acknowledging the trial court's resolution of conflicting testimony, we conclude that Finding of Fact No. 25 is supported by competent evidence and thus is binding on appeal.

Defendant also argues that, based on the trial court's "comments" in Findings of Fact Nos. 30 and 31, defendant's "stop in the middle of Pitt St[reet] was insignificant in its determination that the stop was supported by reasonable suspicion[.]" Findings of Fact Nos. 30 and 31 read as follows:

30. When it came to a stop, the Hyundai stopped in the middle of Pitt Street rather than along the uncurbed roadside. There is no ditch or bank along the roadsides on that section of Pitt Street. The Court noted [at the suppression hearing], however, that Pitt Street is a narrow road.

31. [Lt.] Andrews testified that the Hyundai's position in the middle of the street had the potential to disrupt traffic flow along Pitt Street, but did not actually disrupt flow because no cars were traveling

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