State v. Parker, COA98-1557.

Decision Date02 May 2000
Docket NumberNo. COA98-1557.,COA98-1557.
Citation530 S.E.2d 297,137 NC App. 590
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Imani Kabron PARKER, Defendant.
CourtNorth Carolina Court of Appeals

Attorney General Michael F. Easley, by Assistant Attorney General Marc D. Bernstein, for the State.

Smith, James, Rowlett and Cohen, L.L.P., by Seth R. Cohen, Greensboro, for defendant-appellant.

JOHN, Judge.

Defendant appeals judgments entered upon convictions by a jury of trafficking in cocaine by transportation and conspiracy to traffick in cocaine. Defendant contends the trial court erred by denying her motions to suppress and sentencing her to consecutive terms. We conclude the trial court did not err.

The State's evidence at trial tended to show the following: During August 1995, the Greensboro Police Department (the Department), learned through two confidential sources that Murad Weaver (Weaver), a suspected drug dealer, was distributing large amounts of cocaine in the Greensboro area and that he maintained an apartment on Wind Road. In February 1996, Marcus Dalton (Dalton), who had been charged with a drug trafficking offense, agreed to assist the Department in their on-going investigation of Weaver.

On 1 February 1996, Dalton telephoned Weaver to arrange a purchase of cocaine and was told to meet Weaver near Wind Road. However, because of police difficulty in monitoring the area specified by Weaver, Dalton suggested and Weaver agreed to another location. Within hours of the conversation, Weaver, accompanied by Tommie Blaylock (Blaylock), met Dalton at the arranged site and directed Dalton to follow him to another location. As the group began to depart, Detectives W.J. Graves (Graves), A.S. Wallace (Wallace), Mike Wall (Wall) (jointly, the detectives), and several other law enforcement officers positioned nearby, intervened and stopped Weaver's automobile. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed no contraband; nonetheless, Weaver and Blaylock were arrested and charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine.

While in custody, Weaver indicated he lived with his sister at 2107 Windsor Street and insisted that police search the residence for controlled substances. Shortly thereafter, the detectives drove to the Windsor Street location and were greeted by Sheldon Boyce (Boyce). Boyce claimed to be a resident at the premises and consented to a search of the dwelling and of his person. Although no drugs were located, the detectives recovered a Western Union money transfer receipt from Boyce's wallet bearing the previous day's date and designating Boyce as the sender who resided at 206 Wind Road. Also discovered was an identification card displaying Blaylock's photograph, but bearing the name Markus Watlington. When asked if he knew Blaylock or Weaver, Boyce denied knowing Weaver but indicated Blaylock had a girlfriend who resided at 206 Wind Road and that Blaylock had lived with her at one time. As the detectives proceeded to leave, they acquiesced in Boyce's request to provide him with transportation to Market Street so that he could make a telephone call.

After considering the inconsistencies concerning Boyce's residence, the fictitious ID card, the receipt listing a 206 Wind Road address, and other connections linking Wind Road to possible drug activity, the detectives believed a "stash" house containing controlled substances was located on Wind Road. They further suspected Boyce intended to call his "cohorts" at 206 Wind Road to warn them of possible police surveillance in light of the detectives' interest in the money receipt containing that address.

Upon delivering Boyce to Market Street and following a brief stop at the Department, the detectives traveled to 206 Wind Road where they anticipated observing drug related activity. The detectives concealed themselves in front of the 206 Wind Road apartment complex at approximately 1:00 a.m. Within minutes, three individuals, later identified as defendant, Mark Ammonds (Ammonds) and Ronald Gooden (Gooden), exited the complex bearing various items. In defendant's hand was a brown paper shopping bag, a second individual carried what appeared to be a rifle wrapped in a blanket, and the third had a black tote bag. The group "hurried" across the parking lot to a parked automobile. The two men placed their items in the trunk of the vehicle while defendant set the brown bag behind the driver's seat and then drove away alone. As the men returned to the apartment building, Detective Wallace observed Ammonds bend down and appear to put something behind a bush. Upon investigation, the detectives found nothing in the area and believed they had been sighted by the two men who then began "acting up" to "distract" the detectives' attention from the departing vehicle. The detectives thereupon decided to pursue defendant. Upon stopping defendant's automobile, Wallace approached the passenger side with a flashlight. Illuminating the interior of the vehicle, he observed the shopping bag behind the driver's seat. It contained what appeared to be cocaine wrapped in clear plastic bags. Defendant was arrested and the substance, later identified as 351.4 grams of cocaine and 39.4 grams of cocaine base, was seized. Retrieved from the trunk of the automobile was the black tote bag and a SKS assault rifle wrapped in a sheet. The detectives subsequently learned defendant, Ammonds and Gooden had made arrangements to exchange the cocaine and weapon for $1,500.00 in cash to bail Weaver out of jail.

Prior to trial, defendant moved to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the vehicle stop. The motion was denied by Judge Howard R. Greeson, Jr. (Judge Greeson), and the case came on for trial during the 28 October 1996 Mixed Session of Guilford County Superior Court. A deadlocked jury resulted in a mistrial being declared 1 November 1996 and re-trial was scheduled before Judge W. Douglas Albright (Judge Albright) during the 9 December 1996 Criminal Session of Superior Court. Judge Albright denied defendant's renewed motion to suppress prior to trial. On 13 December 1996, the jury returned verdicts of guilty on charges of trafficking in more than 200 and less than 400 grams of cocaine, and conspiracy to traffic in more than 200 and less than 400 grams of cocaine. Judge Albright continued sentencing to allow for disposition of the cases against the co-defendants.

On 8 January 1997, Judge James M. Webb (Judge Webb) conducted sentencing hearings for defendant, Gooden, Ammonds and Weaver. Pursuant to a plea arrangement, Gooden and Ammonds pleaded guilty to Class G drug felonies involving less than 200 grams of cocaine and were each sentenced to a minimum of 35 and a maximum of 42 months imprisonment. Weaver also plea-bargained and pleaded guilty to Class F felonies of trafficking and conspiracy to traffic 200 to 400 grams of cocaine. He was sentenced to a minimum of 70 and a maximum of 84 months imprisonment on each offense, the sentences to run consecutively. Defendant, who had pleaded not guilty and entered into no plea arrangement, was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 70 months to 84 months imprisonment, identical to the sentences imposed upon Weaver. Defendant appeals.

Defendant first contends her motions to suppress were erroneously denied. She argues the investigatory stop of her automobile was "based on a mere hunch rather than reasonable articulable suspicion." We disagree.

In reviewing denial of a motion to suppress, this Court must determine:

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). While the trial court's factual findings are binding if sustained by the evidence, the court's conclusions based thereon are reviewable de novo on appeal. State v. Mahaley, 332 N.C. 583, 592-93, 423 S.E.2d 58, 64 (1992), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1089, 115 S.Ct. 749, 130 L.Ed.2d 649 (1995).

Defendant's 1 October 1996 motion to suppress evidence asserted the search of her automobile and subsequent seizure of certain items contained therein was invalid because the detectives had no "reasonable grounds" or "particularized or objective basis" to suspect defendant had committed a crime. However, in his 3 October 1996 ruling upon the motion, Judge Greeson designated numerous specific, articulable facts he determined sufficient to justify the investigatory stop, including:

4. [Weaver] told the officers that he lived at 2107 Windsor Street and provided the officers with consent to search that premises.
5. [The detectives] knew based upon a continuing investigation that Murad Weaver frequented an unknown address in the vicinity of Wind Road.
. . . .
7. The detectives made contact at the Windsor Street address with who was later identified as [Boyce] who claimed that he resided there but did not know [Weaver].
8. [Boyce] granted consent to the officers to search the residence and his person and the officers located in his wallet a Western Union money transfer receipt listing [Boyce's] address as 206 Wind Road and a North Carolina identification card with [Blaylock's] photograph but an alias name of Marcus [sic] Watlington.
9. [Boyce] told the officers that [Blaylock's] girlfriend lived at the Wind Road address and he himself had been there recently.
. . . .
11. The officers agreed at his request to transport [Boyce] to another location so that he could make a telephone call.
12. The officers then responded immediately to the Wind Road address believing that they may locate and identify further co-conspirators to the previously arranged drug transaction and further locate any contraband connected to the drug transaction.
13. The officers believed that [Boyce] may contact possible co-conspirators at the Wind Road address and alert them of the officers' continuing investigation.

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