State v. Tripp
|381 N.C. 617,873 S.E.2d 298
|17 June 2022
|STATE of North Carolina v. Michael Devon TRIPP
|United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Kristine M. Ricketts, Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State-appellee-appellant.
Paul E. Smith, Chapel Hill, for defendant-appellant-appellee.
¶ 1 Following the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress, defendant pleaded guilty to various drug offenses including trafficking in heroin, possession with intent to sell or deliver fentanyl, and possession with intent to sell or deliver heroin. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress. Based upon a dissent in the Court of Appeals and the allowance of defendant's petition for discretionary review, there are two issues now before this Court: whether the trial court's findings of fact challenged by defendant are supported by competent evidence, and whether the seizure and subsequent search of defendant comports with the Fourth Amendment. For the reasons stated below, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.
¶ 2 Investigator Jason Buck of the Craven County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Division was alerted to several overdose deaths which were linked to heroin reportedly sold by defendant. In response to the information he obtained, Investigator Buck arranged a controlled buy of heroin between a confidential informant and defendant on April 25, 2017. Audio and video surveillance of the controlled buy confirmed the sale of heroin by defendant to the confidential informant.
¶ 3 Investigator Buck obtained a search warrant for the location where the controlled buy had occurred, 8450 U.S. Highway 17 N., Vanceboro, North Carolina. The warrant authorized a search of the residence, carport, outside storage building, and three vehicles. Although defendant was identified in the search warrant, search of his person was neither requested in the application nor authorized in the warrant.
¶ 4 A law enforcement briefing was held before execution of the search warrant. Attendees were briefed on the search warrant and the controlled buy that had occurred the previous day. Lieutenant John Raynor, who oversees the narcotics unit, attended the briefing to ensure adherence to the following policy during the execution of the search warrant:
¶ 5 Deputy Josh Dowdy was present at the briefing and understood that defendant was the target of the operation and that officers were searching for heroin based on the controlled buy. Deputy Dowdy was familiar with defendant based on prior law enforcement-related encounters, including three incidents in which defendant had brandished or discharged firearms. All three incidents occurred in the same area along U.S. Highway 17 near the residence identified in the search warrant.
¶ 6 Nearly a dozen officers participated in the execution of the search warrant. Upon his arrival at the site, Deputy Dowdy observed defendant and other individuals on a wheelchair ramp on the neighboring property at 8448 U.S. Highway 17, which belonged to defendant's grandfather.
Testimony at the suppression hearing estimated the distance between the two residences to be between fifty and sixty yards.
¶ 7 Deputy Dowdy approached defendant and instructed him to place his hands on the railing of the wheelchair ramp. Defendant was wearing baggy jogging pants which were loose enough to allow Deputy Dowdy to view the contents of defendant's pockets without manipulating his clothing. Deputy Dowdy observed money in defendant's left pocket and a plastic baggie in defendant's right pocket. Deputy Dowdy patted down the exterior of defendant's clothing and felt a large lump in defendant's right pocket. Based on his training and experience, after seeing the baggie and feeling the lump, in addition to the purpose for which law enforcement was at the scene, Deputy Dowdy believed the baggie contained narcotics. Deputy Dowdy removed the baggie from defendant's pocket and placed him in handcuffs. Testing later determined the contents of the baggie to be more than seven grams of a mixture of heroin and fentanyl.
¶ 8 Defendant moved to suppress the evidence recovered by Deputy Dowdy. In its written order denying defendant's motion to suppress, the trial court found the following:
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