State v. Wiles, 031720 NCCA, COA19-381

Docket Nº:COA19-381
Opinion Judge:ZACHARY, JUDGE
Party Name:STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA v. TOBY JAY WILES
Attorney:Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Matthew E. Buckner, for the State. Arnold & Smith, PLLC, by Paul A. Tharp, for defendant-appellant.
Judge Panel:Judges STROUD and MURPHY concur.
Case Date:March 17, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of North Carolina
 
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STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA

v.

TOBY JAY WILES

No. COA19-381

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 17, 2020

Heard in the Court of Appeals 30 October 2019.

Appeal by defendant from order entered 31 August 2017 by Judge W. Robert Bell, and judgment entered 21 December 2018 by Judge Nathaniel J. Poovey in Catawba County No. 15 CRS 52717 Superior Court.

Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Matthew E. Buckner, for the State.

Arnold & Smith, PLLC, by Paul A. Tharp, for defendant-appellant.

ZACHARY, JUDGE

Defendant Toby Jay Wiles appeals from an order denying his motion to suppress and a judgment entered upon a jury's verdict finding him guilty of driving while impaired. After careful review, we affirm the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, and conclude that he received a fair trial, free from error.

Background

At around 8:00 p.m. on 23 May 2015, Defendant drove past State Trooper Kelly Stewart, who was parked along the side of the road. Believing that the passenger in the front seat of Defendant's truck was not wearing a seatbelt, Trooper Stewart signaled for Defendant to pull over. As Trooper Stewart approached the passenger's side of Defendant's parked truck, he "[a]lmost instantaneously" noticed an odor of alcohol "coming through th[e] passenger window." Upon reaching the passenger-side window, Trooper Stewart saw the passenger wearing his seatbelt. The passenger stated he had worn his seatbelt the entire time, and Trooper Stewart realized that the gray seatbelt had blended into the passenger's gray shirt. Accordingly, Trooper Stewart decided not to issue a citation to Defendant.

Trooper Stewart explained why he had stopped the vehicle, and the passenger responded that he had been wearing his seatbelt prior to Trooper Stewart's initiation of the stop. Trooper Stewart, noting the strong odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle, asked whether either man had been drinking. Both answered in the affirmative. Trooper Stewart asked the men to exit the truck, and he observed that Defendant's "eyes were red, glassy and bloodshot." Trooper Stewart administered a roadside Alco-Sensor test to Defendant, which detected the presence of alcohol on Defendant's breath. Trooper Stewart next conducted a horizontal gaze nystagmus ("HGN") test on Defendant, which indicated that Defendant was impaired. Trooper Stewart arrested Defendant and charged him with driving while impaired.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress "all evidence and statements obtained as a result of the stop" by Trooper Stewart, which came on for hearing before the Honorable W. Robert Bell in Catawba County Superior Court on 31 August 2017. Trooper Stewart testified that, but for the seatbelt issue, Defendant appeared to abide by "all the normal rules of the road." In its order denying Defendant's motion to suppress, the trial court found that Trooper Stewart "[b]eliev[ed] it would be a dereliction of duty to ignore the smell of alcohol coming from the automobile." Thus, the trial court concluded that "[d]uring the 'mission of' the valid traffic stop and prior to the completion of its initial purpose Trooper Stewart obtained information that provided reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to warrant an extension of the initial traffic stop."

On 17 December 2018, Defendant was tried before a jury in Catawba County Superior Court, the Honorable Nathaniel J. Poovey presiding. The jury found Defendant guilty of driving while impaired, and Defendant gave notice of appeal in open court.

Discussion

Defendant raises six issues on appeal: three arising from the hearing on his motion to suppress, and three from his trial. We address each issue in turn.

I. Motion to Suppress

Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because Trooper Stewart (1) lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Defendant's truck; (2) unconstitutionally extended the length of the stop; and (3) lacked probable cause to arrest Defendant.

A. Standard of Review

It is well settled that [t]he standard of review for a motion to suppress is whether the trial court's findings of fact are supported by the evidence and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. The court's findings are conclusive on appeal if supported by competent evidence, even if the evidence is conflicting. The trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress is afforded great deference upon appellate review as it has the duty to hear testimony and weigh the evidence.

State v. Wainwright, 240 N.C.App. 77, 83-84, 770 S.E.2d 99, 104 (2015) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo and are subject to full review." State v. Biber, 365 N.C. 162, 168, 712 S.E.2d 874, 878 (2011) (citation omitted).

B. The Stop of Defendant's Vehicle1

From the order denying his motion to suppress, Defendant challenges findings of fact 6, 7, and 8 as not being supported by competent evidence, as well as conclusion of law 2, which stated that the traffic stop was valid. We address each in turn.

1. Findings of Fact

Defendant challenges the following findings: 6. [Trooper Stewart] observed the Defendant driving towards his position. There was a passenger in the front passenger seat of the vehicle that Trooper Stewart believed 100% was not wearing a seat belt.

7. [Trooper] Stewart stopped the truck being driven by the Defendant and approached the passenger side to investigate. Standing at the open passenger side window [Trooper Stewart] smelled a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the passenger compartment of the vehicle. He also noticed that the passenger was wearing a seatbelt.

8. The passenger stated that he had been wearing a seatbelt the entire time. Despite his certainty that the passenger had not been wearing a seatbelt, Trooper Stewart gave the benefit of the doubt to the passenger since he was wearing a [gray] shirt and the seatbelt was [gray] also.

Defendant offers no particular evidence of the insufficiency of the evidence to support the findings of fact. However, each of these findings is directly traceable to...

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