State v. Wilson, 122118 NCSC, 295PA17

Docket Nº:295PA17
Attorney:Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Derrick C. Mertz, Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State-appellant. Glenn Gerding, Appellate Defender, and Sterling Rozear, Assistant Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellee.
Judge Panel:Justice HUDSON, concurring in part and concurring in the result in part. Justice BEASLEY and Justice MORGAN join in this concurring opinion.
Case Date:December 21, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina




No. 295PA17

Supreme Court of North Carolina

December 21, 2018

Heard in the Supreme Court on 27 August 2018.

On discretionary review pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-31 of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 803 S.E.2d 698 (2017), reversing and vacating a judgment entered on 13 April 2016 and reversing an order denying defendant's motion to suppress entered on 4 May 2016, both by Judge John O. Craig, III in Superior Court, Forsyth County.

Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Derrick C. Mertz, Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State-appellant.

Glenn Gerding, Appellate Defender, and Sterling Rozear, Assistant Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellee.


A SWAT team was sweeping a house so that the police could execute a search warrant. Several police officers were positioned around the house to create a perimeter securing the scene. Defendant penetrated this SWAT perimeter, stating that he was going to get his moped. In so doing, he passed Officer Christian, who was stationed at the perimeter near the street. Defendant then kept going, moving up the driveway and toward the house to be searched. Officer Ayers, who was stationed near the house, confronted defendant. After a brief interaction, Officer Ayers searched defendant based on his suspicion that defendant was armed. Officer Ayers found a firearm in defendant's pocket. Defendant, who had previously been convicted of a felony, was arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Before trial, defendant moved to suppress evidence of the firearm on the grounds that the search violated, inter alia, his Fourth Amendment right under the United States Constitution "to be secure . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. The trial court found that Officer Ayers "had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the Defendant might have been armed and presently dangerous" and denied defendant's motion. Defendant then pleaded guilty, while reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

Defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals held that the search was invalid because the trial court's order did not show that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion. State v. Wilson, __ N.C.App. __, 803 S.E.2d 698, 2017 WL 3480940, at *6 (Aug. 15, 2017) (unpublished). The State petitioned this Court for review, arguing that the Court of Appeals' reliance on the individualized suspicion standard was inconsistent with the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 101 S.Ct. 2587 (1981), and that Officer Ayers nevertheless reasonably suspected that Defendant was armed. We allowed the State's petition for review of this issue.

We hold that the rule in Michigan v. Summers justifies the seizure here because defendant, who passed one officer, stated he was going to get his moped, and continued toward the premises being searched, posed a real threat to the safe and efficient completion of the search. See Bailey v. United States, 568 U.S. 186, 200-01, 133 S.Ct. 1031, 1041-42 (2013) (citing Summers, 452 U.S. at 702-03, 101 S.Ct. at 2594). We also hold that both the search and seizure of defendant were supported by individualized suspicion and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 28, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1883 (1968). We therefore reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The following facts are not in dispute. At around 11:00 p.m. on 21 March 2014, officers of the Winston-Salem Police Department executed a search warrant for the premises at 2300 North Glenn Avenue. This address was a residential lot with a driveway that was about eighty feet long leading to a house and another building. While the initial sweep was being conducted by a SWAT team, several uniformed officers maintained a perimeter at the edge of the property to protect the SWAT team from outside interference. The officers maintaining the perimeter wore uniforms that clearly identified them as police officers, as well as safety equipment such as Kevlar vests and ballistic helmets. In its findings of fact, the trial court stated that the police presence at 2300 North Glenn Avenue that night was such that it would be clear to any passerby that police were engaged in an operation and intended to exclude the general public from the property. Officers Ayers and Christian were among the uniformed officers maintaining the perimeter during the search. Officer Ayers knew the area to be dangerous, having previously responded to discharges of firearms, narcotics activity, and a shooting at the location of the search.

Defendant walked onto the premises while the SWAT team was still actively securing the house. Officer Christian was standing near where the driveway connected to the street, and Officer Ayers was standing farther up the driveway, a few feet from the house. Officer Ayers saw defendant walk past Officer Christian and heard defendant say something about wanting to get his moped. Officer Ayers walked toward defendant and noticed a heavy object in defendant's pocket. Applying his training and expertise, Officer Ayers believed that the object was a firearm based on its size, shape, and apparent weight. Officer Ayers asked defendant if he was carrying any weapons, and defendant said that he was not. Officer Ayers then told defendant that he was going to frisk him for weapons and instructed defendant to turn around. When defendant turned around, Officer Ayers saw the grip of a handgun protruding from defendant's pocket. At this point, Officer Ayers seized the weapon and detained defendant. Defendant was ultimately charged with, and pleaded guilty to, possession of a firearm by a felon.

In its argument to this Court, the State asks us to apply the categorical rule from Michigan v. Summers to the facts of this case.1 In Summers, the Supreme Court of the United States reasoned that "for Fourth Amendment purposes, . . . a warrant to search for contraband founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted." Summers, 452 U.S. at 705, 101 S.Ct. at 2595. The Supreme Court justified this rule, at least in part, on the basis that "[t]he risk of harm to both the police and the occupants is minimized if the officers routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation." Id. at 702-03, 101 S.Ct. at 2594 (citing 2 Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 4.9, at 150-51 (1978)). The Court has further emphasized three governmental interests that, when taken together, "justify the detention of an occupant who is on the premises during the execution of a search warrant: officer safety, facilitating the completion of the search, and preventing flight." Bailey, 568 U.S. at 194, 133 S.Ct. at 1038 (citing Summers, 452 U.S. at 702-03, 101 S.Ct. at 2594). The Court has stated that "[a]n officer's authority to detain incident to a search is categorical; it does not depend on the 'quantum of proof justifying detention or the extent of the intrusion to be imposed by the seizure.'" Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 98, 125 S.Ct. 1465, 1470 (2005) (quoting Summers, 452 U.S. at 705 n.19, 101 S.Ct. at 2595 n.19).

The Supreme Court has further defined the category covered by the Summers rule on two occasions. First, in Muehler v. Mena, the plaintiff, suing several police officers, challenged both the use of handcuffs incident to a Summers seizure and the two- to three-hour duration of the seizure. See id. at 95-96, 125 S.Ct. at 1468-69. In finding the use of handcuffs permissible, the Court again recognized the need for police executing a search warrant to "routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation." Id. at 99, 125 S.Ct. at 1470 (quoting Summers, 452 U.S. at 703, 101 S.Ct. at 2594). The Court also held that the seizure was permissible during the entirety of the execution of the search warrant. See id. at 100, 125 S.Ct. at 1471 (holding that "the 2- to 3-hour detention in handcuffs . . . [did] not outweigh the government's continuing safety interests").

Second, in Bailey v. United States, the Supreme Court was confronted with a defendant who was arrested almost one mile away from the location being searched. See 568 U.S. at 194, 133 S.Ct. at 1038. The Court clarified that "[t]he categorical authority to detain incident to the execution of a search warrant must be limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched." 568 U.S. at 199, 133 S.Ct. at 1041. Ultimately, the Court held that the seizure in Bailey was unlawful because the defendant "was detained at a point beyond any reasonable understanding of the immediate vicinity of the premises in question." Id. at 201, 133 S.Ct. at 1042...

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