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North Carolina v. Adams

Filed: February 2, 1982.


Appeal by defendant Robert Louis Adams*fn1 from Bailey, Judge. Judgment entered 8 October 1980 in Superior Court, Orange County. Defendant's petition for a writ of certiorari was allowed on 9 July 1981. Heard in the Court of Appeals 5 January 1982.

Becton, Judge. Judge Clark and Judge Whichard concur.



At approximately 1:30 a.m. on 15 April 1980, Angia Joyce Davis was working as a cashier at Pantry Store Number 386 in Carrboro, North Carolina when two men entered the store, pointed a gun at her, and asked her for money. She put the money in a paper bag, and the two men put her in a walk-in refrigerator and left. Based on information supplied by Thomas Watson who was near the Pantry at the time it was robbed, Police Officer Charles Ashworth pursued, and subsequently stopped, a car with two men in it. One of the men was the defendant; the other was Michael Anthony Swann, the co-defendant.

After police officers found a shotgun and a handgun in the car and a paper bag containing money outside the car, defendant was placed under arrest. Although Ms. Davis was later unable positively to identify the defendant or Michael Swann, one latent print found at the scene corresponded to the left thumb print of Michael Swann.

The defendant denied committing the crime. He testified that he had ridden with Michael Swann to Chapel Hill looking for a friend. When defendant and Swann became lost and drove beyond their turn, they picked up two men wearing long black overcoats. The two men told them to make a left turn, take the underpass and turn left, the result being a U-turn. The two men were than let out. Immediately thereafter, the car in which defendant was a passenger was stopped by Officer Ashworth.


The defendant first argues that Officer Ashworth had no probable cause to detain or arrest him and that, therefore, the admission into evidence of the guns and money obtained at the site of his arrest was in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Based on our review of the record, we are convinced that Officer Ashworth acted well within the confines of constitutional mandates when he detained the defendant, searched the car, and eventually arrested him.

Our case law and statutory law is clear. A police officer may, without an arrest warrant, lawfully detain a person when there is need for immediate action, if upon personal observation or reliable information the officer has an honest and reasonable suspicion that the person detained has committed or is preparing to commit a crime. State v. McZorn, 288 N.C. 417, 219 S.E.2d 201 (1975), death sentence vacated 428 U.S. 904, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1210, 96 S. Ct. 3210 (1976); State v. Streeter, 283 N.C. 203, 195 S.E.2d 502 (1973); State v. Williams, 32 N.C. App. 204, 231 S.E.2d 282, appeal dismissed 292 N.C. 470, 233 S.E.2d 924 (1977); G.S. 15A-401(b)(2) (Cum. Supp. 1981). This standard, which our courts uniformly apply, is no different than the standard required by the United States Constitution. State v. Mathis, 295 N.C. 623, 247 S.E.2d 919 (1978). See also Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 13 L. Ed. 2d 142, 85 S. Ct. 223 (1964).

Separate and apart from this principle that a suspect may be detained or arrested in the absence of a warrant under certain circumstances, it is also a well-settled principle in this State that a police officer may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle capable of movement when the officer has probable cause to do so and when exigent circumstances make it impractical to secure a warrant. State v. Jones, 295 N.C. 345, 245 S.E.2d 711 (1978); State v. Legette, 292 N.C. 44, 231 S.E.2d 896 (1977); State v. Allen, 282 N.C. 503, 194 S.E.2d 9 (1973). The test of probable cause in this instance is whether the police officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the suspect had committed a crime and that the vehicle in which he was riding contained evidence relating to the crime. State v. Johnson, 29 N.C. App. 534, 225 S.E.2d 113 (1976).

With these principles in mind, we turn to the facts of this case to determine if Officer Ashworth acted reasonably in detaining the defendant, in conducting a search of the car, and in eventually arresting defendant.

Within moments after the Pantry was robbed by two men, Thomas Watson stepped outside the Pantry, looked across the street, "and saw a white, older model Ford coming out of Old Well Apartments onto the street with the lights off." It was approximately 1:30 a.m., and two people were in the car. The car stopped and did not move again while ...

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