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North Carolina v. Gray

Filed: February 2, 1982.

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
MITCHELL JOHN GRAY



Appeal by defendant from Lee, Judge. Judgment entered 2 April 1981 in Superior Court, Cumberland County. Heard in the Court of Appeals on 9 December 1981.

Hedrick, Judge. Chief Judge Morris and Judge Martin (Robert M.) concur.

Hedrick

Defendant assigns as error the trial court's finding and conclusion that the search of the defendant and the seizure of the pills from defendant were pursuant to a lawful arrest. This

assignment of error may be resolved by an inquiry into the propriety of each stage in the chain of events beginning with the original detention of defendant by Deputy Herman and including the subsequent arrest of defendant, the search of defendant after the arrest, and Deputy Herman's seizure of the pills found upon searching defendant.

A police officer's limited investigatory detention of an individual may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, be made when the officer has a reasonable suspicion, based on objective facts, that the individual is involved in criminal activity. State v. Tillett, 50 N.C. App. 520, 274 S.E.2d 361, appeal dismissed, 302 N.C. 633, 280 S.E.2d 448 (1981); State v. Thompson, 296 N.C. 703, 252 S.E.2d 776, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 907, 62 L. Ed. 2d 143, 100 S. Ct. 220 (1979). The standard required of mere investigatory detentions is less exacting than the traditional notion of probable cause, which is the applicable standard for arrests. State v. Thompson, supra. In determining whether a police officer had a reasonable suspicion warranting an investigatory detention, the circumstances should be viewed through the eyes of a reasonable and cautious police officer on the scene, guided by his experience and training. State v. Thompson, supra.

In the present case, the State presented evidence that Deputy Herman stopped defendant's vehicle only after having heard a report from a fellow deputy sheriff that defendant was driving with expired temporary license tags in violation of G.S. §§ 20-79.1, -111. Since Deputy Herman had been so informed by a fellow officer, he was cognizant of objective and articulable facts which would support a reasonable suspicion that defendant was involved in criminal activity. Hence, Deputy Herman's detention of defendant was proper.

"An arrest is constitutionally valid whenever there exists probable cause to make it." State v. Wooten, 34 N.C. App. 85, 88, 237 S.E.2d 301, 304 (1977). Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances known to the arresting officer at the time of arrest were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the defendant had committed or was committing an offense. State v. Mangum, 30 N.C. App. 311, 226 S.E.2d 852 (1976). Further, more,"[a]n officer may arrest without a warrant any person who the officer has probable cause to believe has committed a criminal

offense in the officer's presence." G.S. § 15A-401(b)(1); State v. Wooten, supra. Any incriminating evidence which comes to the officer's attention during a valid investigatory detention may establish a reasonable basis for finding the probable cause necessary for effecting a warrantless arrest. State v. Rudolph, 39 N.C. App. 293, 250 S.E.2d 318, disc. rev. denied, appeal dismissed, 297 N.C. 179, 254 S.E.2d 40 (1979).

In the present case, Deputy Herman had lawfully detained defendant and observed that defendant's temporary license tags had been expired for over a month, in violation of G.S. §§ 20-79.1, -111. Deputy Herman thereupon had reasonable grounds to believe that defendant was committing an offense in his presence. Deputy Herman's arrest of defendant, therefore, was proper. Furthermore, since an arresting officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a warrantless search of the person lawfully arrested, State v. Nesmith, 40 N.C. App. 748, 253 S.E.2d 594 (1979), Deputy Herman's search of defendant incident to the lawful arrest was proper.

The remaining question to be resolved under this assignment of error is the propriety of the seizure, by Deputy Herman, of the pills found on defendant's person. That an officer is within constitutional bounds in discovering the presence of an item on the person of one whom he searches is not alone sufficient to justify the officer's seizure of that item. State v. Beaver, 37 N.C. App. 513, 246 S.E.2d 535 (1978). "Any inquiry into the lawfulness of the seizure must go further, as the limits of reasonableness which are placed upon searches are equally applicable to seizures." State v. Beaver, supra, at 517, 246 S.E.2d at 538. An item may be seized in a constitutional manner only when the officer seizing it has probable cause to believe that the object constitutes contraband or evidence of a crime. State v. Beaver, supra.

In the present case, Deputy Herman, upon finding the plastic bag of pills on defendant asked defendant what it was, and defendant stated that it was LSD. It was only then that Deputy Herman seized the pills, but at that point he had been apprised of sufficient information to warrant a ...


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