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State v. Verkerk

Supreme Court of North Carolina

June 12, 2014

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
DOROTHY HOOGLAND VERKERK

Heard in the Supreme Court March 18, 2014.

Petition for certiorari filed at, 09/10/2014

Orange Coounty. No. 11CRS51604. A. Robinson Hassell, Judge.

Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by Derrick C. Mertz and Lauren Tally Earnhardt, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State-appellant/appellee.

Law Office of Matthew Charles Suczynski, PLLC, by Matthew C. Suczynski and Michael R. Paduchowski, for defendant-appellant/appellee.

OPINION

Page 388

Appeal pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C.App. ___, 747 S.E.2d 658 (2013), vacating a judgment entered on 7 September 2012 by Judge A. Robinson Hassell in Superior Court, Orange County, and remanding to the trial court for further proceedings. On 7 November 2013, the Supreme Court allowed the State's petition for discretionary review of additional issues.

EDMUNDS, Justice.

Defendant Dorothy Verkerk pleaded guilty to the offense of driving while impaired, reserving her right to appeal the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress. The motion focused on whether a firefighter possessed legal authority to stop her car, not on the actions taken by or the evidence presented by the police officers who later stopped her again and charged her. Because she has never challenged the actions of the arresting officers, defendant has presented no legal basis for suppressing the evidence supporting her conviction. Accordingly, we reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on 27 May 2011, Fire Engine 32 of the Chapel Hill Fire Department was returning fro a call. Fire Department Lieutenant Gordon Shatley, who was commanding the Engine, became concerned about the erratic driving of a vehicle proceeding in the same direction on U.S. Highway 15-501 South in Chapel Hill. Lt. Shatley relayed information about the vehicle's description, actions, and location to the Chapel Hill Police Department. The police were unable to respond promptly, so Lt. Shatley followed the vehicle. When he observed it continue to drift between lanes and then nearly strike a bus, he ordered the driver of Engine 32 to activate its emergency lights and siren. He testified that he did so to keep other motorists from passing both vehicles.

The vehicle then moved into the left lane and sharply back into the far right lane, where it came to an abrupt stop after hitting the curb with force sufficient to send sparks shooting into the air. Engine 32 stopped behind it and Lt. Shatley approached the vehicle to offer assistance to defendant driver. After Lt. Shatley spoke with defendant for at least ten minutes and she appeared to agree that her car could be parked for the evening at a nearby lot, she unexpectedly drove away from the scene and turned onto Environ Way, where parking was available. At approximately the same time, Chapel Hill police officers arrived and Lt. Shatley indicated where the vehicle had gone. The officers drove in that direction while Lt. Shatley and Engine 32 returned to the fire station. Thereafter, Chapel Hill police officers encountered [1] defendant, investigated her condition, and cited her for driving while impaired and driving while license revoked.

Defendant was found guilty of driving while impaired in District Court, Orange County on 10 January 2012. Defendant appealed to the superior court, where she filed a motion to suppress in which she argued that firefighters do not have legal authority to conduct traffic stops. Following a hearing on 2 August 2012, the trial court filed a written order denying defendant's motion. On 7 September 2012, defendant pleaded guilty to driving while impaired but reserved

Page 389

her right to appeal the court's denial of the suppression motion. The State dismissed the charge of ...


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