Heard in the Supreme Court March 19, 2015.
Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by Derrick C. Mertz, Assistant Attorney General, for the State-appellant.
Staples S. Hughes, Appellate Defender, by Constance E. Widenhouse, Assistant Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellee.
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. ___, 758 S.E.2d 39 (2014), reversing an order entered on 10 January 2013 by Judge Christopher W. Bragg and vacating a judgment entered on 7 January 2013 by Judge A. Robinson Hassell, both in Superior Court, Guilford County.
Defendant Tiyoun Jimek Jackson was stopped and searched on 9 April 2012 by Officer Timothy Brown of the Greensboro Police Department outside a shop known for drug activity. Based on evidence obtained as a result of this stop, defendant was indicted for possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a firearm with an altered serial number, and conspiracy to possess with intent to sell or deliver marijuana. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the initial stop on the basis that Officer Brown lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop of defendant. The trial court denied this motion and the Court of Appeals reversed. Because we conclude that the trial court's unchallenged findings of fact establish that Officer Brown possessed reasonable suspicion to stop defendant, we now reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On the evening of 9 April 2012, Officer Timothy Brown was assigned to patrol the area of Greensboro surrounding Kim's Mart, a shop known to police, including Officer Brown personally, as the site of frequent hand-to-hand drug transactions. At approximately 9:00 p.m., as Officer Brown approached the store in his marked patrol vehicle, he witnessed defendant standing near the store's newspaper dispenser with another individual named Curtis Benton. Upon seeing the police vehicle, defendant and Benton dispersed, with defendant walking east into Kim's Mart and Benton walking in the opposite direction to the west.
Officer Brown continued down the road past Kim's Mart, made a U-turn, and started back toward Kim's Mart. As he approached the store a second time, he saw that defendant and Benton had returned and were again standing in front of Kim's Mart, approximately twenty feet from where Officer Brown first saw them. For a second time, defendant and Benton separated and began walking away from each other in opposite directions. As defendant walked by Officer Brown's patrol car, Officer Brown stopped defendant to ask him about drug activity; he then told defendant to place his hands on the car so he could frisk defendant for weapons. Officer Brown then asked defendant for consent to search his person, and defendant agreed. As Officer Brown was patting down defendant, defendant placed a loaded handgun on the hood of the patrol car and told Brown that he had found the weapon in the woods two weeks earlier. Officer Brown placed defendant under arrest and handcuffed him. A separate search of Benton yielded marijuana packaged in a number of small plastic bags.
Based on the evidence obtained from the stops of defendant and Benton, including the handgun seized from defendant and the marijuana and plastic bags seized from Benton, defendant was indicted on 11 June 2012 for possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a firearm with an altered serial number, and conspiracy to possess with intent to sell or deliver marijuana. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the original seizure on the basis that Officer Brown lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop of defendant. The
trial court denied this motion in an order dated 5 December 2012. On 7 January 2013, defendant pleaded guilty to the offenses for which he was indicted while reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. In a divided opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding that the facts and circumstances did not establish reasonable suspicion for Officer Brown to conduct an investigatory stop of defendant. State ...