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State v. Walker

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 4, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
CLINTON MONTREZ WALKER

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 8 February 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 7 April 2016 by Judge Linwood O. Foust in Mecklenburg County, No. 15 CRS 216915 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Daniel S. Hirschman, for the State.

          Tarlton Polk, PLLC, by Raymond C. Tarlton, for defendant-appellant.

          McCULLOUGH, Judge.

         Clinton Montrez Walker ("defendant") appeals the denial of his motion to suppress evidence following entry of judgment on his guilty plea to felony possession of a schedule II controlled substance. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

         I. Background

         Defendant was arrested for possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine on 13 May 2015. On 8 September 2015, a Mecklenburg County Grand Jury indicted defendant for felonious possession of a schedule II controlled substance with the intent to sell. On 16 November 2016, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence. Specifically, defendant asserted that police seized the cocaine at issue during an unlawful search and seizure of his person.

         Defendant's motion came on for hearing before the Honorable Linwood O. Foust in Mecklenburg County Superior Court on 7 April 2016. Upon hearing the testimony of the arresting officers and reviewing body camera video of the encounter, the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress evidence of the cocaine. Following this denial, defendant entered a guilty plea to the lesser included offense of possession of a schedule II controlled substance. The arrangement allowed defendant to plead guilty to possession of cocaine, but preserved defendant's right to appeal the conviction as he believed the motion to suppress was wrongfully denied. Upon hearing the factual basis of the plea, the trial court accepted defendant's guilty plea and entered judgment on 7 April 2016. Due to defendant's prior record, defendant was sentenced to 5 to 15 months imprisonment, with the term suspended on condition that he complete 18 months of supervised probation. Defendant filed a notice of appeal the same day.

         II. Discussion

         On appeal, defendant asserts his motion to suppress the cocaine was wrongfully denied by the trial court. Defendant argues the search and seizure of his person was unlawful because the officers did not have reasonable suspicion of a crime and that he was not consenting to a search.

         Our review of a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress is "strictly limited to determining whether the trial judge's underlying findings of fact are supported by competent evidence, in which event they are conclusively binding on appeal, and whether those factual findings in turn support the judge's ultimate conclusions of law." State v. Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 134, 291 S.E.2d 618, 619 (1982). "The trial court's conclusions of law . . . are fully reviewable on appeal." State v. Hughes, 353 N.C. 200, 208, 539 S.E.2d 625, 631 (2000).

         Defendant asserts that when officers approached him in an enclosed bus stop and asked coercive questions with accusations that he had been selling drugs, the encounter amounted to a seizure in violation of the protections afforded under the United States Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution because a reasonable person would not have felt that he was free to leave. Thus, defendant contends that the unlawful seizure invalidates his consent to the search and, with neither reasonable suspicion nor consent, the cocaine found on his person should have been suppressed.

         The State agrees that the officers performing the stop did not have evidence to support a seizure based on reasonable suspicion. Rather, the State contends the interaction was a voluntary police-citizen interaction, which does not require reasonable suspicion, and that defendant legally consented to the search. Thus, the issues at hand are whether ...


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