in the Court of Appeals 22 February 2017.
by defendant from judgment entered 8 June 2016 by Judge L.
Todd Burke in Guilford County, No. 15CRS080457 Superior
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney
General Martin T. McCracken, for the State.
Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate
Defender Aaron Thomas Johnson, for defendant.
Michael Vernon Huddy appeals the trial court's denial of
his motion to suppress evidence obtained after a law
enforcement officer searched the curtilage of Huddy's
home without a warrant. The officer saw a vehicle with its
doors open at the back of a 150-yard driveway leading to
Huddy's home. Concerned that the vehicle may be part of a
break-in or home invasion, the officer drove down Huddy's
150-yard driveway, ran the tags on the vehicle, checked the
front door (but did not knock), checked the home's
windows, "cleared" the sides of the house, and then
went through a gate in a chain-link fence enclosing the
home's backyard and approached the storm door at the back
of the house, not visible from the street-all without a
warrant or probable cause and accompanying exigent
circumstances. As the officer approached the back door, he
smelled marijuana, which ultimately led to Huddy's arrest
and conviction for possession of marijuana.
that the officer's conduct violated the Fourth Amendment
and thus Huddy's motion to suppress should have been
granted. At the suppression hearing, the State relied on two
exceptions to the warrant requirement to justify the
officer's search of the curtilage of Huddy's home:
the "knock and talk" doctrine and the
"community caretaker" doctrine. As explained below,
neither exception applies here. First, the State cannot rely
on the knock and talk doctrine because the officer did more
than merely knock and talk. The officer ran a license plate
not visible from the street, walked around the house
examining windows and searching for signs of a break-in, and
went first to the front door (without knocking) and then to a
rear door not visible from the street and located behind a
closed gate. These actions went beyond what the U.S. Supreme
Court has held are the permissible actions during a knock and
talk. Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 1414
the State cannot rely on the community caretaker doctrine.
The presence of a vehicle in one's driveway with its
doors open is not the sort of emergency that justifies the
community caretaker exception. State v. Smathers,
232 N.C.App. 120, 126, 753 S.E.2d 380, 384 (2014).
Accordingly, the trial court erred by denying Huddy's
motion to suppress. We reverse the trial court's order
and remand for further proceedings.
and Procedural History
July 2016, around 11:00 a.m., Deputy Tracy Smith of the
Guilford County Sherriff's Department was patrolling an
area that law enforcement believed was at risk of home
invasions or break-ins. Deputy Smith approached Huddy's
home and saw a parked vehicle with open doors at the end of a
150-yard driveway leading to the rear of the home. Deputy
Smith thought it was unusual for a vehicle to be parked in a
driveway with the doors open at that time of day. Deputy
Smith also observed that the house was surrounded by trees,
which Deputy Smith believed made it susceptible to break-ins.
Smith drove to the back of the driveway, parked behind the
vehicle, and ran the vehicle's license plate. The address
on record for the vehicle did not match the address for
Huddy's home. Deputy Smith continued to investigate by
walking to the front of the house and checking windows and
doors for signs of forced entry. Deputy Smith saw that the
front door was "covered in cobwebs" and did not
appear to be used as the main entrance to the house. Deputy
Smith did not knock on the front door. Observing no signs of
forced entry, Deputy Smith then "cleared" the sides
of the home before walking to the back of the house.
back yard of Huddy's home was enclosed by a chain-link
fence. Deputy Smith opened the gate in that chain-link fence
and entered the enclosed back yard. Deputy Smith then
approached a storm door on the rear porch, which was not
visible from the street. Deputy Smith smelled marijuana in
the area around the storm door.
Smith knocked on the door and Huddy answered. Deputy Smith
asked Huddy to verify that he was lawfully present in the
house. Huddy first offered his driver's license, which
matched the address for the vehicle in the driveway, but not
the house. Deputy Smith requested additional verification,
and Huddy eventually produced a rental agreement for the
on the odor of marijuana, Deputy Smith secured a warrant to
search the house. Law enforcement later seized a large
quantity of marijuana. The State indicted Huddy on 14
September 2015 for possession of marijuana with intent to
sell or deliver, possession of marijuana, and possession of
marijuana paraphernalia. On 16 February 2016, Huddy moved to
suppress the evidence of marijuana seized from the residence.
On 4 April 2016, the trial court entered a written order
denying the motion.
May 2016, Huddy entered an Alford plea to one count
of possession of marijuana with intent to sell or deliver
while reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion
to suppress. The court sentenced Huddy to a 4 to 14 month
active sentence, suspended the sentence, and ordered 12
months of supervised probation. Huddy timely appealed.
challenges the denial of his motion to suppress. He contends
that the investigating officer violated the Fourth Amendment
when he searched throughout the curtilage of Huddy's home
to "check the windows, check the doors" for signs
of a possible break-in. As explained below, we agree that
neither the knock and talk doctrine nor the community
caretaker doctrine permitted the officer to conduct this type
of warrantless search of the home's curtilage.
Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's order and
remand for further proceedings.
standard of review in evaluating the denial of a motion to
suppress is whether competent evidence supports the trial
court's findings of fact and whether the findings of fact
support the conclusions of law." State v.
Biber, 365 N.C. 162, 167- 68, 712 S.E.2d 874, 878
(2011). Unchallenged findings of fact "are deemed to be
supported by competent evidence and are binding on
appeal." Id. at 168, 712 S.E.2d ...