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State v. Alston

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 20, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT EARL ALSTON, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 March 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from the judgment entered 7 June 2016 by Judge Alma L. Hinton in Halifax County Superior Court Halifax County, No. 15 CRS 50989-91.

          Gillette Law Firm, PLLC, by Jeffery William Gillette, for defendant-appellant.

          Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Shawn Maier, for the State.

          MURPHY, Judge

         Robert Earl Alston ("Defendant") appeals from the judgment below in which a jury found him guilty of maintaining a dwelling for keeping or selling controlled substances, and possession of OxyCodone and Alprazolam.[1] Defendant argues that the trial court committed plain error when it allowed, without objection, Deputy Danny Radford ("Deputy Radford") to give his opinion as to the identity of three pills found at Defendant's home, when the deputy was not tendered as an expert and the basis of his identification was a visual inspection and comparison using a website.

         Factual Background

         Over several days in 2015, Detective Cory Dixon ("Detective Dixon") of the Roanoke Rapids Police Department and City-County Drug Task Force received "a lot of complaints" about "different traffic leaving Defendant's residence" in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Detective Dixon began surveillance of Defendant's residence, and observed Defendant go in and out of his home "three or four times during the day", as well as "several people come up to the residence and stay there for a short stint of time and leave, " which indicated to him evidence of illegal drug trade. Detective Dixon then sent a confidential source to Defendant's residence and observed the confidential source purchase a controlled substance.

         Armed with this knowledge, Detective Dixon obtained and executed a warrant on Defendant's residence in the early morning hours of 2 April 2015. There, officers found Defendant and an unnamed female. Defendant was in his bed. Police located the following items in their respective locations:

a. Bedroom nightstand next to Defendant - a Schedule I controlled substance, a .25 caliber Raven Arms pistol, marijuana, a glass jar that had the odor of marijuana inside of it, and Garcia y Vega cigar wrappers;
b. Kitchen - digital scales, sandwich bags;
c. Kitchen drawer - the same Schedule I controlled substance, an Oxycodone pill, and two (2) Alprazolam pills; and
d. Living room - a marijuana roach in the ashtray, and a security camera set up to observe his front yard.

         At trial, Deputy Radford of the City-County Task Force testified that he identified the Alprazolam ...


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