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State v. Walker

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

October 3, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
LESTER ALAN WALKER, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 August 2017.

         Appeal by the State from an order granting Defendant's Motion to Suppress, entered 31 October 2016 by Judge John E. Nobles, Jr. in Onslow County No. 15CRS53886 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Kristin J. Uicker, for the State.

          Jeffrey S. Miller, for Defendant-Appellee.

          MURPHY, JUDGE.

         The State appeals from the trial court's grant of Lester Alan Walker's ("Defendant") motion to suppress. On appeal, the State contends the trial court erred by: (1) entering the 31 October 2016 order after the State gave its notice of appeal; and (2) granting Defendant's motion to suppress. After careful review, we hold the trial court did not err by entering the 31 October 2016 order and granting the motion to suppress.

         Background

         On 5 July 2015, State Trooper Jonathan Cody (the "Trooper") of the North Carolina Highway Patrol was on routine patrol on U.S. 258. At approximately 5:00 p.m., dispatch notified him that a driver ("the informant") reported another driver ("the driver") for driving while intoxicated. The informant reported the driver was driving from the Hubert area towards Jacksonville, traveling at speeds of approximately 80 to 100 miles per hour, while drinking a beer. He also claimed the driver drove "very erratically, " and almost ran him off the road "a few times."

         While the Trooper traveled towards Jacksonville in response to the notification from dispatch, the informant flagged him down. The informant told the Trooper that the vehicle in question, although no longer visible, had just passed through the intersection on U.S. 258 heading towards Richlands. The Trooper proceeded through the intersection on U.S. 258 towards Richlands, stopping Defendant's vehicle within approximately one-tenth of a mile from the intersection. At some point, the vehicle in question was described as a "gray Ford passenger vehicle[, ]"[1] however it is unclear whether the Trooper was given this description before or after he stopped Defendant. Defendant was arrested and charged with driving while impaired, and careless and reckless driving.

         Prior to trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of Defendant being stopped by the Trooper. On 9 June 2016, Onslow County District Court held a hearing on this motion, which claimed the evidence obtained by the stop should be suppressed because the Trooper lacked the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion to stop Defendant. The District Court denied the motion to suppress. Subsequently, Defendant was convicted of driving while intoxicated, and reckless and careless driving.

         Defendant appealed to Superior Court, which held a hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress on 15 September 2016. After taking evidence and hearing arguments, the Superior Court determined the Trooper lacked the reasonable articulable suspicion required to make the stop, and granted the motion to suppress in open court. That same day, the trial court entered a written order stating the motion was allowed, and directing Defendant's counsel to prepare an order. The State gave oral notice of appeal after the trial court announced its decision, and then gave written notice of appeal on 22 September 2016, once the trial court filed its 15 September 2016 written order. The trial court entered the written order prepared by Defendant's counsel, as directed in the 15 September 2016 order, on 31 October 2016.

         Analysis

         The State argues that the trial court erred: (1) by entering an order on 31 October 2016; and (2) by granting Defendant's motion to suppress. We disagree.

          I. Authority to Enter the 31 October 2016 Order

         The State maintains that our Court should base our review solely on the 15 September 2016 order, arguing the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the 31 October 2016 written order because the State gave its notice of appeal prior to that date. We disagree and review the 31 October 2016 order because "our appellate courts have repeatedly held that a delay in the entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law does not amount to prejudicial error." State v. Lippard, 152 N.C.App. 564, 571, 568 S.E.2d 657, 662 (2002) (citing State v. Horner, 310 N.C. 274, 279, 311 S.E.2d 281, 285 (1984)).

         The State relies on State v. Grundler, 251 N.C. 177, 11 S.E.2d 1 (1959) to support its argument that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to enter the 31 October 2016 order, contending that once the oral and written notices of appeal are given, the trial court is without further authority to make orders affecting the merits of the case effective immediately. See id. at 185, 11 S.E.2d at 7 (explaining that "when appeal entries are noted, the appeal becomes" instantly effective, and the Superior Court no longer has the authority "to make orders affecting the merits of the case"). However, Grundler does not control this case because the 31 October 2016 order was not a new order affecting the merits, but, rather, is a chronicle of the findings and conclusions decided at the hearing. The 15 September 2016 order, which reads: "J. Miller to prepare order[, ]" specifically contemplates this later entry of the 31 October ...


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