in the Court of Appeals 22 August 2017.
by defendant from order entered 18 July 2016 by Judge Susan
E. Bray in Guilford County Superior Court, No. 14 CRS 67272.
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney
General Joseph L. Hyde, for the State.
Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate
Defender Michele A. Goldman, for defendant-appellant.
the trial court's findings of fact do not support its
conclusion that defendant was legally seized at the time he
consented to a search of his person, we reverse the trial
court order denying defendant's motion to suppress the
contraband found on his person and remand so that the
judgment against him can be vacated.
April 2014, defendant Byron Jerome Parker was indicted for
possession of cocaine. On 29 June 2016, defendant moved to
suppress any evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful
search and seizure. The matter came on for a hearing on 7
July 2016 in Guilford County Superior Court, the Honorable
Susan Bray, Judge presiding.
evidence admitted during the hearing tended to show that on
29 January 2014, Greensboro Police Department Officers
Matthew Sletten and Travis Cole were conducting surveillance
"on a known drug house" located at 7 Pipers Glen
Court in Greensboro based on complaints of drug activity,
drug use, and prostitution. In the previous month, heroin had
been found at the house and four individuals were arrested.
At approximately 4:25 p.m., the officers noted a man,
defendant, leave the residence in a blue truck and then
return twenty minutes later. Defendant parked his truck in
the driveway of 7 Pipers Glen Court, exited his vehicle, and
walked toward a woman salting the driveway of a nearby
residence. Officer Sletten observed defendant and the woman
yelling at each other, with defendant asking, "Why are
you taking pictures of me?" Believing that the
confrontation was going to escalate into a physical
altercation, the officers exited their surveillance vehicle
and separated defendant and the woman. Officer Sletten spoke
with defendant, asked for his identification, and checked his
record, verifying that defendant had no pending warrants.
Officer Sletten then asked defendant if he had any narcotics
on him. Defendant responded that he did not. At Officer
Sletten's request, defendant consented to a search of his
person and his vehicle. Pursuant to the search, Officer
Sletten discovered "small off-white rocks" in
defendant's pants pocket. He arrested defendant for
possession of cocaine.
hearing on the motion to suppress, Officer Sletten testified
that after defendant provided his driver's license and it
was determined he had no outstanding warrants, Officer
Sletten continued to talk with defendant but did not
immediately return his driver's license. Prior to the
discovery of the off-white rocks, defendant was not under
arrest. A video of the incident taken from the vantage of
Officer Cole's body camera was also admitted into
evidence. Officer Sletten testified that from the moment he
exited his vehicle and searched defendant, ten minutes
transpired. At the close of the evidence, defendant again
moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the
search. Defendant argued that he was seized and unlawfully
detained when Officer Sletten requested defendant's
identification and did not return it, but instead asked for
consent to search. After hearing the evidence and the
arguments of counsel, the trial court orally denied
defendant's motion to suppress and on 18 July entered a
written order to that effect.
his right to appeal the order denying his motion to suppress,
defendant entered a guilty plea to the charge of felony
possession of cocaine. Defendant was sentenced to an active
term of 8 to 19 months. The sentence was suspended, and
defendant was placed on supervised probation for a term of 18
months. Defendant appeals the order denying his motion to
appeal, defendant argues that the trial court erred by
denying his motion to suppress. Defendant contends that his
stop was unconstitutional and that in its order denying his
motion to suppress, the trial court committed reversible
error by making unsupported findings of fact and conclusions
of law. We agree.
reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress our Court
is strictly limited to a determination of whether the
court's findings are supported by competent evidence,
even if the evidence is conflicting, and in turn, whether
those findings support the court's conclusions of law. If
so, the trial court's conclusions of law are binding on
appeal. If there is a conflict between the State's
evidence and defendant's evidence on material facts, it
is the duty of the trial court to resolve the conflict and
such resolution will not be disturbed on appeal.
State v. Veazey, 201 N.C.App. 398, 400, 689 S.E.2d
530, 532 (2009), disc. review denied, 363 N.C. 811,
692 S.E.2d 876 (2010). The trial court's conclusions of
law must be legally correct, reflecting a correct application
of applicable legal principles to the facts found. We ...