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State v. Parker

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 7, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
BYRON JEROME PARKER

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 22 August 2017.

         Appeal 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.

          BRYANT, JUDGE.

         Where 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.

         On 21 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.

         The 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.

         At the 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.

         Preserving 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 suppress.

         On 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.

         In 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 ...

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