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State v. Campola

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 6, 2018

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
SAMUEL ANTHONY CAMPOLA, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 5 September 2017.

         Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 1 September 2016 by Judge Robert C. Ervin in Mecklenburg County Superior Court Nos. 14 CRS 246487 & 246488

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Joseph A. Newsome, for the State.

          Meghan Adelle Jones for Defendant-Appellant.

          INMAN, Judge.

         When a police officer initiates a traffic stop and, in the course of accomplishing the mission of the stop, develops reasonable suspicion that the driver or passenger is engaged in illegal drug activity, the officer may prolong the stop to investigate that suspicion without violating the passenger's Fourth Amendment rights.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Defendant, a passenger in a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation, was indicted for possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia on 13 July 2015 after a search of the vehicle revealed the presence of the drug. Prior to trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop, contending that the police officer executing the stop had impermissibly and unconstitutionally extended the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Following a hearing on the motion to suppress, the trial court orally denied the motion after making findings of fact and conclusions of law, and later entered a written order consistent with its oral ruling. In the course of trial, Defendant's counsel objected to the introduction of the evidence subject to the earlier motion and was overruled by the trial court. The jury found Defendant guilty on both charges, and the trial court entered its judgment on 1 September 2016. Defendant timely filed his notice of appeal on 8 September 2016.

         The findings in the trial court's written order are summarized as follows: On 26 November 2014, Officer Matthew Freeman ("Officer Freeman"), a patrol officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department ("CMPD"), was on patrol in a vehicle near Nations Ford Road in Charlotte, North Carolina. Officer Freeman had received training in the identification of drugs and had been a patrolman for almost six years, participating in 100 drug arrests. In the course of the patrol, Officer Freeman pulled into the parking lot of a Motel 6. He considered the location a high crime area. When Officer Freeman entered the parking lot, he saw two white males sitting in a green Honda. After Officer Freeman passed by, the Honda exited the parking lot at a high rate of speed. Officer Freeman followed the car out of the parking lot as it drove toward an intersection. At the intersection, the car turned right without yielding the right-of-way to oncoming traffic turning left through the intersection, nearly causing a collision. Officer Freeman turned on his emergency lights and siren and stopped the vehicle.

         Once the car stopped, Officer Freeman observed that it displayed a temporary license tag. He approached the driver's side and asked the driver for his license, registration, and proof of insurance, observing that the driver was more nervous than usual. The driver provided Officer Freeman with his insurance information, the car's title, and a South Carolina driver's license, which identified him as Matthew Matchin ("Matchin").[1] When asked why they were at the motel, Matchin stated that he and his passenger did not go into a room there. The passenger did not have any identifying documents, but identified himself by name to Officer Freeman. Officer Freeman then returned to his patrol car to run the above information through the onboard computer.

         Once in his patrol car, Officer Freeman called for a back-up unit to assist him, as there were multiple occupants in the vehicle. While he waited for another officer to arrive, Officer Freeman entered the VIN number for the stopped vehicle through a 50-state database, as he did not have a state registration with which to search. This search took longer than a search using a state vehicle registration. As a result of the search, Officer Freeman determined that the vehicle was not stolen and that neither Matchin nor Defendant had any outstanding warrants. However, Officer Freeman found multiple prior drug arrests for both Matchin and Defendant.

         Shortly after the above searches were completed, and twelve minutes after the stop was initiated, another CMPD officer, Damon Weston ("Officer Weston"), arrived in response to Officer Freeman's earlier call for back-up. Officer Freeman spoke with Officer Weston on his arrival, and told him about the stop as well as the information gleaned from Matchin, Defendant, and the database searches. Officer Freeman told Officer Weston that he was going to issue Matchin a warning for his unsafe movement, but asked Officer Weston to approach Defendant.

         The officers approached the stopped vehicle together some fourteen minutes after the stop was initiated. Officer Freeman asked Matchin to step to the rear of the vehicle so that they could see the intersection where the illegal turn occurred while Officer Freeman explained his warning. Officer Freeman then gave Matchin a warning, returned the documents, and requested a search of the vehicle. Matchin declined the request. While Officer Freeman was speaking with Matchin, Officer Weston approached Defendant and observed a syringe cap in the driver's seat. Officer Weston asked Defendant to step out of the car and Defendant complied. At this time, Officer Weston observed a second syringe cap in the passenger's seat. Now four minutes into their respective conversations, Officer Weston approached Officer Freeman and informed him of the syringe caps. Officer Freeman asked Matchin if he was diabetic, and he responded that he was not. Officer Freeman then searched the vehicle, discovering two syringes and a spoon with a brown "liquidy" substance. The officers then arrested Matchin and Defendant.

         At the suppression hearing, the trial court received the benefit of testimony from Officer Freeman and Officer Weston, as well as documentary evidence in the form of a dash-cam video of the stop from Officer Freeman's patrol car.[2] Officer Freeman testified that this portion of Nations Ford Road was part of his usual patrol, and that he had personally responded to a high number of drug arrests, shootings, and robberies in the area. Officer Weston also testified that the motels around Nations Ford Road were "high crime, high drug areas." Officer Freeman testified that, when he pulled into the Motel 6 parking lot and spotted the green Honda, he intended to get out of his vehicle to speak with its occupants. But, before he could park his vehicle, the two men looked up at Officer Freeman with "a kind of surprised look on their face[s], wide[-]eyed type of look" and then exited the parking lot in the car at "a high rate of speed." The dash-cam video shows Officer Freeman following the green Honda out of the parking lot and the Honda can be observed turning right at a red light without yielding to oncoming traffic turning left through the intersection, nearly causing a collision. The video's timestamp shows Officer Freeman stopped the Honda and exited his vehicle at 4:25 P.M.

         Officer Freeman testified that he saw the car had a temporary paper tag from Pennsylvania. He also testified that Matchin seemed "overly nervous, more than . . . on a normal traffic stop, more shaking of the hands. Kind of not really directly answering [questions] . . . . Just kind of stumbling a bit about the answer." Officer Freeman also detailed the contents of his conversation with Matchin in his testimony, stating that Matchin claimed that he went into the Motel 6 to meet a friend in the lobby, although he could not remember the friend's name. Per the dash-cam video, Officer Freeman returned to his patrol car at 4:26 P.M., less than two minutes into the stop.

         Officer Freeman testified that he radioed for back-up upon returning to his vehicle, consistent with general safety and CMPD policy concerning traffic stops with multiple occupants. While he waited for another officer to arrive, Officer Freeman entered the VIN number for the stopped vehicle through a 50-state database, as he did not have a permanent state license plate number with which to search. This national database search alone took between five to eight minutes, longer than a search using a permanent license plate registered in a single state. Officer Freeman also ran Matchin's and Defendant's names through a local database of arrest and other records, followed by a search of a statewide database. These searches revealed multiple prior drug arrests for both Matchin and Defendant. Officer Freeman testified that his ...


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