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State v. Jones

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 3, 2018

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
RALPH JONES, JR.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 22 January 2018.

          Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 7 February 2017 by Judge Jeffery B. Foster in Beaufort County No. 13 CRS 52747 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Michelle D. Denning, for the State.

          The Robinson Law Firm, P.A., by Leslie S. Robinson, for defendant-appellant.

          DAVIS, JUDGE.

         In this appeal, we consider whether (1) a police officer's observation of a single instance of a vehicle crossing the double yellow centerline in violation of North Carolina's motor vehicle laws constitutes reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop; and (2) a trial court may properly consider at a suppression hearing testimony from an officer about a vehicle stop that includes material information not contained in the officer's contemporaneous reports. Ralph Jones, Jr. ("Defendant") appeals from his conviction for driving while impaired. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the order of the trial court denying his motion to suppress.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On 8 December 2013, Trooper Matthew Myers of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol was traveling southbound on N.C. Highway 32 in Beaufort County. At approximately 7:00 p.m., he was notified by dispatch that a caller had reported that a black Chevrolet truck was traveling northbound on Highway 32 at "a careless/reckless high speed

         As Trooper Myers approached a curve in the road, he observed two vehicles less than a quarter of a mile ahead of his patrol car traveling in the northbound lane. A double yellow line divided the lanes of travel. One of the two vehicles was a black Chevrolet truck, and Trooper Myers observed that the truck was "slightly left of center in a curve." He was able to "tell the [head]lights were in [his] traveling lane instead of the northbound lane

         After the truck passed Trooper Myers' patrol vehicle, it "pulled to the right shoulder of the road . . . ." He activated his blue lights, made a U-turn, and pulled behind the truck. He observed Defendant sitting in the driver's seat as he approached the vehicle. Based on his conversation with Defendant, Trooper Myers believed he was impaired.

         Defendant was arrested and charged with driving while impaired. That same evening, Trooper Myers made handwritten notes in an Affidavit and Revocation Report (the "Revocation Report") and in a Driving While Impaired Report Form (the "DWIR Form"). He later testified that for "most of [his] DWI cases" he was unable to "put a lot of information on the DWIR form" due to space constraints and his "sloppy" handwriting. For this reason, he would type his full observations into a Microsoft Word document so that it would be "easier to read . . . ."

         On 9 December 2013, he followed this practice by typing notes concerning the prior evening's traffic stop into a Microsoft Word document. These notes contained greater detail about the incident than the Revocation Report or the DWIR form.

         On 26 August 2014, Defendant filed a motion to suppress in which he sought to exclude the evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop based on his assertion that the stop itself was unlawful. A suppression hearing was held before the Honorable Wayland J. Sermons, Jr., in Beaufort County Superior Court on 15 September 2016. Trooper Myers was the only witness who testified at the hearing.

         The trial court entered an order on 11 October 2016 denying the motion to suppress. On 7 February 2017, Defendant pled guilty to driving while impaired but expressly reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. That same day, the trial court sentenced him to 30 days imprisonment but suspended the sentence and placed him on unsupervised probation for 24 months. Defendant gave oral notice of appeal in open court.

         Analysis

         On appeal, Defendant's sole argument is that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress. Specifically, he contends that (1) the trial court's findings of fact in its 11 October 2016 order were unsupported by competent evidence; and (2) the trial court erred as a matter of law ...


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