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State v. Stanley

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 15, 2018

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
KAREEM STANLEY

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 19 April 2018.

          Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 13 February 2017 by Judge Beecher R. Gray in Durham County No. 16 CRS 51870 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Martin T. McCracken, for the State.

          Patterson Harkavy LLP, by Paul E. Smith, for defendant-appellant.

          DAVIS, JUDGE.

         This case presents the question of whether the Fourth Amendment permits law enforcement officers to conduct a knock and talk at the back door of a residence rather than at the clearly visible and unobstructed front door. Kareem Stanley ("Defendant") appeals from his convictions for trafficking in heroin by transportation; trafficking in heroin by possession; possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a Schedule I controlled substance; possession with intent to sell or deliver a Schedule II controlled substance; and possession of drug paraphernalia. On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence of the drugs seized from his person as a result of an illegal knock and talk. Because we conclude that (1) the knock and talk was unconstitutional; and (2) the evidence obtained by the officers would not have been discovered but for the knock and talk, we reverse the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In 2015, Investigator Joseph Honeycutt was working for the Special Operations Division of the Durham Police Department. In December 2015, a confidential informant contacted the police department stating that he had purchased heroin from a person at Apartment A at 1013 Simmons Street ("Apartment A") in Durham. The informant identified James Meager as the person from whom he had bought heroin at Apartment A.

         Investigator Honeycutt subsequently became aware that Apartment A belonged to an individual named James Hazelton. Investigator Honeycutt also learned that Meager did not actually live at the apartment.

         Nevertheless, Investigator Honeycutt used the informant to conduct controlled drug sales involving Meager at Apartment A on three separate occasions. On 8 December 2015, Investigator Honeycutt observed the informant walk up the driveway to the back door of the apartment in order to purchase heroin from Meager. On 16 December 2015, Investigator Honeycutt once again used the informant to buy heroin from Meager at the back door of Apartment A. Finally, on a third occasion, Investigator Honeycutt observed the informant purchase heroin from the back door of the apartment.

         On 1 March 2016, Investigator Honeycutt, Investigator Thomas Thrall, and four to five other members of the Durham Police Department approached Apartment A in order to locate Meager and serve him with a warrant for his arrest. They were dressed in protective vests with the word "Police" written across their chests. The officers did not possess a warrant to search the apartment.

         Upon the officers' arrival at the apartment, they immediately walked down the driveway that led to the back of the apartment, and Investigator Honeycutt knocked on the back door. In response to an inquiry from a person inside Apartment A as to who was knocking, Investigator Honeycutt responded: "Joey."

         Defendant, who had been staying with Hazelton as a houseguest at Apartment A from January through March of 2016, answered the door, and Investigator Honeycutt "immediately detected . . . the odor of marijuana." He stepped into the apartment and began conducting a protective sweep of the premises. One or two other officers also entered Apartment A to assist him. During the protective sweep, the officers located Hazelton and handcuffed him. A "crack pipe" was discovered on the nightstand in one of the bedrooms of the residence. Investigator Honeycutt also observed a handgun laying on a couch in the living room.

         In the meantime, Investigator Thrall waited with several other officers outside the back door. At some point, he directed Defendant to accompany him outside. After Defendant complied with his request, Investigator Thrall told him to take his hands out of his pockets and asked if he was carrying any weapons. Defendant denied possessing any weapons but kept his hands in his pockets. Investigator Thrall asked Defendant a second time to remove his hands from his pockets, and Defendant once again failed to do so.

         At that point, Investigator Thrall pulled Defendant's hands out of his pockets, placed them on his head, and informed Defendant that he was going to search him for safety reasons. He then proceeded to conduct a pat-down of Defendant's person. While patting down Defendant's right pants pocket, he felt a bulge. He asked Defendant what was in the pocket, and Defendant responded that it was "some Vaseline." Investigator Thrall then patted down Defendant's left pants pocket and felt a larger bulge. He asked Defendant what was in that pocket, and Defendant replied that it was cocaine.

         At that point, Investigator Thrall handcuffed Defendant and reached into Defendant's pockets to retrieve the items contained therein. Inside Defendant's left pants pocket, Investigator Thrall discovered a "plastic baggy that contained some small yellow baggies with a white substance that [he] believed . . . to be cocaine." He also found three smaller tan baggies that appeared to contain heroin. Investigator Thrall retrieved a small bag of marijuana from Defendant's right pants pocket.

         After Defendant had been searched, Investigator Honeycutt returned to the back door with Hazelton in handcuffs. He informed Investigator Thrall that he was going to obtain a search warrant for the apartment. Investigator Thrall and the other officers then waited outside Apartment A with Hazelton and Defendant, both of whom remained handcuffed. Once a search warrant was obtained, the officers searched the apartment and found a digital scale near the crack pipe on the nightstand.

         Defendant was arrested and charged with trafficking in heroin by transportation; trafficking in heroin by possession; possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a Schedule I controlled substance; possession with intent to sell or deliver a Schedule II controlled substance; and possession of drug paraphernalia. On 10 February 2017, Defendant filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence that had been seized from his pockets on the ground that the seizure violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment. A hearing was held before the Honorable Beecher R. Gray in Durham County Superior Court on 13 February 2017, and the trial court denied Defendant's motion.

         On that same day, Defendant pled guilty to all of the charged offenses but expressly reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The trial court consolidated all five offenses and ...


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