in the Court of Appeals 11 April 2018.
by defendant from judgments entered 3 August 2017 by Judge R.
Stuart Albright in Guilford County Nos. 16 CRS 83453-54, 17
CRS 24408 Superior Court.
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney
General Marie H. Evitt and Special Deputy Attorney General
Derrick C. Mertz, for the State.
Office of Barry C. Snyder, by Barry C. Snyder and Gabriel
Snyder, for defendant.
Michael Shane Winchester appeals from judgments entered after
he pled guilty to two counts of attempted heroin trafficking,
one count of possession with intent to sell and deliver
heroin, and one count of keeping or maintaining a dwelling to
keep and sell heroin. He argues the trial court erred by
denying his motions to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to
the executions of a warrant to search his person, vehicle,
and residence for drug dealing evidence, and by denying his
motion to suppress certain statements he made in response to
police questioning while he was in custody and before he was
read his Miranda rights. Because probable cause
supported the warrant, the searches and seizure were
constitutionally reasonable and, even if defendant's
responses should have been suppressed, any error in the trial
court's ruling was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order.
trial court's unchallenged findings reveal the following
facts. On 23 August 2016, after a three-months long police
investigation prompted by a tip from a confidential informant
that defendant was dealing heroin, Detective Ryan C. Cole of
the Guilford County Sheriff's Office obtained a warrant
to search defendant's residence at 4103 Falconridge Road
in Greensboro for drug dealing evidence. The search warrant
also identified a 2013 white-over-red Range Rover bearing the
North Carolina registration number DFD-7872 as one of three
vehicles to be searched, and authorized searches of defendant
and Chasity Desiree Jeffries.
the early morning that next day, Detective Cole held a
tactical briefing with a police taskforce organized to assist
in executing the warrant. Detective Cole discussed prior
charges issued against defendant for possessing firearms,
convictions obtained against defendant related to drug
activity, and defendant's history of keeping large dogs.
The officers also discussed the possibility that others,
including Jeffries and possibly children, might be at the
Falconridge residence. Due to these safety concerns, the
officers decided to wait to execute the warrant to search the
Falconridge residence until after defendant left the
9:45 a.m., about two hours after surveilling officers had
been stationed outside the Falconridge residence, they
observed defendant leave the residence, enter the identified
Range Rover, and drive away. Detective Cole instructed
assisting officers to stop the vehicle to execute the warrant
to search defendant and the Range Rover. The officers tailed
Range Rover in their patrol cars for about two miles until it
pulled into an Advance Auto Parts parking lot and parked. The
officers pulled into the parking lot, informed defendant he
was under investigation, and detained him in handcuffs.
Detective Cole arrived at the Advance Auto parking lot, he
read defendant the search warrant, and the officers executed
the warrant by searching defendant and the Range Rover. The
search of defendant's person yielded no incriminating
drug evidence. Although a police canine positively alerted
for narcotics at the Range Rover's driver's side
door, the police search upon executing the warrant ultimately
yielded no drug evidence.
defendant was still being held in investigative detention at
Advance Auto and before he was read his Miranda
rights, Detective Cole informed defendant about the warrant
to search the Falconridge residence and asked him whether
there were any other people including children or aggressive
dogs at the residence, or whether there were any weapons
being stored there. In response to Detective Cole's
questioning, defendant replied that he had never been to the
Falconridge residence and denied having any knowledge of or
involvement with that residence.
Cole then radioed authorization to the officers staking out
the Falconridge address to execute the search warrant on the
residence. Those officers announced "Sheriff's
Office, Search Warrant" three times and, after hearing
no response, broke down the front door using a ramming
device. The entering officers discovered Jeffries inside and
detained her incident to the search. Soon after the officers
entered the premises, defendant was returned to the
Falconridge residence while the officers completed their
search. That search revealed a large quantity of heroin
stored in the kitchen, as well as several items related to
packaging and distributing illegal drugs.
November 2016, a grand jury indicted defendant for
maintaining a dwelling to keep and sell heroin, trafficking
heroin by possessing twenty-eight grams or more of heroin,
and possession with intent to sell or deliver heroin. On 10
March 2017, defendant moved to suppress all evidence seized
from the searches of his person and the Range Rover at
Advance Auto, and from the search of the Falconridge
residence, as well as all statements he made in response to
police questioning before he was read his Miranda
a 9 May 2017 suppression hearing, the trial court entered an
order that in relevant part denied defendant's motion to
suppress the evidence seized pursuant to the execution of the
warrant, as well as his responses to Detective Cole's
questioning about the Falconridge residence while he was in
custody at Advance Auto. The trial court concluded in relevant
part the search warrant was supported by probable cause;
defendant's seizure was reasonable; the execution of the
warrant on the Falconridge residence neither violated our
General Statutes nor defendant's constitutional rights;
and defendant's responses to Detective Cole's
questioning at Advance Auto were admissible, despite not
having been advised of his Miranda rights, because
the questioning fell under the "public safety"
exception to the Miranda requirement. See New
York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 104 S.Ct. 2626 (1984).
August 2017, defendant entered a plea agreement in which he
pled guilty to two counts of attempted heroin trafficking by
manufacturing twenty-eight grams or more of heroin and by
possessing twenty-eight grams or more of heroin, possession
with intent to sell and deliver heroin, and maintaining a
dwelling to keep and sell heroin, while reserving his right
to appeal the trial court's suppression rulings. The
trial court sentenced defendant to two consecutive terms of
sixty to eight-four months in prison. Defendant appeals.
appeal, defendant contends the trial court erred by denying
his suppression motions on the following grounds: (1) the
searches of his person and vehicle were constitutionally
unreasonable because the warrant lacked probable cause; (2)
the seizure of his person was constitutionally unreasonable
because he was detained too far away from the residence to
constitute a lawful detention incident to the execution of a
search warrant on the premises, see Bailey v. United
States, 568 U.S. 186, 133 S.Ct. 1031 (2013); (3) the
search of the residence was unreasonable because the officers
violated N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-251's
knock-and-announce requirement; and (4) his responses to
Detective Cole's questioning at Advance Auto about the
Falconridge address were obtained in violation of his
review of a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress
is "strictly limited to determining whether the trial
judge's underlying findings of fact are supported by
competent evidence, in which event they are conclusively
binding on appeal, and whether those factual findings in turn
support the judge's ultimate conclusions of law."
State v. Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 134, 291 S.E.2d 618,
619 (1982). But where, as here, a defendant fails to
challenge the evidentiary support of any finding, our review
is further "limited to whether the trial court's
findings of fact support its conclusions of law."
State v. Cheek, 351 N.C. 48, 63, 520 S.E.2d 545, 554
(1999) (citing State v. Watkins, 337 N.C. 437, 438,
446 S.E.2d 67, 68 (1994)). "The trial court's
conclusions of law . . . are fully reviewable on
appeal." State v. Hughes, 353 N.C. 200, 208,
539 S.E.2d 625, 631 (2000).
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