in the Court of Appeals 27 March 2019
by Defendant from judgment entered 13 March 2018 by Judge
Karen Eady-Williams in Stanly County Superior Court No.
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney
General, Kimberly N. Callahan, for the State.
Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate
Defender Michele A. Goldman, for the Defendant.
Shawn Patrick Ellis appeals the trial court's judgment
entered upon his guilty plea to resisting, delaying, and/or
obstructing a public officer during a stop. Defendant
contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to
suppress evidence. After careful review, we
case arises from Defendant's failure to identify himself
to a trooper during a stop. It is a crime in North Carolina
for one to refuse to identify himself to a police officer
during a valid stop. See State v. Friend,
237 N.C.App. 490, 768 S.E.2d 146 (2014) (refusing to provide
identification during a valid stop may constitute violation
of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223 (2017)).
issue in this case is whether the trooper conducted a
valid stop of Defendant. As reiterated by our
Supreme Court just last year, "the Fourth Amendment
permits a police officer to conduct a brief investigatory
stop of an individual based on reasonable suspicion
that the individual is engaged in criminal activity."
See State v. Nicholson, 371 N.C. 284, 288-89, 813
S.E.2d 840, 843 (2018) (emphasis added). As explained by our
Supreme Court, the "reasonable suspicion" standard
required to justify the initiation of a brief, investigatory
stop is a low standard, much lower than the "probable
cause" standard necessary to initiate an actual arrest,
and does not require that the officer witness actual criminal
The Fourth Amendment permits brief investigative stops . . .
when a law enforcement officer has "a particularized and
objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped
of criminal activity." . . . The standard takes into
account the totality of "the circumstances-the whole
picture." Although a mere "hunch" does not
create reasonable suspicion, the level of suspicion the
standard requires is "considerably less than proof of
wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence," and
"obviously less" than is necessary for probable
Id. at 289, 813 S.E.2d at 843 (quoting Navarette
v. California, 572 U.S. 393, 396-97 (2014)).
the only evidence offered at the suppression hearing was the
testimony of the trooper. Defendant did not testify or offer
any evidence to refute the trooper's testimony. The
trooper essentially testified that, while standing on the
side of road assisting another driver in icy conditions, he
witnessed Defendant wave his entire arm out the window in a
distracting manner. At this time, Defendant was riding as a
passenger in a vehicle traveling on a public highway in the
middle of a group of vehicles all going the same direction.
The trooper testified that after Defendant traveled another
one hundred (100) yards past his position on the side of the
road, Defendant changed his arm gesture to a pumping motion
with his middle finger extended. He testified that it was
unclear whether Defendant was gesturing to him all this time
or was gesturing to someone in one of the other vehicles. The
trooper testified that he stopped Defendant to investigate
the situation but that Defendant refused to identify himself.
Defendant was charged and convicted for his failure to
identify himself, not for the gestures.
moved to suppress the officer's testimony concerning his
refusal to identify himself, based on his contention that the
facts did not give rise to establish "reasonable
suspicion" to justify the stop. Based on the
trooper's testimony, however, the trial court orally
denied Defendant's motion to suppress. Defendant then
pleaded guilty to resisting, delaying, and/or obstructing a
public officer during a stop.
Motion to Suppress
appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred in
denying his motion to suppress.
Standard of Review
we review the denial of a motion to suppress to determine
"whether competent evidence supports the trial
court's findings of fact and whether the findings of fact
support the conclusions of law." State v.
Jackson, 368 N.C. 75, 78, 772 S.E.2d 847, 849 (2015).
case, though, the trial court did not make any findings or
enter any written order. Rather, following the trooper's
testimony and counsels' arguments, the trial court
orally denied Defendant's motion, stating:
Based on a review of the evidence, the Court does find
reasonable suspicion for the stop. In addition, based on the
totality of the evidence the Court does find probable cause
for the arrest [for Defendant's failure to identify
himself during the stop].
Supreme Court has held, however, that the lack of specific
findings in an order is not fatal to our ability to conduct
an appellate review if the underlying facts are not
in dispute. Nicholson, 371 N.C. at 288, 813 S.E.2d
at 843 (stating that "when the facts are not disputed
and the trial court did not make specific findings of fact
either orally or in writing, we infer the findings from the
trial court's decision and conduct a de novo assessment
of whether those findings support the ultimate legal
conclusion reached by the trial court"). Here, Defendant
offered no evidence to refute any of the trooper's
testimony. Therefore, we infer the factual findings
based on the trooper's testimony. See Nicholson,
__ N.C. at __, 813 S.E.2d at 843 ("[W]e consider whether
the inferred factual findings arising from the uncontested
evidence presented by [the trooper] at the suppression
hearing support the trial court's conclusion that
reasonable suspicion existed to justify defendant's
the lack of written conclusions of law is not fatal
to meaningful appellate review, as we review a trial
court's conclusions of law de novo anyway.
See State v. McNeill, 371 N.C. 198, 220, 813 S.E.2d
797, 813 (2018) ("We review conclusions of law de
novo."). That is, the lack of written conclusions does
not inhibit our ability to determine whether or not the
findings inferred from the trooper's undisputed testimony
support a conclusion that the stop was valid.
trial court's inferred findings based on the
trooper's testimony tend to show the following:
Around lunchtime on 9 January 2017, the trooper was assisting
a motorist in a disabled vehicle on the side of U.S. Highway
52 in Albemarle. There had been a heavy snowstorm in the area
a few days prior, snow was still on the ground, and the
temperature was still below freezing. The trooper had been
assisting other motorists, as there had been a number of
reported accidents in the area.
assisting the motorist, the trooper noticed a group of three
or four passing vehicles, including an SUV in the middle of
the pack. As the vehicles passed, the trooper saw Defendant
stick his arm all the way out of the passenger window of the
SUV and make a hand-waving gesture, "a back-and-forth
motion  from [the trooper] towards [Defendant]." At
this point, the trooper "believed that [Defendant, ] was
signaling for [his] attention and was requesting for [him] to
respond." The trooper, ...