An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA03-498


Filed: 18 May 2004


         v.                        Wake County
                                No. 02 CRS 18327-8

    Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 11 October 2002 by Judge Howard E. Manning in Wake County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 12 April 2004.

    Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney General W. Dale Talbert, for the State.

    Russell J. Hollers, III, for defendant-appellant.


    Derrick S. Greene (“defendant”) appeals his convictions of trafficking in MDMA by possession and trafficking in MDMA by transportation. We hold that defendant received a trial free of prejudicial error.
    The procedural history of the instant appeal is as follows: On 8 April 2002, defendant was indicted for trafficking in MDMA (Ecstasy) by possession and trafficking in MDMA by transportation. On 21 June 2002, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charges, motion to suppress statements made to the police, and motion to suppress evidence of MDMA found in defendant's vehicle. The trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress statements made to thepolice, but denied defendant's other motions. Specifically, the trial court found probable cause existed for the search of defendant's vehicle. Thereafter, defendant entered a plea of guilty to both charges but reserved the right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress. Defendant was sentenced to 132-168 months imprisonment.
    The pertinent evidence presented at trial tends to show the following: On 28 February 2002, Sergeant Kennon and Detective Baker of the Raleigh Police Department arrested Willie Allen (“Allen”) for possession of MDMA tablets. Upon arrest, Allen identified his supplier as “D,” a black man who lived in Virginia. Allen said that he had purchased, from defendant, 1000-2000 MDMA tablets at a time on several different occasions. Allen also said that he could identify defendant and the reddish color pickup truck that he drove. Allen, whom had provided the police with accurate tips in the past, agreed to participate in a controlled buy with “D.”
    The Raleigh Police Department monitored and recorded several conversations between Allen and “D,” wherein “D” agreed to deliver 2000 MDMA tablets to the place he thought was Allen's residence. Several officers positioned themselves at the delivery location - a parking lot adjacent to an apartment complex - and waited for “D” to arrive. Around the expected time and location, a reddish color pickup truck with Virginia license plates pulled into the parking lot. Soon thereafter, Allen received a call from “D” announcing his arrival. Allen positively identified “D” as the driver.     “D” had exited the vehicle and was standing near the vehicle when officers instructed him to get down on the ground. After “D” was handcuffed, an officer took the truck keys, searched the console, and found two large bags of MDMA tablets identical to the tablets found on Allen. The officers did not have a warrant for the search.     
    At the suppression hearing, the trial court made the following findings of fact:
        With regard to Sergeant Kennon and Detective Baker, will note that the Court was able to observe their demeanor, their responses to questions; that they appeared to be fair in answering the questions, that their answers were reasonable and believable; and that by a preponderance of the evidence and clear and convincing evidence, the Court found that their testimony was believable and uncontroverted and they were credible witnesses.
        . . . .
        [Defendant's] answers at first were not believable and not credible, but after a number of suggestions that perhaps he should try just to answer the questions, it did appear that he was telling the truth when he testified that he in fact had come down here from Richmond with 2,000 pills of MDMA to deliver to Mr. Allen and that those pills were in the console of his truck, and the Court finds that at that point Mr. Brown was a credible witness.
        . . . .
        That on February 28th, 2002, one Willie Allen was arrested for a trafficking amount of MDMA . . . Mr. Allen immediately agreed to cooperate with the law enforcement officers of Raleigh; he advised that the source was defendant; that he had a deal more or less set up with the defendant to purchase some more pills; that he'd be willing to work with the police; . . . and at the same time Mr. Allen was also apparently working in anothercapacity on another case for the police.

        That Mr. Allen talked by telephone to the defendant, and that defendant corroborated that at this hearing by saying that was true; and that Mr. Allen was supervised by the police at all times during this deal . . . .

        . . . .

        Mr. Allen told the police that [defendant] would be coming from Virginia, that he would be driving a truck, that the truck would be reddish in color or red in color . . . .

        . . . .

        All these phone calls were monitored. Apparently one of the phone calls was not taped, but Detective Baker and Sergeant Kennon specifically recalled the conversation wherein the defendant agreed to deliver 2,000 Ecstacy pills to Mr. Allen.

        . . . .

        When the defendant drove up that night in a reddish truck with Virginia tags, he was promptly identified by Mr. Allen, he was positively identified, and at that time the other police officers were advised over the radio.

        . . . .

        [Defendant] got out of the truck and began walking away. He was immediately apprehended, taken into custody.

        The keys were seized from him, and Sergeant Kennon searched the truck and found in the console a quantity in excess of 2,000 pills which were . . . identical in physical description to the pills seized from Mr. Allen the day before.

        That Mr. Allen had been used before by Detective Young as a source, and Detective Young advised Detective Baker that Mr. Allen was reliable and that his information would be good.

    Based on these findings, the trial court concluded the following:

        Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that there was probable cause to arrest [defendant] and to take him into custody; there was probable cause to search the truck; there was probable cause to seize the drug.

        . . . .

        No statutory or Constitutional right, Federal or State, of the defendant, was violated by the actions of the Raleigh Police Department on March 1st, 2002.

        . . . .

        The search of [Defendant's] vehicle and seizure there of the substances found in the console were for the same reason already outlined by the Court not in violation of the defendant's Constitutional rights, Federal or state, and were executed upon sufficient probable cause and exigent circumstances . . . .

    Defendant's sole assignment of error on appeal is that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the evidence of MDMA found in his vehicle. Review by this Court of a ruling on a motion to suppress is strictly limited. State v. Pulliam, 139 N.C. App. 437, 439-40, 533 S.E.2d 280, 282 (2000). Competent evidence must exist to support the trial court's findings. Id. “If supported by competent evidence, the trial court's findings are binding on appeal.” State v. Rhyne, 124 N.C. App. 84, 88, 478 S.E.2d 789, 791 (1996). Therefore, we must determine whether the trial court's findings support the their conclusions of law. Id. at 89.     As pertains to warrantless searches, our Supreme Court has held:
The governing premise of the Fourth Amendment is that a governmental search and seizure of private property unaccompanied by prior judicial approval in the form of a warrant is per se unreasonable unless the search falls within a well-delineated exception to the warrant requirement involving exigent circumstances. Hence, when the State seeks to admit evidence discovered by way of a warrantless search in a criminal prosecution, it must first show how the former intrusion was exempted from the general constitutional demand for a warrant.

State v. Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 135, 291 S.E.2d 618, 620 (1982) (citations omitted).
The validity of a warrantless search of a vehicle is justified when an officer has probable cause to believe that “the contents of the automobile offend against the law.” State v. Ratliff, 281 N.C. 397, 403, 189 S.E.2d 179, 182 (1972) (citations omitted). The search of a vehicle “in a public vehicular area is not in violation of the fourth amendment if it is based on probable cause, even though a warrant has not been obtained.” State v. Isleib, 319 N.C. 634, 638, 356 S.E.2d 573, 576 (1987). Probable cause has been found to exist when the facts and circumstances of the case would give rise to a reasonable belief that a crime is being or has been committed. State v. Mills, 104 N.C. App. 724, 728, 411 S.E.2d 193, 195 (1991) (citations omitted) (“Probable cause exists where 'the facts and circumstances within . . . [the officers'] knowledge, and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information [are] sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution inthe belief that' an offense has been or is being committed.”).
    In the case where officers rely upon an informant's tip that a crime is being or has been committed, the trial court must consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether probable cause existed. State v. Chadwick, 149 N.C. App. 200, 203, 560 S.E.2d 207, 209, disc. review denied, 355 N.C. 752, 565 S.E.2d 672 (2002). The court must make a balanced assessment of the reliability of the informant's tip, id., taking into consideration “(1) whether the informant was known or anonymous, (2) the informant's history of reliability, and (3) whether information provided by the informant could be and was independently corroborated by the police.” State v. Collins, 160 N.C. App. 310, 316, 585 S.E.2d 481, 485 (2003). In State v. Martinez, our Court concluded that the police had probable cause to search a vehicle when they were able to independently corroborate an informant's tip as to the description of the vehicle, the description of the passengers, the location of the drug sale, and the arrival time of the seller. 150 N.C. App. 364, 369, 562 S.E.2d 914, 917, disc. review denied, 356 N.C. 172, 568 S.E.2d 859 (2002).
    In the instant case, the police arrested Willie Allen for possession of MDMA. Allen told the officers that he purchased the drugs from a black man he identified as “D.” Allen stated that “D” was from Virginia, and he could identify “D” and his vehicle. One of the officers understood Allen to be a trustworthy source, and that information Allen had provided in the past proved to be accurate. Thereafter, Allen agreed to participate in a controlledbuy with “D.”
    Officers monitored several conversations between Allen and “D,” wherein “D” agreed to deliver 2000 MDMA tablets. “D” arrived at the expected time and location, and called Allen to inform Allen of his arrival. The vehicle “D” was driving matched the description of the vehicle Allen provided the police. Moreover, Allen positively identified “D” as the black man from whom he purchased MDMA. “D” was later identified as defendant.
    In the instant case, the police sufficiently corroborated Allen's information, and thus, had probable cause to search defendant's vehicle. See Martinez, 150 N.C. App. at 369, 562 S.E.2d at 917. As such, the warrantless search of defendant's vehicle was valid under an exception to the warrant requirement. See Cooke, 306 N.C. at 135, 291 S.E.2d at 620. We therefore conclude that the trial court committed no error in denying defendant's motion to suppress.
    We note that defendant's Judgment and Commitment worksheet incorrectly lists defendant's convictions as two counts of trafficking in MDMA by possession. The Transcript of Plea contained in the record correctly lists defendant's convictions as one count of trafficking in MDMA by possession and one count of trafficking in MDMA by transportation. While neither party assigns error to this discrepancy, we detected the discrepancy and remand to the trial court to correct the clerical error. The Judgment and Commitment is to reflect defendant's convictions as indicated in the Transcript of Plea contained in the record.    Affirmed and remanded to the trial court to correct the Judgment and Commitment.
    Judges CALABRIA and ELMORE concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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