An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. COA03-1036


Filed: 4 May 2004


         v.                        Guilford County
                                No. 02 CRS 95786

    Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 19 March 2003 by Judge William Z. Wood, Jr. in Superior Court, Guilford County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 19 April 2004.

    Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Benjamin M. Turnage, for the State.

    Lynne Rupp for defendant-appellant.

    McGEE, Judge.

    Defendant was indicted on 9 December 2002 on a charge of possession of a firearm by a felon. Defendant's counsel subsequently filed a motion to suppress evidence on 5 March 2003. At the suppression hearing on 17 March 2003, the State presented testimony by two officers involved in the stop of a vehicle in which defendant was a passenger. After announcing its findings in open court and denying defendant's motion to suppress, the trial court later entered a written order on 1 April 2003 in which it made the following pertinent findings of fact:
        4.    On August 30, 2002 about 4:15 am, officers were dispatched to the area of 3607 South Elm-Eugene Street, Lot 132.
        5.    Officers had prior experience with this trailer park. Officers were aware of a high number of break-ins or burglaries in this trailer park.

        6.    Officer received a dispatch saying the resident of Lot 132 called and said there was a cream colored Nissan in his driveway. The call further stated said car was occupied by (3) three black males.

        7.    The caller regarded this as suspicious.

        8.    Officers went to the area.

        9.    When officers arrived they saw a cream colored Honda Accord, which is similar in shape of a Nissan automobile. Both are of Japanese make, about the same size.

        10.    The Honda was[] occupied by (3) three black males.

        11.    Officer Graves turned his patrol vehicle and stopped the cream colored Honda as it was leaving the trailer park.

        12.    The vehicle had come around the circle from the area of Lot 132, which is where the officers were dispatched to, it was a cream colored Honda and was occupied by black males.

        13.    Prior to stopping the car the officers received a dispatch saying the suspicious car had left Lot 132.

        14.    This was about 1 minute before they stopped the vehicle.

        15.    The officers testified it took them approximately 6 minutes to respond so you can calculate the vehicle was in the driveway for 5 minutes after they were dispatched and some unknown time before they were dispatched.

        16.    The resident[']s attention was drawn to the vehicle parked in the driveway after 4:00 am in an area with numerous break- ins.
        17.    Once officers approached the car, they smelled marijuana.
    The trial court concluded that:
        1.    That the suspicious nature of the car parked in a driveway at 4:30 am in an area that is known for numerous break- ins, the officers had reasonable articulable grounds for the stop of the defendant's vehicle.

        2.    Once the officers smelled the marijuana smell from the car they were allowed to search the automobile for the presence of illegal narcotics.

    Following the denial of his motion to suppress, defendant entered a plea of guilty to the charge while reserving his right to appeal the denial of the motion. The trial court imposed a sentence of twelve to fifteen months imprisonment, then suspended the sentence and placed defendant on supervised probation for thirty months. Defendant appeals.
    Defendant contends the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress. He argues the trial court erred in holding that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop the car in which he was a passenger. Defendant contends the materials seized during the stop were inadmissible against him as a result. We disagree.
    When supported by competent evidence, a trial court's findings of fact following a suppression hearing are conclusive and binding on appellate courts. State v. Brooks, 337 N.C. 132, 140-41, 446 S.E.2d 579, 585 (1994). Although the trial court's findings of fact are not before this Court because defendant failed to assign error to any of them, see N.C.R. App. P. 10, the record on appealnevertheless contains competent evidence from the officers' testimony to support those findings. The issue of whether those findings of fact support the trial court's conclusions of law is reviewable de novo. See State v. Munoz, 141 N.C. App. 675, 682, 541 S.E.2d 218, 222, cert. denied, 353 N.C. 454, 548 S.E.2d 534 (2001).
    Before an officer can conduct a brief investigatory stop of a vehicle and detain its occupants without a warrant, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. See State v. Watkins, 337 N.C. 437, 441, 446 S.E.2d 67, 70 (1994). If an anonymous tip exhibits sufficient indicia of reliability, it may provide reasonable suspicion; otherwise, there must be sufficient police corroboration of the tip before the stop can be made. State v. Hughes, 353 N.C. 200, 207, 539 S.E.2d 625, 630 (2000). "The reasonable suspicion must arise from the officer's knowledge prior to the time of the stop." Id. at 208, 539 S.E.2d at 631. An investigative "stop must be based on specific and articulable facts, as well as the rational inferences from those facts, as viewed through the eyes of a reasonable, cautious officer, guided by his experience and training." Watkins, 337 N.C. at 441, 446 S.E.2d at 70.
    In determining whether a reasonable suspicion exists to make an investigatory stop, a trial court must consider the totality of the circumstances. Id. at 441, 446 S.E.2d at 70. While Officer Kevin McNeal (Officer McNeal) testified the caller's identity was known at the time of the dispatch, the caller's identity was notplaced in the officer's report. Officer McNeal further testified that the caller, who was not identified at the suppression hearing, described a suspicious vehicle that was parked in the caller's driveway and that was occupied by black males. The trial court found that the officers were aware of a high number of break-ins or burglaries in that trailer park and that officers were dispatched at 4:15 a.m. to investigate. Officers saw a vehicle similar to the vehicle described by the caller leaving the area of Lot 132 and heading toward the trailer park's exit. The vehicle was occupied by black males. Officer William Graves stopped the vehicle in which defendant was a passenger approximately a minute after being informed that the suspicious vehicle had left the driveway.
    Based upon the officers' knowledge of the area, the time of day, and the period of time which the vehicle had been parked in the driveway before leaving, the totality of the circumstances afforded reasonable grounds for the officers to believe that criminal activity was afoot and justified a brief detention. The trial court therefore did not err in concluding that the "officers had reasonable articulable grounds for the stop of the defendant's vehicle." With the stop being lawful, the smell of marijuana noticed by officers as they approached the vehicle provided probable cause for the vehicle's search. See State v. Cornelius, 104 N.C. App. 583, 588, 410 S.E.2d 504, 508 (1991), disc. review denied, 331 N.C. 119, 414 S.E.2d 762 (1992). Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress the evidence.    No error.
    Chief Judge MARTIN and Judge BRYANT concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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