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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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

NO. COA06-1452


Filed: 19 June 2007


         v.                        Buncombe County
                                Nos. 05 CRS 10034, 58534

    Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 22 February 2006 by Judge Dennis J. Winner in Buncombe County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 4 June 2007.

    Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Amanda P. Little, attorney for the State.

    Nancy R. Gaines, attorney for defendant-appellant.

    MARTIN, Chief Judge.

    Defendant appeals from a judgment entered upon his conviction by a jury of felonious possession of stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia. These felonies were elevated to Class C due to defendant's habitual felon status to which defendant stipulated. At trial, the State introduced evidence tending to show the following:
    On 23 June 2005, a pickup truck owned by the Flowers Company, a NAPA parts warehouse distributor in Hickory, North Carolina, was stolen from the company parking lot. The general manager for the Flowers Company immediately contacted the Hickory Police Department and provided a description of the pickup truck. A few days later,an anonymous call prompted the Hickory store manager to contact the Asheville area NAPA store and give them a description of the stolen pickup truck. Approximately one day later, employees of the Asheville store spotted the stolen pickup truck in Asheville, North Carolina, and the Hickory store manager contacted the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department.
    On 29 June 2005, two deputies with the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department were dispatched to the Nakon Motel in Candler, North Carolina but were unable to locate the stolen pickup. Shortly thereafter, the deputies were again dispatched to the motel after the pickup was seen back at the motel. After locating the pickup at the motel, a deputy confirmed that it was the one that had been reported stolen. The deputies then spoke with the motel's owners and learned that they had seen the stolen pickup truck used by the occupants staying in Room 11 of the motel, which was registered to George Carrington.
    Based on this information, the deputies proceeded to Room 11, and Mr. Carrington answered the door. When the door was opened, the deputies observed a female lying on one of the beds, defendant sitting in a chair to the left of the door and a crack pipe in plain view. One of the deputies spoke with Mr. Carrington and the female in the room while the other stood with the defendant just outside the room.
    Soon thereafter, defendant was arrested for possession of a stolen vehicle. Before being placed in a squad car, defendant was searched. During the search, the deputy removed a glass crack pipefrom defendant's shirt pocket and found a silver key with a black plastic head with “GM” engraved on it in defendant's pants pocket. The deputy testified that when he removed the key from defendant's pocket, defendant voluntarily stated without questioning “he didn't know what it was used for.” A deputy used the key to open and start the stolen pickup truck.
    Prior to transporting defendant to the detention center to be processed, a deputy wrote defendant a citation for possession of drug paraphernalia. Without advising defendant of his Miranda rights, the deputy preparing the citation asked defendant for certain information needed to complete the citation form, such as defendant's address, date of birth, and employment. Defendant told the deputy that he was employed by Hickory Chair.
    Prior to trial, defendant filed two motions to suppress. In the first motion, defendant argued for suppression of the glass pipe and the key found on defendant at the time of his arrest because his “subsequent arrest and search were without probable cause and thus in violation of his Constitutional rights.” In his second motion, defendant sought to suppress statements he made subsequent to his arrest because he was never advised of his Miranda rights. At a hearing on both motions, the State presented evidence from the two deputies who arrested defendant. The defendant did not present any evidence.
    The trial court denied both of defendant's motions, ruling that the glass pipe and key found on defendant during the search incident to arrest, as well as defendant's statements after arrest,were admissible evidence at trial. Defendant assigns error to the trial court's denial of his motions to suppress.
    In his first assignment of error, defendant asserts that the trial court erroneously denied his motion to suppress the evidence of the key found in his pocket. Specifically, he contends that the deputies did not have probable cause for his arrest and, consequently, the search incident to his arrest which produced the key was also unlawful.
    An officer may arrest without a warrant any person who the officer has probable cause to believe has committed a felony. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-401(b)(2) (2005). The requisite probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances known to the arresting officer would warrant the belief of a prudent man that a felony has been committed by the person to be arrested. State v. Medlin, 333 N.C. 280, 289, 426 S.E.2d 402, 406 (1993); State v. Grady, 73 N.C. App. 452, 454, 326 S.E.2d 126, 128 (1985). When reviewing a trial court's determination of probable cause for a warrantless arrest, this Court is bound by the findings of the trial court if such findings are supported by competent evidence in the record, but the conclusions of law are for our de novo review. State v. Ray, 137 N.C. App. 326, 328, 527 S.E.2d 675, 677 (2000).
    Here, the trial court made the following relevant findings:
            [O]n June 29 of 2005, that the two deputies who testified at this hearing received a call through dispatch that a stolen vehicle had been seen at the Nakon Motel in Candler. That they went to the motel and did not find any such vehicle there and left.
            That dispatch then received a call, which was relayed to them, that the vehicle was back at the motel. They went back to the motel. That upon locating the vehicle, they sent - - They investigated whether or not the vehicle had been reported through its registration plate on NCIC as a stolen vehicle and found that it had been.

            Upon obtaining that information, the deputies in question went to the clerk at the desk of the motel, who was one of the co-owners of the motel, and asked who - - whether she knew who had that truck, and was told that the persons that were riding in that truck were in Room 11.

            They then proceeded to Room 11 where they were admitted by George Carrington, to whom that room was registered. Upon entering into the room, Officer Whitson discovered a crack pipe in plain view. George Carrington admitted that the crack pipe was his. He then told Officer Whitson, upon questioning about the truck, that he had no idea that the truck was stolen; that the Defendant, who was in the room but whose name was unknown to Mr. Carrington, took Mr. Carrington to the bank and to the store in that truck.

            Subsequent to that statement, the Defendant was placed under arrest for possession of a stolen vehicle.

    Defendant asserts that the facts as found by the trial court do not support a finding of probable cause because it was unreasonable for the deputies to rely upon the statement of Mr. Carrington that defendant had been the one driving the truck. We disagree.
    As argued by the State, the defendant has incorrectly characterized Mr. Carrington as an informant subject to more stringent standards of reliability. Instead, Mr. Carrington was a witness cooperating with the deputies' investigation. Our SupremeCourt has “declined to demand of private citizens who are voluntarily assisting the police the same standards of reliability applicable to paid police informants.” State v. Sanders, 327 N.C. 319, 339, 395 S.E.2d 412, 425 (1990).
    Nevertheless, the evidence presented at the hearing supports the reliance by the deputies on Mr. Carrington's statement that the truck, to his knowledge, belonged to defendant. In particular, Mr. Carrington corroborated the hotel clerk's statement that Mr. Carrington had been living at the hotel for several weeks. See State v. Earhart, 134 N.C. App. 130, 134, 516 S.E.2d 883, 886 (1999) (independent police corroboration of facts are important in evaluating the reliability of the information). In addition, Mr. Carrington admitted to the deputies that a crack pipe lying in plain view in the hotel room belonged to him. Such statements against penal interest further support Mr. Carrington's credibility. In State v. Hauser, we held that “[a] statement against penal interest carries its own indicia of credibility sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to search.” 115 N.C. App. 431, 438, 445 S.E.2d 73, 79 (1994), aff'd, 342 N.C. 382, 464 S.E.2d 443 (1995); see also State v. Freeman, 31 N.C. App. 335, 229 S.E.2d 238 (1976) (holding that identification of defendant as a perpetrator by a codefendant in the codefendant's confession is sufficient to establish probable cause).
    We conclude that Mr. Carrington's statement along with the other facts found by the trial court are sufficient to support the conclusion that the deputies had probable cause to believe that thedefendant was in possession of the stolen truck. Furthermore, “[a] search without a search warrant may be made incident to a lawful arrest; the scope of the search being limited to the arrestee's person and the area within his immediate control.” State v. Grady, 73 N.C. App. 452, 454, 326 S.E.2d 126, 128 (1985). Consequently, the search of defendant revealing the key to the stolen truck was lawful and the evidence produced therefrom was admissible.
    In his second assignment of error, defendant asserts that the trial court committed reversible error in denying his motion to suppress defendant's statement regarding his place of employment because at the time defendant was questioned he had not been advised of his Miranda rights.
    Under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 479, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 726 (1966), evidence solicited from a defendant during a custodial interrogation may not be used against that defendant at trial unless, prior to such interrogation: (1) the appropriate warnings of the rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present have been given and (2) there is a voluntary and intelligent waiver of those rights. However, our Supreme Court has held that “routine informational questions necessary to complete the booking process that are not 'reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response' from the accused” were free from Miranda proscriptions. State v. Ladd, 308 N.C. 272, 287, 302 S.E.2d 164, 173 (1983) (quoting Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 302, 64 L. Ed. 2d 297, 308 (1980)) (emphasis in original). In addition, “the prior knowledge of the police and the intent of the officer inquestioning the defendant is highly relevant to whether the police should have known a response would be incriminating.” Id.
    In the case sub judice, the deputy asked defendant the name of his employer for the purpose of completing the citation form issued to defendant for the unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. The deputy testified that he did not ask defendant this question for the purpose of eliciting incriminating information and that the question is one of the several routine questions that he must ask every person that he arrests. Therefore, there is no evidence in the record indicating that the question was asked with any intent to elicit an incriminating response.
    Nevertheless, defendant asserts that because the deputy knew that the truck had been stolen in Hickory, he should have reasonably known that asking defendant for his place of employment, could possibly incriminate him by connecting him to the city of Hickory. In support of his argument, defendant cites this Court's opinion in State v. Locklear, 138 N.C. App. 549, 531 S.E.2d 853 (2000). In Locklear, we concluded that the admission of defendant's date of birth which defendant disclosed during the booking process was reversible error because defendant's age was an essential element of the statutory rape offense with which defendant was charged and because there was no other evidence of defendant's age. Defendant's reliance on this case is misguided.
    Here, not only is the evidence of defendant's connection to the town of Hickory not an “essential element” of the offense of knowingly possessing stolen property, neither is it supportive ofany inference that defendant knew that the truck was stolen. Because the response given by defendant regarding his place of employment was not incriminating, the inquiry did not violate defendant's Miranda rights. This assignment of error is overruled.
    No error.
    Judges CALABRIA and JACKSON concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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