Defendant failed to demonstrate that the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop of his vehicle.
Defendant argued the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress evidence because the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle, in violation of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Defendant specifically contended the officer did not witness a traffic violation, and his claims of smelling unburnt marijuana emanating from defendant’s vehicle were “inherently incredible.” Because the trial court’s findings were supported by competent evidence, we hold the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress.
Officer Galluppi was traveling in his patrol car when he noticed defendant’s car traveling in front of him. According to Officer Galluppi, he could “very strongly” smell the odor of marijuana emanating from defendant’s vehicle. Officer Galluppi eventually pulled defendant over solely because of the unburned marijuana smell. Upon getting closer to defendant’s car, Officer Galluppi continued to detect the odor of marijuana and testified that, at that point, the odor was “even stronger.” After a discussion of the ownership of the car, Officer Galluppi asked defendant to step out of the car. Once defendant was out of the car, Officer Galluppi noticed a small plastic bag of white powder “at [Defendant’s] feet” and an open bottle of alcohol in the backseat. Officer Galluppi then patted defendant down and handcuffed him for safety while Officer Galluppi waited for backup to arrive.
Officer Galluppi arrested defendant for trafficking in cocaine; possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine; felony possession of cocaine; possession with intent to sell or deliver heroin; possession with intent to sell or deliver MDMA; possession of MDMA; and misdemeanor possession of more than one-half ounce, but less than one and one-half ounces of marijuana. The marijuana Officer Galluppi found in the car was in the center console, wrapped in twelve separate plastic bags. A grand jury returned true bills of indictment against defendant on the following charges: trafficking in cocaine by possession of 28 grams or more but less than 200 grams of cocaine; trafficking in cocaine by transportation of 28 grams or more, but less than 200 grams of cocaine; felony possession of a Schedule II controlled substance; possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine; possession with intent to sell or deliver heroin; possession with intent to sell or deliver MDMA; felony possession of MDMA; and misdemeanor possession of greater than one-half ounce, but less than one and one-half ounces of marijuana.
Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search, arguing law enforcement violated his Constitutional right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution. Following a hearing, the trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress.
Defendant’s sole argument on appeal is that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the traffic stop. Defendant specifically contended the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop, as his claim of smelling unburned marijuana emanating from defendant’s vehicle was “inherently incredible.” We disagree.
Officer Galluppi testified he smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from Defendant’s vehicle “very strongly[,]” and the marijuana at issue here was unburned, wrapped in plastic, and located in the center console of defendant’s car. Thus, Officer Galluppi’s claim that he smelled unburned marijuana, for the purpose of satisfying the reasonable suspicion standard—a “less demanding standard” than that for probable cause—was not inherently incredible, and his testimony was competent evidence to support the trial court’s findings of fact. As Officer Galluppi’s smelling of unburned marijuana was not inherently incredible, we defer to the trial court’s assessment of Officer Galluppi’s testimonial credibility, which supported the factual finding that he smelled the marijuana “very strongly.” This finding, in turn, supported the trial court’s conclusion that Officer Galluppi had proper reasonable suspicion—a “minimal level of justification”—to justify the traffic stop. We therefore conclude the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress.
No reversible error.
State of North Carolina v. Jacobs (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-176-23, 11 pp.) (Julee Tate Flood, J.) Appealed from New Hanover County Superior Court (R. Kent Harrell, J.) Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Lewis Lamar, Jr., for the State; Richard Croutharmel, for defendant-appellant. North Carolina Court of Appeals