Legal Update

January, 6th, 2012


On the morning of 29 April 2009, Sergeant Matt Darisse of the Surry County Sheriff’s Department performed a routine traffic stop of a vehicle in which defendant was a passenger. Sergeant Darisse was observing traffic on Interstate 77 when he noticed a Ford Escort approach a slower moving vehicle, forcing the driver of the Escort to apply the car’s brakes. When the driver engaged the brakes, Sergeant Darisse saw that the right rear brake light failed to illuminate. As a result, Sergeant Darisse decided to stop the Escort. As the Escort rolled to a stop, Sergeant Darisse noticed the right rear brake light “flickered on.” Sergeant Darisse informed the driver, Maynor Javier Vasquez, that he stopped the car “for a nonfunctioning brake light.” After a few moments of conversation Sergeant Darisse informed Vasquez that he would issue a warning citation for the brake light if Vasquez’s drivers license and registration were valid. After learning that his drivers? license and registration checked out, Sergeant Darisse returned Vasquez’s documents and gave him a warning ticket for the brake light. During the stop Sergeant Darisse apparently began to suspect that the Escort might contain contraband. During conversation Vasquez informed Sergeant Darisse that defendant and he were travelling to West Virginia. Defendant, however, offered differing information regarding their ultimate destination. He stated that the duo were headed to Kentucky to pick up a friend. Based in part on this conflicting information, Sergeant Darisse decided to ask Vasquez if he could search the vehicle. Vasquez had no objection, but explained it was defendant’s Escort so Sergeant Darisse should ask defendant. Sergeant Darisse then received defendant’s permission to search the vehicle.

A search of the vehicle revealed, among other things, cocaine. According to Sergeant Darisse, he found “a cellophane wrapper with a white powder residue” in the door panel on the driver?s side and “burnt marijuana seeds in the ashtray.” Sergeant Darisse then searched a blue duffle bag in the “back hatch” area of the Escort. In “one of the side compartments” of the bag, Sergeant Darisse located “a white plastic grocery bag” containing “a sandwich bag wrapped in a paper towel.” He discovered inside “the sandwich bag . . . a white powder[ed] substance . . . [that] appeared to be . . . cocaine.” A field test of the white, powdered substance indicated that it was, in fact, cocaine. Both the driver and defendant were then arrested andcharged with trafficking in cocaine.

CHIEF JUSTICE PARKER, HUDSON, J., dissenting and JUSTICE TIMMONS-GOODSON join in this dissenting opinion. Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by Derrick C. Mertz, Assistant Attorney General, for the State-appellant.
Paul NEWBY, Justice. wrote the majority opinion as follows; In this case we must decide whether there was reasonable suspicion for the stop that led to defendant convictions for attempting to traffic in cocaine by transportation and possession. After reviewing the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that there was an objectively reasonable basis to suspect that illegal activity was taking place. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to that court for additional proceedings.
Mark Martin, Robert Edmonds, Barbara Jackson were in majority ruling.
CHIEF JUSTICE PARKER, HUDSON, J., dissenting and JUSTICE TIMMONS-GOODSON join in this dissenting opinion.

Our opinion on ruling:

Decisions of this nature is where we as law enforcement officers are able to use the lawful resources provided to us by the state statues to protect and serve the citizens of North Carolina. It is imperative that we have system in place that is fair, reasonable and balanced based on the every day duties we as law enforcement officers are tasked with. Ruling such as this lends reasons as to why we must all invest time and energy looking at the voting records of the judicial branch of government. Justices Paul Newby, Mark Martin, Robert Edmonds, Barbara Jackson have earn our respect as well as Attorney General Roy Cooper in their efforts to interpret the law as it is written and intended with the spirit of the law.

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