The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned a drug conviction this week where it was determined the initial arrest and search were a violation of the defendant’s rights. Maurice Donnell White pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine in 2010 for the offense that took place in 2008.
White was hanging out with some friends on a street corner in Southern Pines when two officers in an unmarked car came in the area to respond to a noise complaint. There wasn’t any indication that the noise was coming from White and his associates, however.
The officers parked their car behind a trash bin, about 35 feet from the group, and approached the men. White ran away when the officers began walking towards them. They chased him and caught up when he tripped and fell.
A search revealed White had a bag of cocaine. He was initially charged with two different drug offenses and resisting a police officer. As part of his plea agreement, one of the drug charges was dropped and the grand jury did not issue an indictment for resisting.
While two Superior Court judges sided with the state, White’s attorney was able to successfully argue his case before the Court of Appeals three-judge panel where the conviction was overturned.
The Appeals Court Judge said that there was no way for White to know that the men approaching him were police, that they wanted to speak with him, or even that they were there, as they hid their car and approached in the dark.
While the police can stop someone when there is probable cause, the court determined there was no cause here. Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr. wrote “To conclude the officers were justified in effectuating an investigatory stop, on these facts, would render any person who is unfortunate enough to live in a high-crime area subject to an investigator stop merely for the act of running.”
This is a notable case, not because it’s ruling is far reaching or even because the case is well known or particularly dramatic, but because cases just like this one happen quite often and they never see the light of day, let alone a legally sound ruling by an appeals court.
Being stopped by police for no other reason than how you look and where you are at the moment is not an unheard of situation, though the vast majority of people are hesitant to accept this fact or attribute any causes to it.
When you are confronted by the police and subsequently charged with a crime, it helps to know you have someone on your side that is sympathetic to your cause. Contact our offices today to speak with a criminal defense attorney about the facts of your case.