August 2008 NC Supreme Court Criminal Decisions
State v. Styles, No. 442A07 (Aug. 27, 2008): Background. Defendant was pulled over for changing lanes without signalling. The officer smelled marijuana, employed a drug sniffing dog. Upon alert by the dog, he searched and seized drugs, for which the Defendant was charged and convicted. The central issue of the appeal is whether the stop was valid under the 4th Amendment and, if not, should the drugs seized be excluded as fruit of an invalid stop. Holding. Traffic stops are not full arrests and do not require probable cause. All that is necessary is the lesser Terry standard for detention of "reasonable suspicion" (despite dicta in Whren suggesting otherwise). Because a statute forbids lane-changes without signaling where it will affect another care and the patrol car was behind the Defendant, there was reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop. Dissent. Justice Brady entered an interesting and in-depth dissent challenging the reasonable suspicion standard utilized by the Court. Full opinion here.
State v. Murrell, No. 484A06 (Aug. 27, 2008): Death penalty decision on a variety of issues, primarily statements by the prosecutor or specific jury instructions. All Defendant's claims were denied. Full opinion here.