No.: COA07-649 12TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT
NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA )
v. ) From Cumberland County
) 06 CRS 56336
TONIA LYNETTE DOCKERY )
TABLE OF CASES AND AUTHORITIES ................ iii
QUESTIONS PRESENTED ............................. 1
STATEMENT OF THE CASE ........................... 2
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS .......................... 3
STATEMENT OF GROUNDS FOR APPELLATE REVIEW ....... 7
ARGUMENT ........................................ 7
I. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR
IN DENYING THE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO
SUPPRESS EVIDENCE BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE
SEIZED WAS A RESULT OF AN ILLEGAL AND
IMPROPER SEARCH AND SEIZURE .............. 7
II. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR
BY ENTERING JUDGMENT WHERE THE ADMISSIBLE
EVIDENCE WAS INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT ENTRY
OF DEFENDANT’S PLEA OF GUILT ............ 16
CONCLUSION .................................... 17
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE ........................ 18
TABLE OF CASES AND AUTHORITIES
Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 61
L.Ed.2d 357 (1979) ......................... 10, 11
Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 99 S.Ct. 1391,
59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979) .......................... 10
In re J.B.L.M., 176 N.C. App. 613, 627 S.E.2d 239
(2006) ..................................... 12, 13
Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S.Ct.
330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977) ..................... 10
State v. Braxton, 90 N.C. App. 204, 368 S.E.2d 56
(1988) ..................................... 13, 14
State v. Cherry, 298 N.C. 86, 257 S.E.2d 551
(1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 941, 100 S.Ct.
2165, 64 L.Ed.2d 796 (1980) ..................... 8
State v. Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 291 S.E.2d 618
(1982) .......................................... 9
State v. Earnhardt, 307 N.C. 62, 296 S.E.2d 652
(1982) ......................................... 16
State v. Fleming, 106 N.C. App. 165, 415 S.E.2d
782 (1992) ............................. 11, 12, 16
State v. McKinney, 288 N.C. 113, 215 S.E.2d 578
(1975) ......................................... 16
State v. Minor, 132 N.C. App. 478, 512 S.E.2d
483(1999) .................................. 13, 14
State v. Phillips, 300 N.C. 678, 268 S.E.2d 452
(1980) .......................................... 8
State v. Phillips, 151 N.C. App. 185, 565 S.E.2d
697 (2002) ...................................... 9
State v. Sutton, 167 N.C. App. 242, 605 S.E.2d
483 (2004) ...................................... 7
State v. Tate, 58 N.C. App. 494, 294 S.E.2d 16,
appeal dismissed, disc. rev.denied, 306 N.C. 750,
295 S.E.2d 763 (1982), aff’d, 307 N.C. 464, 298
S.E.2d 763 (1983) ............................... 8
State v. Thompson, 154 N.C. App. 194, 571 S.E.2d
673 (2002) ...................................... 7
United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 95
S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975) .............. 10
N.C. Gen. Stat. §7A-27(b)(2005) ................. 7
N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-974(2005) ................. 15
N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-977(2005) .................. 8
N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-979(b)(2005) ............... 7
N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-1442(2005) ................. 7
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I. DID THE TRIAL COURT COMMIT REVERSIBLE ERROR IN
DENYING THE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
EVIDENCE WHEN THE EVIDENCE AT ISSUE WAS SEIZED AS
A RESULT OF AN ILLEGAL AND IMPROPER SEARCH AND
II. DID THE TRIAL COURT COMMIT REVERSIBLE ERROR BY
ENTERING JUDGMENT WHERE THE ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE
WAS INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT ENTRY OF DEFENDANT’S
PLEA OF GUILT?
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STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Defendant was charged with felony possession of cocaine and
possession of drug paraphernalia on May 5, 2006. (R.p.2-3) The
Grand Jury issued a true bill of indictment on both counts on
October 23, 2006. (R. p. 4) Defendant, through counsel, filed a
motion to suppress and a supporting affidavit on February 22,
2007. (R. p. 5-9) On February 26 and 27, the motion to suppress
was heard and denied by the trial court in open court. (T.p. 39-
40) No written order denying the motion to suppress was filed by
the trial court. After preserving the right to appeal the
court’s ruling on the motion to suppress, Defendant entered a
transcript of plea on February 27, 2007. (T. 44; R. p. 10-13)
The Court entered judgment sentencing Defendant to a term of
imprisonment of 6 to 8 months, but suspended the sentence for a
period of 24 months. (R. p. 16-19) Appellate counsel for
defendant was appointed on March 6, 2007. (R.p. 22)
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STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
On May 5, 2006, Officer William Watson of the Fayetteville
City Police Department was on duty and saw a burgundy van at
approximately 1:50 a.m. on Amanda Circle. (T.p.20) When Watson
saw the van, he stopped and spoke with the van’s driver, who was
Mr. Charles. (T.p.20, 26) Mr. Charles indicated that he was
looking for a woman named Wanda that he had sexual relations
with sometimes. (T.p.22)
Officer William Watson of the Fayetteville City Police
Department was on duty and responded to a call regarding a
suspicious vehicle in the Coinjock Circle area of Fayetteville
at approximately 8 p.m., near the Amanda Circle area. (T.p. 23)
After receiving the call from the dispatcher, Officer Watson
approached the same burgundy van he had seen before, driven by
Mr. Charles. (T.p.23) The van was parked at a dead-end street
off Coinjock Circle, and Officer Watson recognized Mr. Charles.
(T.p. 26) The defendant was seated in the front passenger seat
of the van and appeared to be inebriated. (T.p.23) Officer
Watson testified as follows during the hearing on the motion to
Q. And, when you approached this vehicle, it
was because there was a call about a suspicious
vehicle, isn’t that correct?
A: [Nodding head in the affirmative.]
Q. Once you saw Mr. Charles and talked with
him, you knew who he was?
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A. [Nodding head in the affirmative.]
Q. And you had no reason to suspect the vehicle
was up to anything at that point, did you - - or
anyone in the vehicle?
A. Yes. I suspected that something was up due
to the fact of why would it be parked at a dead-end
street. I mean, could I tell you what crime was
occurring, no; whether they were breaking into a house
or engaged in prostitution, engaged in narcotic
activity,. That was why I was there to investigate.
Q. You had no idea of - - you didn’t have
anything in mind as to any criminal activity that
might have been taking place?
A. I thought maybe prostitution could have been
Q. He never told you earlier that he was paying
anybody for sex, did he?
A. Right, he didn’t.
. . .
Q. And you didn’t see any drugs when you were
looking in the window, talking with them?
. . .
Q. And you didn’t charge Mr. Charles with any
crime, did you?
A. No ma’am, I didn’t.
Q. In fact, you barely addressed Mr. Charles at
all during this stop, did you?
A. I addressed him when I made contact with the
vehicle, asked him what he was doing there.
(T.p. 26-27, 29) During further cross-examination at the motion
to suppress hearing, Officer Watson testified as follows:
Q. Was there anything else that came across in
the CAD report that directed your attention to that
A. The caller had said that she was suspicious
that the van could have been involved in a breaking at
her house prior, earlier.
THE COURT: I’m sorry. Would you repeat that?
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A. Whoever called in stated that they were
suspicious about the vehicle, where it was parked, due
to their house had been broke in prior, and she
believed that - - or, he believed it was - - was
. . .
Q. Did she say that it had been broken into or
there was - - she thought there was an attempted
breaking and entering earlier in the day?
A. I believe it said a B&E at her residence.
Q. Was an attempted B&E of her residence?
Q. So, did you ask Mr. Charles any questions
A. No, ma’am.
Q. He’s the one that was driving the van,
A. [No response.]
Q. He’s the one that was in the driver’s seat
in the van, correct?
A. Yes, he was in the driver’s seat.
Q. You didn’t ask him any further questions to
investigate whether or not he was part of an attempted
breaking and entering earlier that day?
A. He appeared to be truthful the first time I
stopped him and this time I stopped him.
When Officer Watson approached the vehicle, he asked for
the defendant’s name and date of birth, but she was unable to
give the officer her information and gave several different
answers regarding her name and date of birth. (T.p.23). Officer
Watson asked the defendant to step out of the van and when she
did so, a pipe fell out with a residue in it. (T.p.24) After a
further search, Officer Watson found cocaine in defendant’s
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Based upon Officer Watson’s testimony, the trial court made
the following findings:
I will find that, under the facts of this case, that
Officer Watson did possess a reasonable and
articulable suspicion sufficient to justify an
investigatory stop of the vehicle driven by Michael
Scott Charles at about – or, the vehicle in which he
was parked at about 7:55 on May 5, 2006; and that that
suspicion was based, in large part, upon the fact that
the officer had stopped this very same vehicle at 1:50
a.m. that same day on a nearby street, specifically
Amanda Circle, in an area known for drug activity and
prostitution; and, that the driver at that time had
said that he was looking for a woman named Wanda, with
whom he wanted to have sex.
Having made the investigatory stop of the vehicle, I
will find that he certainly was within his right to
ask the passenger to get out of the vehicle; that he
did have probable cause to charge her with the
possession of the crack pipe.
. . .
And that he certainly had the right to not only frisk
her person, but to search her incident to the arrest;
and, that, upon finding the crack cocaine upon her - -
or, what he believed to be crack cocaine on her
person, he certainly had the right to – or, he had
probable cause to charge her with that offense; and
accordingly, I will deny the defendant’s motion to
(T. 39-40) From the trial court’s order to deny the motion to
suppress, and the sentencing order, the defendant appeals.
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STATEMENT OF GROUNDS FOR APPELLATE REVIEW
This appeal is taken from a final Judgment of the Superior
Court, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7A-27(b), 15A-979(b), and
I. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN
DENYING THE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
EVIDENCE BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE SEIZED WAS A RESULT
OF AN ILLEGAL SEARCH AND SEIZURE.
(Assignment of Error No. 1, R.p. 5-9, 16-20, T.p. 37-41)
The standard of review on a trial court’s ruling upon a
motion to suppress evidence has been described as follows:
Review of a trial court’s denial of a motion to
suppress is limited to a determination of whether the
trial court’s findings of fact are supported by
competent evidence and whether those findings support
the trial court’s ultimate conclusions of law.
State v. Sutton, 167 N.C. App. 242, 244, 605 S.E.2d 483, 484
(2004)(quoting State v. Thompson, 154 N.C. App. 194, 196, 571
S.E.2d 673, 675 (2002)). This standard of review applies to the
entirety of Argument I below.
Here, the trial court made no written findings of fact or
written order related to the motion to suppress, so we must
analyze the court’s findings within the transcript of the
hearing. N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-977(d) through (f) indicates:
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(d) If the motion [to suppress] is not determined
summarily, the judge must make the determination after
a hearing and finding of facts. Testimony at the
hearing must be under oath.
(e) A motion to suppress made during trial may be made
in writing or orally and may be determined in the same
manner as when made before trial. The hearing, if
held, must be out of the presence of the jury.
(f) The judge must set forth in the record his
findings of facts and conclusions of law.
N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-977(d)-(f)(2005). “It is well settled
that, while it is the better practice to make findings of fact,
a trial court is not required to make any findings when there is
no material conflict in the evidence before them.” State v.
Phillips, 300 N.C. 678, 685, 268 S.E.2d 452, 457 (1980). This
exception is most often used when a defendant does not present
any evidence at a suppression hearing, on the theory that the
findings of fact can be inferred from the admission of
testimony. See State v. Tate, 58 N.C. App. 494, 499, 294 S.E.2d
16, 19, appeal dismissed, disc. rev. denied, 306 N.C. 750, 295
S.E.2d 763 (1982), aff’d, 307 N.C. 464, 298 S.E.2d 763 (1983).
“Unreasonable searches and seizures are prohibited by the
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and all
evidence seized in violation of the Constitution is inadmissible
in a State court as a matter of constitutional law.” State v.
Cherry, 298 N.C. 86, 92, 257 S.E.2d 551, 555 (1979), cert.
denied, 446 U.S. 941, 100 S.Ct. 2165, 64 L.Ed.2d 796 (1980).
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“Seizure of private property unaccompanied by a prior judicial
approval in the form of a warrant is per se unreasonable unless
the search falls within a well-delineated exception to the
warrant requirement involving exigent circumstances.” State v.
Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 135, 291 S.E.2d 618, 620 (1982). “When a
defendant in a criminal prosecution makes a motion to suppress
evidence obtained by means of a warrantless search, the State
has the burden of showing, at the suppression hearing, ‘how the
[warrantless search] was exempted from the general
constitutional demand for a warrant.’” State v. Phillips, 151
N.C. App. 185, 188, 565 S.E.2d 697, 701 (2002)(quoting State v.
Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 135, 291 S.E.2d 618, 620 (1982)).
Here, during the motion to suppress hearing, the State
presented several different theories supporting the warrantless
search. Officer Watson testified that he was dispatched to
investigate a vehicle involved in an attempted breaking and
entering, but he suspected use of illegal narcotics or
prostitution. (T.p. 26) Officer Watson further testified that
the area was a high crime area. (T.p.20) The trial court
expressly found that the justification for the officer’s
approach and investigation of the vehicle was that the driver
earlier stated that he wanted to have relations with a woman
named Wanda in an area known for prostitution and drugs.
(T.p.39) Thus, the justification for the investigation offered
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by the trial court in its findings of fact do not match the
justification offered by the officer during his testimony.
Thus, the findings of fact made by the trial court are not
supported by the evidence presented.
In Brown v. Texas, the United States Supreme Court examined
the legality of a detention of a suspect who refused to give his
name to police. Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 61
L.Ed.2d 357 (1979). In Brown, the Court stated that “[w]hen the
officers detained appellant for the purpose of requiring him to
identify himself, they performed a seizure of his person subject
to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 50, 99
S.Ct. at 2640, 61 L.Ed.2d at 361. The Court went on to analyze
the reasonableness of the seizure which it said “depend[ed] on a
balance between the public interest and the individual’s right
to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law
officers.” Id. (quoting Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 109
(1977); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878
(1975)). According to the Brown court, “a seizure must be based
on specific, objective facts indicating that society’s
legitimate interests require the seizure of the particular
individual, or that the seizure must be carried out pursuant to
a plan embodying explicit, neutral limitations on the conduct of
individual officers.” Id. at 50-51, 99 S.Ct. at 2640, 61
L.Ed.2d at 362 (citing Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979)).
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According to the facts as recited in Brown, the defendant was
detained by police after he was observed walking away from
another individual in a high crime area and asked for
identification. The Supreme Court held that the stop for the
purpose of asking for identification, when there was no
reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged in criminal
conduct, violated the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.
Brown, 443 U.S. at 53, 99 S.Ct. at 2641, 61 L.Ed.2d at 363.
In a similar case from our state, State v. Fleming, a
seizure was determined to be unreasonable and invalid according
to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. 106 N.C. App. 165,
415 S.E.2d 782 (1992). In Fleming, the defendant was observed
in a high crime area at midnight with another male companion.
The defendant and his companion were not familiar to the
officers. After seeing the officers, defendant and another man
watched the officers for a few minutes, then began to walk away
from the officers before being detained. The trial court found
that the defendant’s presence in a high crime area at midnight
gave the officers articulable grounds to suspect the defendant
was engaged in criminal conduct, and denied defendant’s motion
to suppress. Fleming, 106 N.C. App. at 168, 415 S.E.2d at 784.
After citing the Brown opinion by the United States Supreme
Court, this Court found that the defendant’s actions in Fleming
“were not sufficient to create a reasonable suspicion that
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defendant was involved in criminal conduct, it being neither
unusual nor suspicious that they chose to walk in a direction
which led way from the group of officers.” Fleming, 106 N.C.
App. at 170-71, 415 S.E.2d at 785.
The Court went on to state that the officer “had only a
generalized suspicion that the defendant was engaged in criminal
activity, based upon the time, place, and the officer’s
knowledge that defendant was unfamiliar to the area.” Fleming,
106 N.C. App. at 171, 415 S.E.2d at 785. This Court held that
these facts were not sufficient to support the trial court’s
conclusion that the officer had “a reasonable articulable
suspicion that defendant was engaged in criminal activity.” Id.
at 171, 415 S.E.2d at 786. As a result, the Court held the
motion to suppress should have been granted and vacated the
defendant’s convictions. “We are cognizant that there is a
significant public interest in eradicating the sale and use of
illegal drugs in our society, but we also recognize that, in
order to protect our individual liberties, the Fourth Amendment
forbids every search that is unreasonable.” Fleming, 106 N.C.
App. at 171, 415 S.E.2d at 786.
In a recent decision by this Court, a police officer
received a report that a suspicious person, a Hispanic male, was
in a gas station parking lot. In re: J.B.L.M., 176 N.C. App.
613, 627 S.E.2d 239 (2006). After that report, the officer
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found the juvenile defendant, a Hispanic male, walking through
the parking lot. The dispatcher did not indicate the male was
performing any illegal act, and the officer did not observe the
defendant committing any illegal act. 176 N.C. App. at 618, 627
S.E.2d at 243. Nonetheless, the trial court found the officer
had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that some criminal
activity may have taken place, and detention was justified.
This Court reversed the trial court, saying that the officer had
only a generalized suspicion the defendant was engaged in
criminal activity, citing State v. Fleming. Id. at 622, 627
S.E.2d at 245.
Similarly, in the case of State v. Minor. 132 N.C. App.
478, 512 S.E.2d 483 (1999), officers stopped a vehicle due to a
problem with its license tag, which was a temporary tag. Minor
was a passenger in the vehicle and officers forced him to get
out of the vehicle when he moved his hand towards the console of
the car and rubbed his thigh. The trial court denied
defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence found in the vehicle
after a subsequent search. However, this Court reversed,
indicating that “gestures which are not clearly furtive are
insufficient to establish probable cause for a warrantless
search unless the officer has other specific knowledge relating
to evidence of crime.” State v. Minor, 132 N.C. App. at 481-82,
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512 S.E.2d at 485 (quoting State v. Braxton, 90 N.C. App. 204,
207, 368 S.E.2d 56, 58 (1988)).
Similarly, regardless of Officer Watson’s justification in
approaching the burgundy van, he had no reason to remove
defendant from the vehicle. Defendant made no furtive gestures;
the officer never testified that he was in fear that either
person in the van had a weapon. He testified that defendant
appeared inebriated and could not or would not answer his
questions. However, being an inebriated passenger in a parked
vehicle is not a crime. Merely requesting defendant’s name when
the officer had no reasonable or articulable idea of her
involvement or lack thereof in a crime did not create a right
for the officer to remove the passenger from the van. The
officer gave no testimony that he smelled smoke, or observed
drug paraphernalia or illegal drugs in plain sight when he
approached the van. An inebriated person’s inability to answer
questions, even simple questions, does not create a crime or
create evidence of a crime’s commission.
Here, Officer Watson had only a generalized suspicion that
the individuals occupying the burgundy van were engaged in some
illegal activity. He stated three different reasons for
approaching the van, only one of which was cited in the CAD
report – the call regarding the alleged attempted breaking and
entering. He knew one of the people in the van, having met him
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earlier in the day. The officer made no attempt or request to
search the van for burglary tools or stolen goods. The officer
did not question the driver of the van because he appeared to be
truthful. The trial court made findings that were only
generally referenced by the officer during his testimony as one
of three possible reasons that he might have cause to approach
and investigate the van, which did not correspond to the reason
for the initial approach listed in the officer’s CAD report.
All of the trial court’s remaining findings of fact and
conclusions of law resulted from its finding that the officer
had a reasonable articulable suspicion that defendant was
engaged in criminal activity when he approached the vehicle, and
therefore must fail.
For these reasons, the officer’s generalized suspicion,
along with the trial court’s findings of fact, do not support
the conclusion that the seizure of defendant and the resulting
search comports with the law of the Fourth Amendment to the
United States Constitution, or the law of the State of North
Carolina. Accordingly, the evidence seized as a result of this
illegal and improper search and seizure should have been
suppressed by the trial court. N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-974(2005).
Since all of the evidence presented to the trial court stemmed
from this illegal and improper search and seizure, the
defendant’s convictions should be vacated, as in Fleming.
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II. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY
ENTERING JUDGMENT WHERE THE ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE WAS
INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT ENTRY OF DEFENDANT’S PLEA OF
(Assignment of Error No. 2, R.p. 16-20, T.p. 42-44)
The standard of review on a trial court’s ruling upon the
insufficiency of the evidence is de novo, as this is a question
of the legal sufficiency of the evidence presented, similar to
that in a motion to dismiss:
In ruling on a motion to dismiss the trial court is to
consider the evidence in the light most favorable to
the State. In so doing, the State is entitled to every
reasonable intendment and every reasonable inference
to be drawn from the evidence; contradictions and
discrepancies do not warrant dismissal of the case –
they are for the jury to resolve. The court is to
consider all of the evidence actually admitted,
whether competent or incompetent, which is favorable
to the State. Review of a trial court’s the trial
court’s ultimate conclusions of law.
State v. Earnhardt, 307 N.C. 62, 67, 296 S.E.2d 652-52
(1982)(citing State v. McKinney, 288 N.C. 113, 117, 215 S.E.2d
578, 581-82(1975)). For the reasons stated in argument I above,
the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to
suppress the evidence because that evidence was seized as a
result of an illegal search and seizure. Had this evidence
properly been suppressed, there was insufficient remaining
evidence to support entry of the defendant’s plea of guilt. See
State v. Fleming, 106 N.C. App. 165, 415 S.E.2d 782 (1992). Due
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to the trial court’s erroneous denial of defendant’s motion to
suppress, defendant’s convictions should be reversed.
For the reasons stated above, defendant respectfully
requests that the Court of Appeals reverse the judgment of the
trial court and vacate the defendant’s convictions on both
Respectfully submitted, this the ___ day of July, 2007.
Christy E. Wilhelm
State Bar No. 28868
Attorney for Defendant-Appellant
Tonia Lynette Dockery
Hartsell & Williams, P.A.
Post Office Box 368
Concord, North Carolina 28026-0368
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CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
The undersigned hereby certifies that a true and correct
copy of the foregoing DEFENDANT-APPELLANT’S BRIEF has been
served upon the following by enclosing a true copy thereof in an
envelope, postage prepaid, and depositing same in the United
States mail, properly addressed as follows:
Mr. Joseph E. Herrin
Special Deputy Attorney General
Department of Transportation
Attorney General’s Office
1505 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1505
This the ___ day of July, 2007.
Christy E. Wilhelm
Attorney for Defendent-Appellant
Tonia Lynette Dockery
HARTSELL & WILLIAMS, P.A.
71 McCachern Boulevard
Post Office Box 368
Concord, NC 28026-0368