Case: STATE of North Carolina v. Paul Dennis McCLENDON, Jr. (1999)
Facts: Paul McClendon was driving a station wagon on Interstate 85 in Greensboro. He was closely following a minivan, with both exceeding the speed limit by 7mph. A patrolling officer Sergeant T.L. Cardwell approached the vehicles, making eye contact with the drivers, and the station wagon slowed down. Still, the minivan did not, so Cardwell radioed Trooper Lisenby for assistance, and both vehicles were stopped. Both drivers denied a connection to each other, although officers believed one was a potential decoy vehicle. Upon questioning and consented search of the minivan, the driver was released on citation. Meanwhile, McClendon faced questions. He could not provide the vehicle registration and could not name the owner of the title, even though he claimed it belonged to his girlfriend and had the same address as his driver’s license. McClendon also appeared highly nervous, demonstrating signs of panic and avoiding eye contact, and he declined the search of his vehicle. At this point, the officers having suspicions of criminal activity contacted a canine unit, which quickly identified the presence of marijuana hidden in the back compartment of the car. The defendant was lawfully detained.
McClendon was indicted on trafficking in marijuana, trafficking by possession of more than 50 lbs and less than 100 lbs, and conspiracy to traffic by possession and transportation. The defendant attempted to suppress evidence found as a result of the search of the vehicle, but it was denied by the court. The defendant agreed to a plea bargain of 25-35 months in prison and $15,000 fine. The case was appealed, with the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s decision with one judge dissenting. The case was then taken to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Issue: The legal question, in this case, is whether the traffic officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle. Furthermore, if the defendant’s rights were violated with unlawful search and seizure in the context that McClendon was held, and his vehicle subsequently searched. The defendant claims protection under Article I, Section 20 of the North Carolina Constitution, which states, “All power of suspending laws or the execution of laws by any authority, without the consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights and shall not be exercised.” This typically provides greater rights than the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, meaning the rule of Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996) would not be applied.
Holding: The NC Supreme Court agrees with the Federal Supreme Court in the Whren decision and argues it applies to the state Constitution. It recognizes that police action in relation to the probable cause should be judged in objective terms, not subjective, to meet the standards required. Given the objective evidence of all actions in this case, the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated and the motion to suppress evidence is denied. Vote count is unavailable, presumably anonymous.
Majority Opinion Reasoning
- Under N.C.G.S. § 20-141 and N.C.G.S. § 20-152 of the state’s traffic law, the officers have probable cause to stop the vehicles.
- Article I, Section 20 of the North Carolina Constitution, in order to further detain a person after lawfully stopping him, an officer must have reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulable facts, that criminal activity is afoot.
- State v. Butler, 331 N.C. 227, 415 S.E.2d 719 (1992) – extreme nervousness can be considered a factor to form reasonable suspicion.
- Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996) is applicable to the North Carolina Constitution
Under the NC traffic law, the vehicles were stopped with probable cause. Given the totality of circumstances, the defendant’s rights were not violated under Article 1 Section 20 or the Whren decision. The defendant could not provide registration and clearly demonstrated a lack of consistency during questioning, which is legal during any routine traffic stop. There was reasonable suspicion of illegal activity, which was supported by extreme nervousness and avoidance of the defendant (justifiable by Butler). The defendant was not held for an unreasonable time due to the rapid arrival of the canine unit, which confirmed suspicions from the outside of the vehicle. Therefore, there was no unlawful search and seizure. The court win is awarded to the state.
Concurring Opinion(s) Reasoning
No separate concurring opinions were presented.
Dissenting Opinion(s) Reasoning
No dissenting opinions were presented.