Attorneys Christopher Clifton and Greer Taylor Strike Major Victory in N.C. Court of Appeals

Attorneys Christopher Clifton and Greer Taylor have successfully helped their client win in the North Carolina Court of Appeals on April 2, 2019.

Our client was originally convicted of possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine, possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a stolen firearm, and obtaining habitual felon status. Following the appellate court’s review of the trial court record and the applicable law, and attorneys Clifton and Taylor’s oral arguments before the three-judge panel, the panel unanimously reversed the lower court’s order to deny the motion to suppress evidence collected in a traffic stop and subsequently vacated the convictions against the defendant.

The Case

In November 2016, two police officers from the Graham Police Department in Alamance County received an anonymous tip in the evening about a “suspicious white male” with a “gold or silver vehicle” walking around in a parking lot of a closed business.

Upon arriving at the scene, there was no one in the area, besides a silver Nissan Altima, driven by our client. Thinking our client’s behavior as a “little odd,” law enforcement followed him. Even though our client wasn’t driving poorly and didn’t commit any traffic violations, crimes, or make any furtive movements, the police pulled him over to initiate a traffic stop and subsequently arrested him after discovering drugs and a stolen gun in the vehicle.

After being indicted in July 2017, trial counsel filed a motion to suppress evidence collected at the traffic stop. When the hearing was held in March 2018, one of the officers was the only testifying witness.

The trial court ruled that the officer had formed a reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop and denied the motion. Following the denial of his motion to suppress, our client reserved his right to appeal and pled guilty to all charges.

The Appellate Court Ruling

When our client pled guilty, he had the right to appeal the trial court’s decision to deny the motion to suppress evidence, rather than the final judgment of the case. Although N.C. Court of Appeals is aware of the evidence against our client, as a reviewing court it is required to only determine if law enforcement had reasonable suspicion to make the underlying traffic stop.

Following submission of briefs on the relevant findings of fact and applicable law, our client was awarded an oral argument before a three-judge panel. Oral arguments before the Court of Appeals are rare, typically signifying an issue that the Court feels is of utmost importance.

After hearing the oral arguments presented by Ms. Taylor and Mr. Clifton, the Court of Appeals determined that the police conducted a traffic stop based on a hunch, since our client didn’t commit any traffic violations, criminal offenses, or make any furtive moments while driving his vehicle. Justification for conducting a traffic stop based on an unparticularized suspicion, or hunch, violates a person’s Constitutionally-protected rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Regarding the anonymous tip, the caller didn’t describe any criminal activity and failed to identify the defendant as a potential criminal perpetrator. Due to the lack of specificity and the police’s inability to corroborate any information allegedly conveyed by the tip, reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify a stop was not established. Likewise, after applying established case law to the facts of this case, the Court of Appeals determined that the location where the defendant was not a high-crime area, which cut against the State’s argument that the officer’s stop was based on a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot due to unrelated, past crime in the area.

Ms. Taylor and Mr. Clifton argued that, even if considered under a “totality of the circumstances” analysis, the facts and applicable case law did not establish that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop the defendant. The Court of Appeals agreed, and the three-judge panel unanimously reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress and vacated the defendant’s convictions.

How Our Winston-Salem Legal Team Can Help

On behalf of Grace, Tisdale & Clifton P.A., we would like to congratulate Attorneys Clifton and Taylor for not only helping our client get his conviction vacated, but also protecting the U.S. Constitution. He has extensive experience as a prosecutor and has the comprehensive knowledge of federal appeals, including handling cases in all N.C. appellate courts and even the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you have been charged or convicted of a crime in North Carolina, call (336) 515-6552 to discuss your case with our Winston-Salem criminal defense lawyers at Grace, Tisdale & Clifton P.A. today.