On December 18, 2012, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued its written opinion in the matter of State vs Nathaniel Canty. The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the lower court conviction against Canty for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and unlawfully carrying a concealed handgun.
On April 15, 2011, Sampson County Sheriff’s Office Corporals Bass and Pope were stationed along Interstate-40 in Sampson County, North Carolina. Bass testified that he saw a green minivan slow down from approximately 73 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour. Both Pope and Bass’ official reports stated that the vehicle in question was going 65 miles per hour before it slowed down. The speed limit on that portion of Interstate 40 is 70 miles per hour. Corporal Pope testified that his attention was drawn to the vehicle because he noted that “it slowed down even though it was not exceeding the posted speed limit.” Corporal Pope went on to describe this reduction in speed as “dramatic” since the front of the vehicle dipped from the reduction in speed. Both Bass and Pope went on to testify that the two occupants of the vehicle stared straight ahead and “appeared nervous.” These observations apparently took place on the roadway. Corporal Bass then pulled the patrol car from its location and began to follow the minivan. Bass testified that they pulled alongside the minivan and that “the occupants would not make eye contact.” At this point the minivan’s speed is around 59 miles per hour. After following the vehicle some more Corporal Bass switched on the patrol car’s lights after he observed the minivan “completely cross the fog line.” Consequently, based on the reduction in speed and crossing of the fog line, Bass initiated a traffic stop for “unsafe movement” on the part of the minivan. The defendant Canty was a passenger. The driver was written a warning for “unsafe movement.” While the driver was getting the warning ticket, Corporal Pope talked with the defendant Canty. Pope testified that he asked the defendant about his travel plans and his destination; and that Pope became suspicious based upon Canty’s lack of eye contact, evasive answers and “nervous demeanor.” Pope also testified that he could see a strong pulse in the defendant’s stomach and neck. There was no odor of marijuana or alcohol in the vehicle or on the defendant. After writing the warning ticket, Corporal Bass told the driver to “have a nice day.” Subsequently, Corporal Pope asked the driver for permission to search the vehicle. The driver consented to the search of the vehicle which revealed a revolver and a rifle in a suitcase. Upon finding the weapons, Corporal Bass handcuffed the driver and the defendant. After some questioning, Corporal Bass placed the defendant under arrest for carrying a concealed weapon unlawfully and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The defendant was convicted in a jury trial of the two charges referenced above. The defendant argues that the trial court committed plain error in admitting evidence that resulted from the traffic stop. Additionally, the defendant alleged that his attorney made a mistake in not filing and arguing a “motion to suppress the evidence” that resulted from the unconstitutional traffic stop.