Oct. 5-HIGH POINT - Guilford County Sheriff's Office investigators did not need to get a warrant before searching a High Point man's SUV because a detective smelled through an open window of the SUV what he thought was heroin and then saw what looked like heroin, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
An attorney for Kyle Earl Parker, 37, had tried to get the heroin thrown out of court before trial in 2020, but after a judge refused, Parker pleaded guilty in January 2021 to two counts of attempting to traffic by possession of 28 or more grams of heroin, and one count each of possession of a firearm by a felon, conspiracy to possess heroin, and malicious conduct by a prisoner. The terms of his plea allowed him to file an appeal.
According to the account in the appeals court's opinion, the sheriff's office was investigating Parker and others in May 2019 who were suspected of selling heroin, and a confidential informant arranged to meet a woman involved at a hotel to get a sample of the drugs. The woman and the informant then got into a black 2019 Chevrolet Tahoe registered to Parker.
The informant later arranged to buy 2 kilograms of heroin, and when the delivery was supposed to be made, a detective saw Parker and the black Tahoe arrive nearby.
Officers moved in to detain Parker, and the detective walked around the Tahoe. Through an open window he smelled vinegar, which is what heroin smells like, and looked inside to see an open cereal box on a front seat containing what appeared to be a package of heroin.
In a search of the Tahoe, investigators found a little more than 2 kilograms of heroin, a loaded gun, cellphones and paperwork with Parker's name on it, according to the appellate court's account.
Parker's attorney argued in the trial court and in the appeal that the search was illegal because investigators did not have a warrant, but the trial court ruled - and the appellate court agreed - that because the Tahoe was in a public area, the vinegar smell and sighting of what appeared to the detective to be heroin were adequate probable cause for the search.
The decision upholds Parker's sentence of 10 to 14 years in prison.