This morning, Patterson Harkavy attorney Narendra Ghosh appeared before the Supreme Court of North Carolina on behalf of his client Kenneth Leak. Narendra argued that Mr. Leak’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon was obtained in a manner that violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Mr. Leak had been approached by a police officer while lawfully parked on the side of a road. The officer confirmed that Mr. Leak was not in distress and confirmed that he had a valid driver’s license. Although he did not suspect Mr. Leak of engaging in any criminal conduct, the officer then took Mr. Leak’s license to his patrol car. After running a check on the license he discovered that there was an outstanding warrant for Mr. Leak’s arrest from 2007. When he then asked Mr. Leak to step out of the car, Mr. Leak informed him that he had a .22 pistol in his pocket. Mr. Leak was subsequently convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon and the related misdemeanor of carrying a concealed weapon.
Narendra represented Mr. Leak on appeal. Hea argued that the officer violated Mr. Leak ‘s Fourth Amendment rights when he took Mr. Leak’s license to the patrol car. The Court of Appeals agreed. Because “a reasonable person would not feel free to drive away while a law enforcement officer retains possession of his driver’s license,” the court found that that the officer “seized” Mr. Leak when he took his license. Because the officer lacked any reasonable basis for suspecting that Mr. Leak was engaged in criminal activity when he did so, the court found that the seizure was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. The Court then ordered that Mr. Leak’s conviction be vacated since all evidence of criminal misconduct was obtained as a result of that unconstitutional seizure.
One judge dissented from the Court of Appeals ruling, and the State appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Click here to view Narendra’s Supreme Court brief.