S.C. Supreme Court overturns Court of Appeals finding a suspect’s behavior gave police officers reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk him.
In State v. Taylor, the South Carolina Supreme Court reviewed whether a suspect’s behavior gave police officers reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk him. In doing so, the Court looked at prior precedents set in Constitutional challenges based on the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure. If you have been the subject of a search and seizure, contact an experienced criminal lawyer at Pisarik Law Firm to discuss your criminal defense. Initial consultations are free so contact Pisarik Law Firm today to see if you have been the subject of an illegal search or seizure.
State v. Taylor, 401 S.C. 104 (2013)
Whether police had probable cause to stop the suspect and perform an investigatory search, and whether the police then had probable cause to search the inside of a tennis ball found during the investigatory search.
On July 25, 2006, around 11:00pm, the police department received an anonymous call about drug activity in an area well-known to law enforcement for its high incidence of crime and drug traffic. The anonymous call indicated that a black male on a bicycle appeared to be selling drugs. When officers responded to the area in question they observed a black male on a bicycle. The officers parked their vehicle and approached the suspect, Syllester Taylor, on foot. Officers then saw Taylor “huddled up” with another male. Suspecting an illegal drug transaction the officers approached Taylor at which time Taylor rode his bicycle towards the officers in an apparent attempt to flee the area. The officers called out to Taylor to stop, but Taylor continued his movement. Officers then conducted a takedown of Respondent and patted him down for weapons. During their pat down they found a tennis ball in Taylor’s pocket. The tennis ball had a slit cut in the top of the ball. The officers opened the ball and found crack cocaine inside the ball.
Taylor was found guilty at trial, but the SC Court of Appeals overturned the conviction siding with Taylor’s criminal lawyer that the police officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Taylor.
The S.C. Supreme Court held that based on the “totality of the circumstances”, the officer’s had reasonable suspicion to stop and search the suspect. Taylor’s criminal lawyer and the South Carolina Court of Appeals believed that Taylor’s actions did not give officer’s reasonable suspicion for a search because each of Taylor’s actions when taken in isolation could not have provided a basis for reasonable suspicion. However, the S.C. Supreme Court found that approach directly “contravenes the principles underlying a totality of the circumstances analysis.” They held that, “Courts may not find a stop unjustified based merely on a piecemeal refutation of each individual fact and inference.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court found the Defendant’s behaviors as observed by the officers were sufficient to establish probable cause. The fact that Taylor tried to evade police when they told him to stop and the officers testimony that based on their experience when people are huddled up in the manner they observed “ninety percent of the time” it indicates the presence of illegal activity were key factors the Court relied on in finding reasonable suspicion. The Court summed up their interpretation of the case by stating that, “the officers suspected illegal activity and established law does not require them to simply shrug their shoulders and allow a crime to occur.
Taylor’s criminal lawyer further argued that the officers did not have probable cause to search the tennis ball they found because, “…there was nothing inherently incriminating about the tennis ball,” and the officers had already determined that no weapons were present. However, the SC Supreme Court did not side with Taylor’s criminal lawyer and instead found that the officers were still trying to determine whether Taylor had weapons on him when they found the tennis ball. When one of the officers went to pick the tennis ball off the ground, he noticed the slit in the ball and the white plastic bag sticking out. The Court found that the tennis ball could have easily contained a razor blade or some other type of weapon. Therefore, the search was valid pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
Contact a criminal lawyer at Pisarik Law Firm to discuss your criminal defense for illegal search and seizures and other criminal matters.
Just because you have been charged with a drug crime or other type of crime does not mean that you are guilty. A criminal lawyer may be able to help you with a criminal defense based upon an illegal search and seizure. If you have been charged with a crime, contact a criminal lawyer at Pisarik Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your criminal defense today. 803-415-2733