The South Carolina Constitution protects the citizens of Greenville and South Carolina in general from unreasonable searches and seizures and unreasonable invasions of privacy by the government. See S.C. Const. Art. I, § 10. Similar protections are found in the the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. The practical effect of these constitutional provisions is that law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant from a judge in order to conduct a search.
However, experienced criminal defense attorneys know that there are seven well-established exceptions to the warrant requirement. These are:
- search incident to a lawful arrest
- hot pursuit
- stop and frisk
- automobile exception
- the plain view doctrine
See State v. Brown, 401 S.C. 82 (S.Car. Sup. Court 2012). Even though these are exceptions to the need for a warrant, each exception has a set of rules and the police must abide by those rules. Here is some information with respect to the first exception: search incident to a lawful arrest.
Greenville Gun Seizures: Legal Principles — Arizona v. Gant
The current rules with respect to a search incident to a lawful arrest were set out by the US Supreme Court in the case of Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009). Under Gant, officers may search a vehicle incident to the occupant’s arrest only if (1) the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment when the search is conducted or (2) it is reasonable for the officers to believe the vehicle contains evidence related to crime for which the accused is being/has been arrested. The first Gant prong is intended to prevent arrestees from reaching into the car to obtain a firearm or other weapon and/or to destroy evidence. The second prong is intended to allow the preservation of evidence that might otherwise be destroyed if not seized at the time of arrest.
Note that the reasonable belief must be based on the charge. If you are arrested for failure to have your driver’s license, there is little justification for a search of the vehicle to find further evidence because there is no further evidence to be found that you do not have your license. However, if the charge is drug possession, then it is much more likely that there will be relevant evidence pertaining to that charge found in the vehicle and the search incident to such arrest can be justified.
Greenville Gun Seizures: Recent South Carolina Case
A recent South Carolina Supreme Court case offers some further guidance with respect to the legal principles set forth in Gant.
In Robinson v. State, 754 S.E.2d 862 (S. Car. Sup. Court 2014), the court upheld the search of a vehicle after the police arrested the four men occupying the vehicle. Shortly before the arrests, a nearby bar and grill had been robbed by four men using guns. When the men were asked to exit the vehicle, a .22 caliber revolver was visible on the floorboard. Further search of the vehicle uncovered three more guns in the trunk that could be seen/reached from within the vehicle main compartment by shifting the back seat forward slightly.
The men were charged with armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime and convicted. Prior to trial, the accused’s defense counsel sought to suppress the guns from the trunk as evidence on various grounds including wrongful search and seizure. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress.
Under the principles established by Gant, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that the guns were lawfully seized. The court noted that the first prong of Gant did not apply since each of the four men were handcuffed at the back of the vehicle where they could neither reach for a weapon or dispoil evidence.
However, the second justification under Gant was sufficient. The court held that it was reasonable for the police to believe that the vehicle contained evidence of a crime — in this case, the armed robbery of the nearby bar. As the court said: “Because there were four men involved in the armed robbery, and only one gun had thus far been recovered, it was reasonable to believe the vehicle contained further evidence of the armed robbery.” The court further held that the trunk was properly considered part of the “passenger compartment” since, in this case, the trunk was reachable without exiting the vehicle.
Greenville Gun Seizures: Contact The Law Office Of H. Chase Harbin Today
If you have been charged with a crime, contact proven Greenville criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of H. Chase Harbin. If your constitutional rights have been violated, we will file motions to suppress any evidence unlawfully obtained by the police. We will fight to protect you. We are committed to upholding your rights. Contact us today via email. We have offices in Greenville and Pickens, South Carolina.