Under both the US and South Carolina, citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. See our discussion here. If law enforcement wants to conduct a search, the officers must seek and obtain — from a judge — a warrant based on probable cause. Indeed, warrantless searches are by definition unreasonable here in Greenville under South Carolina case law.
There are, however, six common exceptions:
(1) search incident to a lawful arrest
(2) hot pursuit
(3) stop and frisk
(4) automobile exception
(5) the plain view doctrine and
This article discusses the sixth exception. This article will be Part I discussing the general concept of “consent.” In Part II, we will discuss issues related to third party consent and how a roommate, spouse, family member or landlord can undermine your constitutional rights. If you have been arrested, you need a good South Carolina criminal defense attorney to help.
Search & Seizure In Greenville, SC — What is the “Consent Exception?”
In general, the idea of “consent” has the standard and ordinary meaning: you — the criminal accused — at some point agreed or consented to the search and/or seizure conducted by the police. As an aside, do not ever consent to a search or seizure. As we said here, it is always within your best interest to say “NO” when asked to consent to a search, even if you have nothing to hide.
A simple example of consent is from the case of Knight v. State, 325 SE 2d 535 (S. Car. Supreme Court 1985). That case involved the seizure of a hatchet that was later shown to have been used for unlawful breaking and entering. The trial court held the hatchet to be admissible since the defendant consented to it being taken by the police officer. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. Here is the factual description from the case:
“Officer O’Shields testified at trial that he was dispatched to investigate the report of a suspicious car parked in the driveway of a vacant house. As he entered the neighborhood, he spotted a car being driven with its headlights turned off. The officer stopped the car and asked the driver, Terry Nix, and his passenger, [defendant Knight], to get out. When the officer looked into the car with his flashlight, he noticed a hatchet lying on the front floorboard. After Nix stated that the hatchet belonged to him, the officer asked if he could keep it. Nix stated he had no objections. Appellant and Nix were then allowed to leave.”
Later, the two men were arrested and eventually convicted of breaking and entering the vacant house. As can be seen, “consent” is a verbal assent to the police seizing certain tangible things — like a hatchet. The words used can vary depending on the facts. Saying “yes, you may take the hatchet” is equivalent to saying “I have no objections to you taking the hatchet.”
Search & Seizure In Greenville, SC — Valid Consents When You Don’t Think You Are Consenting
If you have given consent by saying “yes,” the legal issues are generally straightforward.
- Did you give your consent voluntarily and knowingly?
- Did your consent apply to what was eventually searched and seized?
However, sometimes “consent” is deemed given under circumstances that are far removed from the events that led to the eventual arrest and conviction. A good example is the unpublished case of State v. Sheridan, No. 2018-UP-135 (S. Car. App. April 4, 2018). In that case, the defendant was charged with violating the South Carolina animal cruelty statute and with drug possession. Previously, as part of unrelated court proceedings, the defendant had agreed to “routine and random welfare checks” — presumably visits by governmental authorities to check on the defendant’s health and welfare. During one such warrantless welfare check of her mobile home, methamphetamine was found and photos were taken depicting rooms covered in animal feces. The trial court admitted the drugs that were seized and the photos. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed holding that the search and seizure were valid based on the defendant’s previous consent to “routine and random welfare checks.”
As another example, in State v. Trapp, 801 SE 2d 742 (S. Car. App. 2017), the court affirmed a conviction based on a “consensual” search and seizure. In that case, defendant Trapp called the police to investigate a burglary of his residence. As part of processing the scene, the police found drugs and then charged Trapp. Because Trapp had called the police to investigate, the search of his residence and the subsequent seizure was deemed done by consent.
Call The Law Office Of H. Chase Harbin Today
For more information, contact the proven criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of H. Chase Harbin. Illegal search and seizure by the police is not an uncommon occurrence. Our attorneys will fight for your rights. Contact our office today via email or by telephone. We have offices in Greenville and Pickens, South Carolina.