Robinson v. State

Decision Date30 June 2014
Docket NumberNo. 27357.,27357.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesClarence ROBINSON, Petitioner, v. STATE of South Carolina, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2011–182548.

407 S.C. 169
754 S.E.2d 862

Clarence ROBINSON, Petitioner,
STATE of South Carolina, Respondent.

Appellate Case No. 2011–182548.

No. 27357.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard Oct. 1, 2013.
Decided Feb. 26, 2014.

Certiorari Denied June 30, 2014.

[754 S.E.2d 865]

Appellate Defender LaNelle Cantey DuRant, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Julie Kate Keeney, all of Columbia, and Scarlett Anne Wilson, of Charleston, for Respondent.

Chief Justice TOAL.

Clarence Robinson (Petitioner) appeals his conviction for armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, claiming the trial court erred in finding the police had a reasonable, articulable

[754 S.E.2d 866]

suspicion to stop him and search the vehicle that he was driving. We affirm.

Facts/Procedural Background

On February 26, 2008, at approximately 9:45 p.m., four men entered Benders Bar and Grill in the West Ashley area of Charleston, South Carolina, and robbed the patrons and the establishment, stealing approximately $875. Each man carried a gun and covered his face with some sort of fabric fashioned into a bandana. The men made the patrons and staff lie face-down during the robbery. As a result, the witnesses could not describe their facial features and were only able to identify the general coloring of their clothing glimpsed in the seconds between the men's entry and their demand for patrons to “get down.” 1

The men escaped out the front door of Benders, although no witness could attest whether they left in a vehicle or on foot. The police arrived at 9:51 p.m., within thirty-one seconds of the initial 911 call and two to three minutes of the robbery itself. The responding officer briefly interviewed the patrons and staff and issued an initial “be on the lookout” (BOLO) description to other patrolling officers via the police radio, describing the suspects as four armed African–American men, approximately twenty years old, and wearing all-black clothing.

At 10:06 p.m., a police officer spotted a parked vehicle with its lights off in the darkened, fenced-in parking lot of a closed church and decided to investigate, pulling his patrol car behind the parked vehicle and blocking it in. The officer was aware of the BOLO but testified that the BOLO did not include a description of the getaway vehicle, so he initially “thought maybe it was a couple that was parked there, or somebody from the church left a car there.” He called in the car's license plate to dispatch and then approached the car. At that point, he noticed that there were four men in the vehicle who matched the approximate description of the BOLO—the correct number of men, the correct race, the correct age, and the correct approximate clothing color. Further, the testimony at trial established that the church is located within a short drive of Benders. The officer asked the driver, Petitioner, for his driver's license and walked back to his patrol vehicle and requested backup. The officer claimed that he called in the license plate and requested the driver's license to check for outstanding warrants, which involved calling a police dispatcher and “run[ning] it with them.” He “did not do anything [further] until the backup cars came,” including returning the driver's license.

At 10:09 p.m., two backup police officers arrived. These two officers also received the BOLO alert and knew there were four robbery suspects at large. One backup officer testified:

When I first pulled up we were in an unmarked vehicle. So I think they didn't know we were there yet. They were talking to just [the first officer] and seemed sort of relaxed.

And it seems like when I approached and came around [one side of the vehicle], and my partner went around the other side [of the vehicle], everyone became really nervous and silent. And all four of them looked straight forward.

The officers found the men's behavior suspicious. Therefore, the officers requested Petitioner exit the vehicle so they could pat him down for weapons. Next, they requested each passenger exit the vehicle, one-at-a-time, and patted each down for weapons. While the police found no weapons on any of the men, when the final passenger—seated in the rear passenger-side of the vehicle—exited the vehicle at the officers' request, a .22 caliber revolver with its serial number removed became immediately visible on the

[754 S.E.2d 867]

floorboard. 2 Because none of the four men would admit who owned the gun, the officers arrested all four, including Petitioner, and read them their Miranda3 rights. At this point, several other officers responded to the scene to help secure the four suspects and search the vehicle.

At first, the officers detained the four suspects near the vehicle's trunk while other officers searched the car.4 The trunk was locked, and the suspects claimed to be unaware of the key's location. The owner of the car (not Petitioner) stood with his back to the trunk while talking to the officers; however, every time an officer searched near or touched the back seat, the suspect “would turn his head around extremely quickly just to see what was going on.” Once the officer stopped searching that area, “he would act completely normal again.” After this pattern repeated several times, the officers noticed a gap between the top of the backseat and the flat paneling between the seat and the back windshield. The officers pulled the seat forward slightly to peer into the trunk and saw three more guns in an area that would have been accessible to the suspects had they still been in the vehicle. 5

Petitioner and his three co-defendants proceeded to trial for armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. At trial, Petitioner and his co-defendants moved to suppress the guns and all other evidence found from the search of the vehicle based on their claims that the police lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop them initially and that, even if the police did have a reasonable suspicion, the warrantless search of the car's trunk exceeded the scope of their permissible authority. The trial court, relying in part on State v. Culbreath, 300 S.C. 232, 387 S.E.2d 255 (1990), abrogated on other grounds by Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 110 S.Ct. 2301, 110 L.Ed.2d 112 (1990), admitted all of the evidence, finding that (1) the officer had a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when he stopped the car initially and (2) several exceptions to the warrant requirement justified the warrantless search.6 Ultimately, the jury found Petitioner and his co-defendants guilty, and the trial court sentenced each man to twelve years for the armed robbery and five years for the possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, the sentences to run concurrently.

Petitioner notified his trial counsel of his desire to appeal; however, his trial counsel miscalculated the time for appeal. Therefore, the court of appeals dismissed Petitioner's direct appeal as untimely.

Petitioner filed a post-conviction relief (PCR) application, including a request for belated review of his direct appeal issues pursuant to White v. State, 263 S.C. 110, 208 S.E.2d 35 (1974). The PCR court denied his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, finding that Petitioner failed to prove either prong of the two-prong Strickland7 test.

[754 S.E.2d 868]

However, the PCR court found that Petitioner had not knowingly waived his right to a direct appeal under White v. State.

Petitioner sought a writ of certiorari. This Court granted the writ of certiorari pursuant to Rule 243, SCACR, and Davis v. State, 288 S.C. 290, 342 S.E.2d 60 (1986).


I. Whether the trial court erred in denying Petitioner's motion to suppress based on its finding that the police had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify detaining Petitioner.

II. Whether the trial court erred in denying Petitioner's motion to suppress based on its finding that several exceptions to the warrant requirement justified the warrantless search.

Standard of Review

On appeal from a motion to suppress on Fourth Amendment grounds, this Court applies a deferential standard of review and will reverse only if there is clear error. State v. Tindall, 388 S.C. 518, 520, 698 S.E.2d 203, 205 (2010); State v. Brockman, 339 S.C. 57, 66, 528 S.E.2d 661, 666 (2000) (“Therefore, we will review the trial court's ruling like any other factual finding and reverse if there is clear error. We will affirm if there is any evidence to support the ruling.” (emphasis added)). However, this Court is not barred from conducting its own review of the record to determine whether the trial judge's decision is supported by the evidence. Tindall, 388 S.C. at 520, 698 S.E.2d at 205.

I. Reasonable Suspicion

Petitioner argues that the trial court erred in failing to suppress the evidence under the Fourth Amendment because the officer did not possess reasonable suspicion to detain Petitioner. Specifically, Petitioner contends that the officer “did not provide any specific facts as to why there was an articulable suspicion to detain” Petitioner and his co-defendants other than “there might have been a couple parked at the site in the car.” Therefore, Petitioner argues that once the driver's license and license plate came back free of outstanding warrants, there was no indication of criminal activity, so the officer should have released Petitioner, and any further action to detain Petitioner or search the vehicle exceeded the scope of a valid stop. We disagree.

The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. This guarantee “protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, including seizures that only...

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