State v. Butler, No. 3258.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtGOOLSBY.
Citation343 S.C. 198,539 S.E.2d 414
Docket NumberNo. 3258.
Decision Date13 November 2000
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Brett Loring BUTLER, Appellant.

343 S.C. 198
539 S.E.2d 414

The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Brett Loring BUTLER, Appellant

No. 3258.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Heard October 12, 2000.

Decided November 13, 2000.


343 S.C. 199
T. Kirk Truslow, of North Myrtle Beach, for appellant

Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, and Senior Assistant Attorney General Charles H. Richardson, all of Columbia; and Solicitor John Gregory Hembree, of Conway, for respondent.

343 S.C. 200
GOOLSBY, Judge

A grand jury indicted Brett Loring Butler for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. A jury convicted him of the lesser included offense of possession of cocaine. Before sentencing, the trial judge ordered Butler to submit to a drug test. When the test returned positive for marijuana, the judge revoked five years of Butler's suspended sentence on a prior conviction and sentenced him to four years imprisonment on his conviction for possession of cocaine. Butler appeals. We reverse and remand.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 8, 1998, William Lynch, a police office with the North Myrtle Beach Police Department, stopped Butler. Butler was driving a red BMW with an Atlantic Chevrolet "temporary paper tag" on the back. Lynch testified that he stopped Butler to check to make sure the car was properly registered and had insurance. After approaching Butler's car, Lynch noticed an overturned cup in the passenger-side floorboard. Suspecting the cup contained alcohol, Lynch asked Butler to open the passenger-side door so that Lynch could examine the cup. Upon examination, Lynch determined that the cup contained Coca-Cola mixed with alcohol. Lynch arrested Butler for having an open container. Lynch then transported Butler to the police station where a search uncovered 1.17 grams of cocaine hidden in Butler's sock. Butler was then arrested on charges of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

At trial, Butler moved to have the cocaine suppressed on the ground that Officer Lynch lacked reasonable suspicion that Butler was involved in criminal activity, and thus the stop was unconstitutional. At the suppression hearing, Lynch testified that the reason he pulled Butler over was because Butler's car had a temporary tag on it, and that in his experience, cars bearing these tags could be unregistered, uninsured, or stolen. On cross-examination, Lynch admitted that other than the presence of the temporary tag, there was no indication that Butler was involved in criminal activity or that his car was

343 S.C. 201
unregistered or unlicensed.1 Moreover, Lynch did not testify that Butler had committed any traffic violation, that there were any deficiencies with Butler's car, or that he had received a report of a stolen BMW

The trial court denied Butler's motion to suppress. A jury convicted Butler of possession of cocaine. Butler appeals.

LAW/ANALYSIS

On appeal, Butler argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Butler contends that the stop was unconstitutional because Lynch failed to establish that he had a reasonable suspicion that Butler was violating registration or insurance laws. We agree.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees "the right of the people to be secure ... [from] unreasonable searches and seizures."2 "Temporary detention of individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a `seizure' of `persons' within the meaning of this provision."3 As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.4 The police, however, may also stop and briefly detain a vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion that the occupants are involved in criminal activity.5

343 S.C. 202
In Delaware v. Prouse,6 the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional random stops of individual cars for the purposes of checking the driver's license and the car's registration, holding:
[E]xcept in those situations in which there is at least articulable and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is unlicensed or that an automobile is not registered, or that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for violation of law, stopping an automobile and detaining the driver in order to check his driver's license and the registration of the automobile are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.7

Reasonable suspicion must be based on "specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion"8 and requires a particularized and objective basis that would lead one to suspect another of criminal activity.9 "Reasonable suspicion entails some minimal level of objective justification for detention, something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or `hunch,' but less than the level of suspicion required for probable cause."10 The burden is on the State to articulate facts sufficient to support reasonable suspicion.11

The State argues that the mere presence of a "temporary tag" on a car is reasonable suspicion that the car is either unregistered, uninsured, or is otherwise involved in criminal activity. We disagree and hold that the mere presence of a temporary tag on the back of a car, without more, is insufficient to provide a reasonable suspicion that the driver is

343 S.C. 203
violating registration or insurance laws or that the driver is otherwise involved in criminal activity.

South Carolina Code section 56-3-210, titled "Grace period for procuring registration and license," reads as follows:

Persons newly acquiring vehicles and owners of foreign vehicles being moved into this State and required to be registered under this chapter may have not more than forty-five days in which to register and license them.12

Under the statute, a South Carolina resident has forty-five days to register his car and obtain his state-issued license plate.

Unlike other states, South Carolina has not implemented a legislative scheme to temporarily register "newly acquired" cars pending receipt of a permanent tag. If such legislation were in place, the expiration of the forty-five day grace period would be ascertainable by any law enforcement officer and any failure to display the...

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29 practice notes
  • State v. Pichardo, No. 4036.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • October 31, 2005
    ...and briefly detain a vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion that the occupants are involved in criminal activity. State v. Butler, 343 S.C. 198, 539 S.E.2d 414 The testimony of Deputy Stevers was that he stopped the vehicle because Pichardo failed to maintain his lane. This evidence wa......
  • The State v. Taylor, No. 4687.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 13, 2010
    ...determinations of reasonable suspicion, which require “ ‘less than the level of suspicion required for probable cause.’ ” State v. Butler, 343 S.C. 198, 202, 539 S.E.2d 414, 416 (Ct.App.2000) (quoting Nebraska v. Soukharith, 253 Neb. 310, 570 N.W.2d 344, 354 (1997)). I would therefore follo......
  • Berry v. State, No. A00A1912.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 30, 2001
    ...required to show the expiration date, standing alone, does not provide an articulable suspicion that the tag has expired. State v. Butler, 343 S.C. 198, 201-206, 539 S.E.2d 414, 416-418 (App.2000). And, there is no testimony in the record in this case about the tag to suggest that it was no......
  • State v. Williams, Opinion No. 5405
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 25, 2016
    ...a brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a ‘seizure’ of ‘persons' within the meaning of this provision.” State v. Butler , 343 S.C. 198, 201, 539 S.E.2d 414, 416 (Ct. App. 2000) (quoting Whren v. United States , 517 U.S. 806, 809–10, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996) ).A tr......
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29 cases
  • State v. Pichardo, No. 4036.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • October 31, 2005
    ...and briefly detain a vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion that the occupants are involved in criminal activity. State v. Butler, 343 S.C. 198, 539 S.E.2d 414 The testimony of Deputy Stevers was that he stopped the vehicle because Pichardo failed to maintain his lane. This evidence wa......
  • The State v. Taylor, No. 4687.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 13, 2010
    ...determinations of reasonable suspicion, which require “ ‘less than the level of suspicion required for probable cause.’ ” State v. Butler, 343 S.C. 198, 202, 539 S.E.2d 414, 416 (Ct.App.2000) (quoting Nebraska v. Soukharith, 253 Neb. 310, 570 N.W.2d 344, 354 (1997)). I would therefore follo......
  • Berry v. State, No. A00A1912.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 30, 2001
    ...required to show the expiration date, standing alone, does not provide an articulable suspicion that the tag has expired. State v. Butler, 343 S.C. 198, 201-206, 539 S.E.2d 414, 416-418 (App.2000). And, there is no testimony in the record in this case about the tag to suggest that it was no......
  • State v. Williams, Opinion No. 5405
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 25, 2016
    ...a brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a ‘seizure’ of ‘persons' within the meaning of this provision.” State v. Butler , 343 S.C. 198, 201, 539 S.E.2d 414, 416 (Ct. App. 2000) (quoting Whren v. United States , 517 U.S. 806, 809–10, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996) ).A tr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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