State v. Ellis, 19873

Decision Date07 August 1974
Docket NumberNo. 19873,19873
Citation263 S.C. 12,207 S.E.2d 408
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Viola ELLIS and Ethel Thelma Scott, Appellants.

Richard E. Fields, Gedney M. Howe, III, and Burnet R. Maybank, Charleston, for appellants.

Sol. Robert B. Wallace and Asst. Sol. A. A. Rosenblum, Charleston, for respondent.

MOSS, Chief Justice:

Ronald Bryan, Ethel Thelma Scott, Solomon Gregory, and Viola Ellis were tried upon an indictment containing two counts, to wit: (1) the possession of heroin for sale and distribution, in violation of Section 32-- 1510.49 of the Code, and (2) the possession of dangerous drugs, without having obtained such upon a prescription of a duly licensed physician, in violation of Section 56--1313(4) of the Code.

Wheh the case was called for trial a motion to suppress the evidence was made on the grounds that (1) the affidavit for the search warrant was devoid of any showing of probable cause and that (2) the search warrant issued, based on the affidavit, failed to satisfy constitutional and statutory requirements, because it was vague and not sufficiently particular. This motion was heard by the presiding judge, in the absence of the jury, and denied.

Thereafter, the case proceeded to trial, and at the close of the State's testimony, a motion was made for a directed verdict on the ground that there was not sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find that Viola Ellis and Ethel Thelma Scott, the appellants herein, were guilty on count one of the indictment. This motion was denied. Following the presentation of evidence by the defense, the appellants again moved for a directed verdict as to both counts of the indictment. The motion as to the second count as it applied to Viola Ellis and Solomon Gregory was granted, but the motion was denied as to count one, and denied as to both counts as applied to Ethel Thelma Scott and Ronald Bryan. The jury returned a verdict of guilty as to Ronald Bryan and Ethel Thelma Scott on both counts and Viola Ellis on count one of the indictment. Motions were made on behalf of both appellants for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict of the jury, and in the alternative for a new trial on the grounds previously stated. These motions were refused and the appellants duly sentenced. This appeal followed.

It is the contention of the appellants that the only evidence against them, sufficient to support a conviction, was obtained by virtue of a search warrant issued in violation of Article I, Section 10 of the 1895 Constitution of South Carolina, as amended, and the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The appellants challenge the sufficiency of the affidavit for the search warrant on the grounds that it was devoid of probable cause and did not support the issuance of a legal search warrant. The appellants further contend that the warrant under which the search was made of their premises should have been quashed and the evidence obtained as a result thereof suppressed.

Article I, Section 10 (formerly Article I, Section 16) of the Constitution of South Carolina, as amended, and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, are practically identical and as to searches and seizures provides that: '* * * no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, the person or thing to be seized, * * *'.

Section 17--271 of the 1962 Code of Laws, as amended, provides that a search warrant for unlawful drugs shall be issued upon affidavit establishing the grounds for the warrant and sufficient facts must be stated in the affidavit to form the basis of a judgment by the issuing officer that probable cause exists. State v. York, 250 S.C. 30, 156 S.E.2d 326.

In order to justify the issuance of a search warrant, probable cause must be shown, but the term 'probable cause' does not import absolute certainty. In determining whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain a finding of probable cause, each case stands on its own facts. The evidence need not be sufficient to support a conviction, or a verdict of guilty, or to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; nor need the proof be positive, it being enough if it is such as to induce in the mind of the issuing officer an honest belief that the facts set forth exist, or as would lead a man of prudence to believe that the offense has been committed. State v. Bennett, 256 S.C. 234, 182 S.E.2d 291.

The affidavit for a search warrant was made by Detective Sergeant Dean Powell, on 3--23--73, before Magistrate Donald Barkowitz, in which he averred that he had 'good reason to believe that Ronald Bryan, and other persons and occupants, has stored or concealed on their persons, on their premises and/or appurtenances, * * * at or near 88 Columbus St., Chas., S.C., being a 2 story yellow frame house located on north side of Columbus St., with wrought-iron fence in front, entrance at the front of house, but common entrance for downstairs and upstairs on the west side of dwelling, a quantity of Narcotic, Stimulant, Depressant, Hallucingenic; and/or Legend Drugs, namely Heroin.' The affiant further avers that the facts tending to establish the foregoing were that 'This officer has directed an investigation with regards to 88 Columbus St. since Jan. 23, 1973; during this time undercover informant has made 9 separate buys of a substance which was tested and proved to be Heroin from Ronald Bryan in all parts of the dwelling both up and down stairs; all total 19 bags of Heroin were bought. Last buy taking place 2--28--73.' The affiant further states that a confidential informant had witnessed Ronald Bryan and Harold Gregory selling heroin to addicts from the dwelling within the last 72 hours. It was further stated in the affidavit that the affiant has good reason to believe that the information submitted to him by undercover confidential informant is believable and reliable because information previously given by the informant, over a six months period, has been proven to be true.

The magistrate found that there was probable cause for believing that drugs and narcotics were being concealed on the premises described in the affidavit and directed any lawful officer to forthwith search the premises so described.

It is our conclusion that the affidavit submitted by Detective Sergeant Dean Powell was sufficient to support a finding of probable cause by the magistrate and to authorize the issuance of a valid search warrant based thereon.

Pursuant to such warrant, a search of the premises was made on March 24, 1973. Found in the downstairs bedrooms were some 86 bags of heroin and money in the amount of $750 in bags. A search of the upstairs bedrooms revealed no heroin, but a plastic bag containing various legend drugs was found with no prescription or prescription bottle.

It is the position of the appellants that since the identity of the premises to be searched was not described with sufficient particularity, the warrant issued was invalid. Admittedly, the residence, located at 88 Columbus Street in the City of Charleston, was a two story building with bedrooms on each floor. The affidavit sets forth that heroin was purchased from Ronald Bryan in all parts of the dwelling, both up and down stairs. The warrant issued recited that there was probable cause to believe that the property described in the affidavit was being used to store or conceal narcotics and drugs in violation of law.

The caption of the search warrant was directed to 'Ronald Bryan, alias Tubby, and other persons and occupants 88 Columbus Street, up and down stories Charleston, South Carolina.' The description in the caption of the warrant taken in connection with the affidavit was enough to sustain the warrant as against the attack that it was constitutionally deficient for not particularly describing the place to be searched. See the cases cited in 11 A.L.R.3d[263 S.C. 19] at page 1346, and in the 1973 Supplement thereto, at page 180.

Search warrants directed against multioccupancy structures have been held valid despite the fact that no particular sub-unit was specified, where it appeared that the entire premises rather than a particular sub-unit was under suspicion of illegal activity. 11 A.L.R.3d at page 1343.

We find no merit in the contention of the appellants that the search...

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  • State v. Sachs
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • May 27, 1975
    ...State of the burden of proving either actual or constructive possession of the substances charged in the indictment. State v. Ellis, 263 S.C. 12, 207 S.E.2d 408 (1974); State v. Tabory, 260 S.C. 355, 196 S.E.2d 111 (1973). This is a close case because attempted destruction of evidence is re......
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