State v. Groome, No. 26510.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPleicones
Citation378 S.C. 615,664 S.E.2d 460
Docket NumberNo. 26510.
Decision Date30 June 2008
PartiesThe STATE, Appellant, v. Eston GROOME, Respondent.
664 S.E.2d 460
378 S.C. 615
The STATE, Appellant,
v.
Eston GROOME, Respondent.
No. 26510.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard April 15, 2008.
Decided June 30, 2008.

[664 S.E.2d 461]

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General Julie M. Thames, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Robert Mills Ariail, of Greenville, for Appellant.

J. Falkner Wilkes of Greenville, and James H. Price, III, of Price, Ashmore & Beasley, of Greenville, for Respondent.

Justice PLEICONES:


The State appeals a pre-trial circuit court order suppressing drugs found after respondent was stopped at a drivers' license checkpoint. We affirm.

FACTS

In response to civilian "crime stoppers" tips of speeding and drug activity, a "Directed Patrol Unit" set up a drivers' license checkpoint one evening in Greenville. A "Directed Patrol Unit" is a specialized crime suppression group; a K-9 team with a drug dog was assigned to the road-block. The dog and his handler walked up and down the line of cars as they were stopped at the checkpoint.

Respondent was stopped and surrendered his drivers license. As the officer walked back to check respondent's tag, he radioed in and learned respondent's license was suspended. Respondent was asked to pull his car into a nearby parking lot, then exit it, and meet the officer at the rear of the vehicle.

The K-9 officer and dog left the line and approached respondent's car. The dog alerted, the car was searched, and marijuana seeds were found on the floorboards. Respondent was placed in the back of a patrol car before being transported to the law enforcement center. After respondent exited the police vehicle at the center, the officer found a baggie containing two other bags, each having white powder in it. The baggies were found to contain 13.02 grams of cocaine. Respondent was "Mirandized" at the station, and admitted smoking marijuana but denied the cocaine was his.

Respondent moved to suppress the drugs alleging the roadblock was violative of the Fourth Amendment. The trial judge agreed, and the State's appeal follows.

SCOPE OF REVIEW

A trial court's Fourth Amendment suppression ruling must be affirmed if supported by any evidence, and an appellate court may reverse only when there is clear error. State v. Brockman, 339 S.C. 57, 528 S.E.2d 661 (2000).

ISSUES

1) Whether the circuit court erred in finding the primary purpose of the check-point was for general crime control and therefore it was violative of the Fourth Amendment under City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 121 S.Ct. 447, 148 L.Ed.2d 333 (2000)?

2) Whether the circuit court erred in holding that even if the primary purpose was a license checkpoint and there was no Edmond flaw, the roadblock none-the-less violated the Fourth Amendment under Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 61 L.Ed.2d 357 (1979)?

ANALYSIS

The controlling decision in this matter is City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 121 S.Ct. 447, 148 L.Ed.2d 333 (2000). In Edmond, the Court held that a police checkpoint whose primary purpose is general crime controlin Edmond narcotics interdictionis unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Here, the circuit court judge acknowledged there was conflicting evidence on the true purpose of the checkpoint, but was persuaded the primary purpose was general crime suppression rather then merely a drivers' license checkpoint. He pointed to the following facts to support his conclusion:

1) the checkpoint was conducted by the Directed Patrol Unit, which is assigned specifically to deal with crime suppression issues;

664 S.E.2d 462

2) a K-9 patrol unit with a nationally certified drug dog team was participating; and,

3) the State presented no evidence as to the plan, procedures, or duration of the roadblock, nor was any evidence of a protocol introduced and as the Supreme Court noted in Edmond, without such information "law enforcement authorities would be able to establish checkpoints for virtually any purpose so long as they include a license or sobriety check."

The circuit court went on to find that even if the primary purpose were a license checkpoint and thus the roadblock passed constitutional muster under Edmond, the roadblock would still violate the Fourth Amendment under Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 61 L.Ed.2d 357 (1979). Brown established a three part balancing test for determining the constitutionality of a traffic checkpoint:

1) the gravity of the public interest served by the seizure;

2) the degree to which the seizure serves the public interest; and,

3) the severity of the interference with individual liberty.

The trial judge held the first and third factors easily weighed in the State's favor, but found that the State presented no evidence on the second factor.

The State first argues the trial judge erred in finding the primary purpose here was suppression of drug activity. It does not argue that there is no...

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3 practice notes
  • State v. Vickery, No. 5025.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 20, 2012
    ...(1979), and Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, 110 S.Ct. 2481, 110 L.Ed.2d 412 (1990). He argued State v. Groome, 378 S.C. 615, 664 S.E.2d 460 (2008), was “adamant” the State must present empirical data gathered prior to the checkpoint to justify setting up the check......
  • State v. Taylor, No. 27207.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 9, 2013
    ...ruling must be affirmed if supported by any evidence, and an appellate court may reverse only when there is clear error. State v. Groome, 378 S.C. 615, 618, 664 S.E.2d 460, 461 (2008).Law/AnalysisI. Whether police had reasonable suspicion to detain Respondent and conduct an investigatory se......
  • State v. Vickery, Opinion No. 5025
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 22, 2012
    ...under Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979), and Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990). He argued State v. Groome, 378 S.C. 615, 664 S.E.2d 460 (2008), was "adamant" the State must present empirical data gathered prior to the checkpoint to justify setting up the chec......
3 cases
  • State v. Vickery, No. 5025.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 20, 2012
    ...(1979), and Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, 110 S.Ct. 2481, 110 L.Ed.2d 412 (1990). He argued State v. Groome, 378 S.C. 615, 664 S.E.2d 460 (2008), was “adamant” the State must present empirical data gathered prior to the checkpoint to justify setting up the check......
  • State v. Taylor, No. 27207.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 9, 2013
    ...ruling must be affirmed if supported by any evidence, and an appellate court may reverse only when there is clear error. State v. Groome, 378 S.C. 615, 618, 664 S.E.2d 460, 461 (2008).Law/AnalysisI. Whether police had reasonable suspicion to detain Respondent and conduct an investigatory se......
  • State v. Vickery, Opinion No. 5025
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 22, 2012
    ...under Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979), and Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990). He argued State v. Groome, 378 S.C. 615, 664 S.E.2d 460 (2008), was "adamant" the State must present empirical data gathered prior to the checkpoint to justify setting up the chec......

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