State v. Jones

Decision Date14 March 2005
Docket NumberNo. 3961.,3961.
Citation364 S.C. 51,610 S.E.2d 846
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Timothy JONES, Appellant.

Acting Deputy Chief Attorney Wanda P. Hagler, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General David A. Spencer, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Harold W. Gowdy, III, of Spartanburg, for Respondent.

HUFF, J.:

Appellant, Timothy Jones, was tried for and convicted of trafficking in crack cocaine. He appeals, asserting the trial judge erred in failing to suppress the drug evidence because it was tainted fruit seized in an illegal detention. We affirm.1

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

At the start of the case, Jones made a pretrial motion to suppress the drug evidence in this case arguing it was the result of a prolonged detention that became unlawful. Jones asserted the officer, who pulled Jones over for speeding, exceeded the scope of the stop when he questioned Jones and requested backup for the purpose of searching the vehicle. The court held an in camera hearing, at which time the State presented the testimony of Trooper J. Ryan Elrod.

Trooper Elrod first testified to his normal procedure when pulling a car over for speeding. He stated that he generally calls in the traffic stop to dispatch, approaches the vehicle, speaks to the driver, and then directs the driver to get out of the car and stand at the left front wheel of the patrol car. He then asks "where they're going, if they realize their speed, where they're coming from, . . . why they're in a hurry, is there any reason for their speed. . . ." He requests license, registration, and proof of insurance. On average, with no unusual circumstances, the normal traffic stop takes him five to six minutes.

Trooper Elrod testified that, at approximately 1:30 p.m. on September 25, 2001, he was on I-85 in Spartanburg County patrolling northbound traffic for speeding violations when he observed an automobile traveling the interstate at a high rate of speed. His radar indicated the car was traveling 82 miles an hour in the 70 mile an hour zone. Trooper Elrod pulled the car over, walked up to the driver's side, explained to the driver why he had stopped him, and asked the driver to step back to the patrol vehicle while he issued him a summons for speeding. The driver of the vehicle was Timothy Jones. Trooper Elrod described the weather as mild, breezy, and very cool for that time of year. Jones exited the vehicle and walked back to the trooper's car as requested.

While in the process of issuing the traffic ticket, Trooper Elrod asked Jones where he and the other occupants of the vehicle were coming from, and Jones indicated they had been in Greenville to visit his cousin regarding opening up a barbershop business. He first told the trooper they had stayed in a hotel, but could not tell him the name or location of the hotel. He then told Trooper Elrod they stayed with his cousin, but he could not give the trooper his cousin's name or the location of his cousin's residence.

Jones presented the trooper with a driver's license, but did not produce registration for the vehicle. Jones appeared very nervous. The driver's license came back clear, but since Jones did not have his registration, Trooper Elrod returned to the vehicle, looked at the vehicle identification number, and then went over to the passenger to request assistance in locating the registration. After fumbling through some paperwork, the front seat passenger, Mr. Patterson, produced the registration. During this time, Trooper Elrod asked Patterson where they had been. Patterson responded they had been to Spartanburg for the last two days, but he could not remember where in Spartanburg. As Trooper Elrod spoke to Patterson, the back seat passenger, Mr. Clark, stated something to the trooper which could not be heard due to the noise on the interstate. Trooper Elrod shut the front passenger door, opened up the rear door, and asked Clark what he had said. Clark then stated they had been in Atlanta that morning, not Spartanburg.

At that point, Trooper Elrod closed the door to the car and called for any unit in the area to come to his location. His call for backup occurred approximately seven minutes into the stop. Just prior to requesting backup, Trooper Elrod asked Jones if there were any weapons or anything else in the vehicle he needed to know about and Jones answered there were not. The trooper then asked if Jones had any problem with him searching the vehicle and Jones responded he had no problem with that.

It took about three to four minutes for the back-up officer, Trooper Earle, to arrive on the scene. During this time, Trooper Elrod continued to fill out the paperwork on Jones' speeding ticket. The trooper was in the process of explaining the ticket to Jones when he observed the front seat passenger, Patterson, jump out of the vehicle with a white towel in his hand. This occurred almost simultaneously with the point at which Trooper Earle arrived on the scene. Trooper Earle began a foot pursuit of Patterson while Trooper Elrod pursued in his car. The officers were able to catch Patterson after he ran into some briars. During the chase, Trooper Elrod observed Patterson throwing objects into the briars. The objects retrieved were bags containing white, powdery substances, which were later determined to be 230.83 grams of crack cocaine.

When asked why he called for back-up, the trooper explained:

I had three different stories on where they had been. I was by myself. The driver of the vehicle, Mr. Jones, was, in my opinion, was very uneasy. He was sweating profusely. Again, it was a cool day. He acted very nervous. And it was one on three, and regardless of the situation, I felt that I needed back-up at the scene, and — I just didn't feel something was right, and in my safety, I called for back-up.

Trooper Elrod admitted that part of the reason he called for backup was that he would need a secondary officer to search the vehicle, but denied that his purpose in talking with Jones was to wait for backup to arrive. Rather, he stated he was in the process of writing the citation and explaining it to Jones when Patterson jumped from the car and ran.

Jones argued to the trial judge that the officer had gone on a "fishing expedition" and prolonged his detention for the purpose of performing a search. He asserted the questioning of the passengers and the extended conversation the officer had with him about where they had been and what they were doing was merely a "ruse" so he could eventually search the car. Jones maintained "anything this officer did with [him] pursuant to this stop after a reasonable period of time had expired for him to issue him the summons . . . [was] unreasonable" and was therefore an illegal detention.

The trial judge found the amount of time of this traffic stop was not too long and that it was a legal stop and detention. He determined, because Jones did not initially produce the registration, the officer had the right to check the vehicle identification number and ask the passenger to help him look for the registration. He found no constitutional violation with the casual conversation the officer carried on with the passenger while he looked for the registration. He further determined whether Jones gave consent to search the vehicle was irrelevant inasmuch as there was no search carried out pursuant to the alleged consent since Patterson jumped out of the car and ran, throwing objects to the ground after having been detained for, at most, around eleven minutes. The trial judge therefore denied the motion to suppress.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Jones appeals his conviction arguing the trial judge erred in denying his motion to suppress the crack cocaine recovered in this case because it was tainted fruit seized as the result of an illegal detention. We disagree.

Jones relies largely on the case of State v. Williams, 351 S.C. 591, 571 S.E.2d 703 (Ct.App.2002), asserting when the officer obtained his registration and license and the license check revealed nothing, the investigatory purpose of the speeding ticket was complete. He thus argues his questioning, along with that of the two passengers, as well as the call for backup amounted to an illegal detention exceeding the scope of the traffic stop.

In Williams, a police officer stopped a vehicle for a possible insurance violation and discovered the vehicle's tag had been suspended for lack of insurance. The officer ran a license check on the driver and found, although his driving record was clean at that time, the driver's license had previously been suspended for a controlled substance violation. The officer asked the driver to step outside the vehicle while he issued a citation for the tag violation. The officer wrote and explained the ticket to the driver and returned the license and registration to the driver stating, "Before you leave, let me ask you a few questions." The officer then proceeded to ask the driver a series of questions, including where he was coming...

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4 cases
  • State v. Pichardo
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • October 31, 2005
    ...whether any evidence supports the trial court's finding. State v. Brockman, 339 S.C. 57, 528 S.E.2d 661 (2000); State v. Jones, 364 S.C. 51, 610 S.E.2d 846 (Ct.App.2005); State v. Green, 341 S.C. 214, 532 S.E.2d 896 (Ct.App.2000). The appellate court may only reverse where there is clear er......
  • State v. Adams
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • July 28, 2012
    ...officer may “request a driver's license and vehicle registration, run a computer check, and issue a citation.” State v. Jones, 364 S.C. 51, 57, 610 S.E.2d 846, 849 (Ct.App.2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The officer may also order the driver to exit the vehicle. Id.;State v. Willi......
  • State v. Adams
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • April 25, 2012
    ...officer may "request a driver's license and vehicle registration, run a computer check, and issue a citation." State v. Jones, 364 S.C. 51, 57, 610 S.E.2d 846, 849 (Ct. App. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The officer may also order the driver to exit the vehicle. Id.; State v. Wi......
  • Fassett v. Evans
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • March 14, 2005

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