State v. Taylor, No. 27207.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtJustice BEATTY.
Citation736 S.E.2d 663,401 S.C. 104
Decision Date09 January 2013
Docket NumberNo. 27207.
PartiesThe STATE of South Carolina, Petitioner, v. Syllester D. TAYLOR, Respondent.

401 S.C. 104
736 S.E.2d 663

The STATE of South Carolina, Petitioner,
v.
Syllester D. TAYLOR, Respondent.

No. 27207.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard Nov. 2, 2011.
Decided Jan. 9, 2013.


[736 S.E.2d 664]


Attorney General Alan Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley E. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General Christina J. Catoe, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Edgar Lewis Clements, III, of Florence, for Petitioner.

Appellate Defender Robert M. Pachak, of South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, of Columbia, for Respondent.


Chief Justice TOAL.

[401 S.C. 106]The State contests the court of appeals' decision holding the police search and seizure of Syllester Taylor (Respondent) improper under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.1 We reverse.

Facts/Procedural History

On July 25, 2006, at approximately 11:00 p.m., the Florence County Sheriff's Office received a dispatch regarding suspected drug activity. The anonymous call indicated that a black male on a bicycle appeared to be selling drugs in an area well known to law enforcement for its high incidence of crime and drug traffic. Sheriff's deputies responded to the call and, from their vehicles, observed Respondent alone at a road intersection. Respondent is an African–American male and [401 S.C. 107]was on a bicycle. The officers parked their vehicles and approached Respondent's position on foot. Officers then observed Respondent “huddled up” with another male. Suspecting an illegal drug transaction, officers approached Respondent. Upon realizing that the officers were approaching, Respondent and his associate “immediately” split up, and Respondent rode the bicycle towards the officers in an apparent attempt to flee the area. Police called out to Respondent to stop, but Respondent continued his movement. Believing that he had reasonable suspicion under the circumstances, an officer conducted a takedown of Respondent and patted him down for weapons. During the search for weapons the deputy discovered crack cocaine.

Respondent was indicted for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. The case proceeded to trial, and the sheriff's deputy that conducted the search testified in camera regarding the discovery of the crack cocaine:

I then push [sic] the subject to the top of his pocket without entering the pocket. It rolled out on the ground beside him with [sic] a green tennis ball. At the time, I picked the tennis ball up. As I picked it up, I squeezed it. It had a slit in the top of it. And inside the tennis ball, you could actually see the bag of what was believed to be crack cocaine at the time.

The officer later testified during the trial:

I worked the item up until it dropped out on the ground beside him. I picked the object up. It was a green tennis ball. It did have a cut in the top of it. And as I pick the ball up, I could see the plastic bag what appeared to this deputy to be crack cocaine inside.

Respondent was found guilty and sentenced, as a third-time drug offender, to thirty years' imprisonment. The court of appeals overturned the conviction, finding that police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Respondent. State v. Taylor, 388 S.C. 101, 694 S.E.2d 60 (Ct.App.2010). The State sought review of this decision, and this Court granted certiorari.

Issues Presented

I. Whether police had reasonable suspicion to detain Respondent and conduct an investigatory search.

[736 S.E.2d 665]

[401 S.C. 108]II. Whether police had probable cause to search the tennis ball discovered during the search of Respondent.

Standard 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. Groome, 378 S.C. 615, 618, 664 S.E.2d 460, 461 (2008).

Law/Analysis
I. Whether police had reasonable suspicion to detain Respondent and conduct an investigatory search.

The State argues the court of appeals erred in reversing Respondent's conviction. We agree. Under the totality of the circumstances, officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop.

An investigative detention is constitutional if supported “by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity.” Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 440, 100 S.Ct. 2752, 65 L.Ed.2d 890 (1980). The required reasonable suspicion can arise from an anonymous tip provided that the totality of the surrounding circumstances justifies acting on the tip. United States v. Perrin, 45 F.3d 869, 871 (4th Cir.1995). Courts must look at the cumulative information available to the officer ... and not find a stop unjustified based merely on a “piecemeal refutation of each individual fact and inference.” United States v. Branch, 537 F.3d 328, 337 (4th Cir.2008). “Just as one corner of a picture might not reveal the picture's subject or nature, each component that contributes to reasonable suspicion might not alone give rise to reasonable suspicion.” United States v. Mason, 628 F.3d 123, 129 (4th Cir.2010).

Two cases decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, United States v. Lender, 985 F.2d 151 (4th Cir.1993), and United States v. Sprinkle, 106 F.3d 613 (4th Cir.1997), are instructive.

In Lender, at approximately 12:50 a.m., officers observed four to five men, including the defendant, huddled together in [401 S.C. 109]an area known for heavy drug traffic. Lender, 985 F.2d at 153. The defendant had his hand stuck out with his palm up, and the other men were looking down toward his palm. Id. Suspecting a drug transaction, the officers stopped their car, got out, and approached the men. Id. As the officers approached, the group began to disperse, and the defendant walked away from the officers with his back to them. Id. The officers called out for the defendant to stop, but he refused. After the officers again called out for defendant to stop, he did, and a semi-automatic pistol fell from his waist to the ground. Id. The officers subdued the defendant and placed him under arrest for carrying a concealed weapon. Id. The defendant was eventually indicted for one count of possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a crime punishable by a term exceeding one year. Id. at 153.

The defendant moved to suppress the gun on the grounds that it had been discovered after police unlawfully seized him. Id. He argued that the officers had no reasonable suspicion to justify stopping him, and that he was seized from the moment he came to a stop after the officers' second call for him to do so. Id. The district court denied the motion, finding that although the officers had no reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant, he had not been seized at the time the gun fell into plain view. Id.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed:

Here the officers personally knew that the area they were patrolling had a large amount of drug traffic. While the defendant's mere presence in a high crime area is not by itself enough to raise reasonable suspicion, an area's propensity toward criminal activity is something an officer may consider. Additionally, the officers observed the defendant engaged in behavior that they suspected to be a drug transaction.... We cannot say that a reasonable police officer was required to regard such conduct as innocuous.... [T]he officers were not required in the absence of probable cause simply to “shrug their shoulders and allow a crime to occur.”

Id. at 154 (citation omitted).


The court explicitly addressed the defendant's attempt to flee the scene:

[736 S.E.2d 666]

[401 S.C. 110]When the officers tried to approach Lender, he attempted to evade them by turning his back and walking away. Evasive conduct, although stopping short of headlong flight, may inform an officer's appraisal of a street corner encounter. Given the factors present here, we think Officer Hill had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant.

Id. (citation omitted).


In Sprinkle, the Fourth Circuit found that police did not have reasonable suspicion to justify an investigative stop. Sprinkle, 106 F.3d at 619. Police officers observed Victor Poindexter sitting in the driver's seat of a vehicle parked directly across the street from their position. Id. at 615. It was 5:30 p.m. on a “fairly bright day” with “plenty of light.” Police knew that Poindexter had served time for narcotics violations, but had no reports of any criminal activity by Poindexter since his release. Id. at 615–16. The street where Poindexter was parked was in a neighborhood known by police for considerable narcotics trafficking, and one of the officers had personally made numerous drug arrests in the area. Id. at 616.

A few seconds after police began observing Poindexter, the officers saw Carl Sprinkle get in the passenger side of the vehicle. Id. The officers then walked by the driver side of the car and noticed Sprinkle and Poindexter “huddled to the center of the console of the vehicle,” with their hands “close together.” Id. The officers believed that Sprinkle was passing or about to pass something to Poindexter, and when Poindexter saw police he “put his head down and put his hand to the left side of his face as if to conceal his face....” Id. Police later testified that they could see inside the car, and “everybody's hands,” and yet did not see any drugs, money, guns, or drug paraphernalia. Id.

Shortly thereafter, Poindexter started the car and pulled onto the street. He drove in a normal, unsuspicious fashion; he did not speed, drive erratically, or commit any traffic violations. Id. After driving only 150 feet, an unrelated traffic stop completely blocked Poindexter's way, and police activated their blue lights. Id. Sprinkle stepped out of the car and ran away as police attempted to initiate a pat-down search. Id. As officers pursued him, Sprinkle pulled out a handgun which was [401 S.C. 111]later recovered by police. Id....

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31 practice notes
  • State v. Spears, Appellate Case No. 2017-001933
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • February 12, 2020
    ...to walk away, the agents may have interpreted this as furtive behavior that created reasonable suspicion for a stop. See State v. Taylor , 401 S.C. 104, 736 S.E.2d 663 (2013) (finding reasonable suspicion existed where the defendant attempted to avoid officers by riding away on his bicycle)......
  • State v. Kotowski, Appellate Case No. 2016-000842
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 15, 2019
    ...officer's experience and intuition." State v. Taylor , 388 S.C. 101, 116, 694 S.E.2d 60, 68 (Ct. App. 2010), rev'd on other grounds , 401 S.C. 104, 736 S.E.2d 663 (2013). "Nevertheless, ‘a wealth of experience will [not] overcome a complete absence of articulable facts.’ " Id......
  • State v. Cardwell, Appellate Case No. 2012–213334.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 2, 2015
    ...court must affirm a circuit court's Fourth Amendment suppression ruling if it is supported by any evidence. 414 S.C. 425State v. Taylor,401 S.C. 104, 108, 736 S.E.2d 663, 665 (2013)(citation omitted). “However, this deference does not bar this [c]ourt from 778 S.E.2d 488conducting its own r......
  • State v. Moore, Appellate Case No. 2013–002309.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 27, 2016
    ...due weight to common sense judgments reached by 415 S.C. 253officers in light of their experience and training." State v. Taylor, 401 S.C. 104, 113, 736 S.E.2d 663, 667 (2013) (citing United States v. Perkins, 363 F.3d 317, 321 (4th Cir.2004) ). At bottom, in evaluating whether an offi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
31 cases
  • State v. Spears, Appellate Case No. 2017-001933
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • February 12, 2020
    ...to walk away, the agents may have interpreted this as furtive behavior that created reasonable suspicion for a stop. See State v. Taylor , 401 S.C. 104, 736 S.E.2d 663 (2013) (finding reasonable suspicion existed where the defendant attempted to avoid officers by riding away on his bicycle)......
  • State v. Kotowski, Appellate Case No. 2016-000842
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 15, 2019
    ...officer's experience and intuition." State v. Taylor , 388 S.C. 101, 116, 694 S.E.2d 60, 68 (Ct. App. 2010), rev'd on other grounds , 401 S.C. 104, 736 S.E.2d 663 (2013). "Nevertheless, ‘a wealth of experience will [not] overcome a complete absence of articulable facts.’ " Id......
  • State v. Cardwell, Appellate Case No. 2012–213334.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 2, 2015
    ...court must affirm a circuit court's Fourth Amendment suppression ruling if it is supported by any evidence. 414 S.C. 425State v. Taylor,401 S.C. 104, 108, 736 S.E.2d 663, 665 (2013)(citation omitted). “However, this deference does not bar this [c]ourt from 778 S.E.2d 488conducting its own r......
  • State v. Moore, Appellate Case No. 2013–002309.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 27, 2016
    ...due weight to common sense judgments reached by 415 S.C. 253officers in light of their experience and training." State v. Taylor, 401 S.C. 104, 113, 736 S.E.2d 663, 667 (2013) (citing United States v. Perkins, 363 F.3d 317, 321 (4th Cir.2004) ). At bottom, in evaluating whether an offi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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