The State v. Taylor

Decision Date13 May 2010
Docket NumberNo. 4687.,4687.
Citation388 S.C. 101,694 S.E.2d 60
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent,v.Syllester D. TAYLOR, Appellant.
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals


Appellate Defender Elizabeth A. Franklin-Best, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Christina J. Catoe, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Edgar Lewis Clements, III, of Florence, for Respondent.


Syllester D. Taylor appeals his conviction and thirty-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute (PWID) cocaine base, arguing the trial court erred in admitting the drug evidence because the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him or probable cause to search his tennis ball. We agree. Therefore, we reverse Taylor's conviction and vacate his sentence.1


On July 25, 2006, between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., Florence County Sheriff's Deputy Toby Bellamy received an anonymous tip indicating “a black male on a bicycle ... [was] possibly selling dope” on the “dirt portion of Ervin Street.” The tip did not include a clothing description. Bellamy drove his patrol car down Gilyard Street, which intersects Ervin Street, and observed a black male, later identified as Taylor, riding a bicycle on the dirt road. Bellamy testified he decided to approach the area on foot to “see exactly what was basically going on.” Bellamy and Lieutenant Darren Yarborough walked toward the intersection of Ervin and Gilyard Streets. As they turned onto Ervin Street from Gilyard Street, Bellamy again observed Taylor on a bicycle, this time “huddled close together” with another black male. As the officers approached, Bellamy did not witness anything pass between the two men. However, Bellamy testified when Taylor and his companion noticed the officers nearing, Taylor mounted his bicycle and rode toward Bellamy, while the other individual walked in the opposite direction toward the wooded area. Taylor pedaled past Bellamy on his bicycle, glanced at him, and Bellamy ordered him to stop. When Taylor ignored Bellamy's second command to stop and get on the ground, Bellamy conducted an arm-bar takedown. As a result, Taylor was forced off his bicycle and onto the ground. Once apprehended, Bellamy searched Taylor and discovered a tennis ball containing crack cocaine.

Taylor was arrested and charged with PWID cocaine base. At trial, Taylor sought to exclude the drug evidence, arguing the stop, search, and arrest were unlawful. During an in camera hearing, Bellamy testified to receiving an anonymous tip of possible drug activity in an area known for previous drug related incidents; observing Taylor on a bicycle where the tipster indicated; approaching Taylor on foot; and witnessing Taylor engrossed in a close conversation with another individual.2 Additionally, Bellamy indicated Taylor's close proximity to the other man led him to suspect illegal drug activity; he stated: “in [his] line of work and with recent experiences ... any time two males [were] that close huddled up [they were] trying to hide something ... [and] 90 percent of the time[,] ... some sort of illegal activity [was] going on.” He stated Taylor pedaled his bicycle as if he would not stop when riding away from his companion and toward the officers. Accordingly, Bellamy ordered Taylor to put his hands up and get on the ground to ensure the officers' safety and because Bellamy believed that he had probable cause drug activity might be taking place.

Taylor argued the drug evidence should be suppressed based on Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266, 120 S.Ct. 1375, 146 L.Ed.2d 254 (2000), and State v. Green, 341 S.C. 214, 532 S.E.2d 896 (Ct.App.2000). Specifically, he maintained this incident arose as the result of an unreliable anonymous tip. Additionally, he alleged he was within his rights to decline to stop after Bellamy's command. Taylor also asserted the officers failed to observe him engaged in any illegal activity. He contended the anonymous tip and being in close proximity to somebody while in a high-crime area did not rise to reasonable suspicion.

The State averred the following circumstances constituted reasonable suspicion to stop Taylor: (1) the anonymous tip; (2) the area being known for drug related incidents; (3) Taylor's close conversation with another individual was denotative of criminal activity; (4) Taylor's companion's departure toward the woods when the officers approached; and (5) Taylor's getting on his bicycle and pedaling toward the officer “like [he was] not going to stop.” Furthermore, the State insisted these facts were distinguishable from J.L. and Green because Taylor's close conversation suggested criminal activity, he departed the scene only when he noticed the officers, and he ignored the officers' commands to stop.

The trial court admitted the drug evidence, finding the stop was based on more than the anonymous tip.3 The trial judge referred to the officers' observations, the high-crime nature of the area, and Taylor's close proximity to his companion. While conceding Taylor's reasonable suspicion argument was persuasive, the court nevertheless believed the tipster's anonymity affected the credibility and the weight of the evidence, not its existence.4

Accordingly, Bellamy and Yarborough testified at trial regarding the circumstances surrounding Taylor's arrest. At the close of the State's case, Taylor renewed his prior objections and the trial court reiterated its previous denial of Taylor's motion to suppress. The jury convicted Taylor of PWID cocaine base, and the trial court sentenced him to thirty years' imprisonment. 5 This appeal followed.


[T]he appellate standard of review in Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases is limited to determining whether any evidence supports the trial court's finding and the appellate court may only reverse where there is clear error.” State v. Green, 341 S.C. 214, 219 n. 3, 532 S.E.2d 896, 898 n. 3 (Ct.App.2000); accord State v. Sanders, 388 S.C. 292, 696 S.E.2d 592 (App.2009) (Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 16 at 80); State v. Willard, 374 S.C. 129, 133, 647 S.E.2d 252, 255 (Ct.App.2007).


Taylor argues the trial court erred in admitting the drug evidence because the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him. We agree.

“A police officer may stop and briefly detain and question a person for investigative purposes, without treading upon his Fourth Amendment rights, when the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts, short of probable cause for arrest, that the person is involved in criminal activity.” State v. Blassingame, 338 S.C. 240, 248, 525 S.E.2d 535, 539 (Ct.App.1999); see also U.S. v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7, 109 S.Ct. 1581, 104 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). “Reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard than probable cause and allows an officer to effectuate a stop when there is some objective manifestation of criminal activity involving the person stopped.” State v. Padgett, 354 S.C. 268, 273, 580 S.E.2d 159, 162 (Ct.App.2003) (citations omitted); Blassingame, 338 S.C. at 248, 525 S.E.2d at 539 (“The term ‘reasonable suspicion’ requires a particularized and objective basis that would lead one to suspect another of criminal activity.”) (citing U.S. v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18, 101 S.Ct. 690, 66 L.Ed.2d 621 (1981)). When evaluating an investigatory stop's validity, a court must consider the totality of circumstances. Sokolow, 490 U.S. at 8, 109 S.Ct. 1581. Likewise, the court “must require the agent to articulate the factors leading to that conclusion.” Id. at 10, 109 S.Ct. 1581.

Therefore, we examine an extensive litany of cases and factors leading to reasonable suspicion in order to properly determine the appropriate application of reasonable suspicion in the instant matter.

A. Factors Leading to Reasonable Suspicion

When determining whether the circumstances are sufficiently suspicious to warrant further investigation, officers are not required to ignore the relevant characteristics of a location. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124, 120 S.Ct. 673, 145 L.Ed.2d 570 (2000). However, [a]n individual's presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime.” Id. at 124, 120 S.Ct. 673; U.S. v. Lender, 985 F.2d 151, 154 (4th Cir.1993) (stating a defendant's presence in a high crime area does not by itself constitute reasonable suspicion, but an officer may consider an area's propensity toward criminal activity); accord U.S. v. Sprinkle, 106 F.3d 613, 617 (4th Cir.1997) (articulating an individual's presence in a high-crime area, without more, will not sustain a finding of reasonable suspicion; however, the disposition of an area toward criminal activity may be considered with additional particularized factors to support a finding of reasonable suspicion).6

In addition to location, [t]he lateness of the hour is another fact that may raise the level of suspicion.” Lender, 985 F.2d at 154 (finding the officers' observations of the defendant in a known drug area at approximately 1 a.m. a factor contributing to reasonable suspicion).

Furthermore, an individual's innocent and lawful actions may, in certain situations, combine to suggest criminal activity. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 125, 120 S.Ct. 673, 145 L.Ed.2d 570 (2000) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), as an example of “conduct justifying the stop [being] ambiguous and susceptible of an innocent explanation”).7 Specifically, Terry recognized that the officers could detain the individuals to resolve the ambiguity” of their actions. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 125, 120 S.Ct. 673.


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