The State v. Tindall, 26861.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPLEICONES
Citation698 S.E.2d 203,388 S.C. 518
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent,v.Terry T. TINDALL, Petitioner.
Docket NumberNo. 26861.,26861.
Decision Date16 August 2010

388 S.C. 518
698 S.E.2d 203

The STATE, Respondent,
Terry T. TINDALL, Petitioner.

No. 26861.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard Nov. 4, 2009.
Decided Aug. 16, 2010.

698 S.E.2d 204
John S. Nichols, of Bluestein, Nichols, Thompson & Delgado, LLC, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Senior Assistant Attorney General Harold M. Coombs, Jr., all of Columbia; and Solicitor Christina Theos Adams, of Anderson, for Respondent.


Terry T. Tindall was convicted of trafficking cocaine in excess of four hundred grams, sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment, and assessed a $250,000 fine. On certiorari, he challenges the Court of Appeals rulings affirming the trial court's denial of his motions to suppress the cocaine and his statement to police. State v. Tindall, 379 S.C. 304, 665 S.E.2d 188 (Ct.App.2008). We reverse.


One morning in 2004, an officer stopped Tindall's vehicle for speeding, following another vehicle too closely, and failure to maintain his lane. The officer asked Tindall to exit the vehicle and to have a seat in the patrol car. The officer questioned Tindall and, approximately fifteen to twenty minutes into the stop, asked Tindall if he could search his car, to which he replied “I don't care” or “I don't mind.” The officer searched the vehicle and discovered a large quantity of cocaine hidden beneath the rear bumper.1

Tindall was placed in custody and given Miranda warnings, after which he gave a statement to the officer admitting that he was being paid $1,500 to drive the Jeep from

698 S.E.2d 205
Atlanta to Durham. Tindall never admitted knowing that the cocaine was in the vehicle. At trial, Tindall moved to suppress the cocaine and his statement to police. The trial court denied the motions and Tindall was convicted and sentenced. The Court of Appeals affirmed on direct appeal. This Court granted certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals.

On appeals from a motion to suppress based on Fourth Amendment grounds, this Court applies a deferential standard of review and will reverse if there is clear error. See State v. Khingratsaiphon, 352 S.C. 62, 70, 572 S.E.2d 456, 459 (2002). However, this deference does not bar this Court from conducting its own review of the record to determine whether the trial judge's decision is supported by the evidence. Id.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States grants citizens the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure. U.S. Const. amend. IV. Temporary detention of an individual in the course of a routine traffic stop constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure, but where probable cause exists to believe that a traffic violation has occurred, such a seizure is reasonable per se. See Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996). In carrying out a routine traffic stop, a law enforcement officer may request a driver's license and vehicle registration, run a computer check, and issue a citation. See United States v. Sullivan, 138 F.3d 126, 131 (4th Cir.1998). Any further detention for questioning is beyond the scope of the stop and therefore illegal unless the officer has reasonable suspicion of a serious crime. Id.

Tindall concedes that the initial traffic stop was legal but contends that the officer exceeded the scope of the stop without reasonable suspicion that a serious crime was afoot. We agree.2

The officer stopped Tindall for speeding, following too closely behind another vehicle, and failing to maintain his lane. He obtained Tindall's driver's license, registration, proof of insurance, and a copy of the car rental agreement and asked him to have a seat in the front passenger seat of his patrol car. The officer testified that as Tindall exited the vehicle, he did a “felony stretch,” raising his hands in a stress relief action which officers are taught to look for in criminal patrol classes. He then patted-down Tindall and Tindall took a seat in the patrol car. A police dog was in the back of the vehicle.

The officer asked Tindall about his destination and he responded that he was driving to Durham to meet with his brother. The officer then called in the driver's license and vehicle information. Approximately three minutes later, the dispatcher reported back that there were no problems with either the license or vehicle and the officer informed Tindall that he would write him a warning ticket.

At this point, the purpose of the traffic stop was accomplished except for the issuance of the warning ticket. However, rather than issue the ticket, the officer continued to question Tindall for an additional six to seven minutes, inquiring as to where he was going, the purpose for the trip, what exit he would take to get to Durham, whether he had ever been charged with any drug crimes, what type of business he was in, and various questions about his business.3 During this questioning, two other officers called in for back-up stood outside of the patrol car door.

We find the officer's continued detention of Tindall exceeded the scope of the traffic stop and constituted a seizure for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. A reasonable person in Tindall's position-seated in the front seat of the patrol car with two officers standing at his door, another officer to his left, and a police dog in the back seat-would not have felt free to terminate the encounter. See

698 S.E.2d 206
Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 2386, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991) (seizure for purposes of Fourth Amendment where reasonable person would not feel free to disregard the police and go about his business).

The question therefore becomes whether the officer reasonably suspected a serious crime at the point at which he chose not to conclude the traffic stop, despite his stated intention to issue a warning ticket, instead opting to continue his questioning. See Sullivan, 138 F.3d at 131. At that point, the officer had ascertained the following information: (1) Tindall was driving to Durham 4 to meet his brother; (2) Tindall was driving a rental car rented the previous day by another individual which was to be returned to Atlanta on the day of the stop; (3) Tindall did a “felony stretch” on exiting the vehicle; and (4) Tindall seemed nervous. We find these facts did not provide the officer with a “reasonable suspicion” that a serious crime...

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