Posted on Mar 04, 2016

On March 2, 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned a crack distribution case because Greenville detectives violated the suspect’s constitutional rights in stopping him near a raid on a drug house. Here’s why.

How It Went Down

The decision is called State v. Donald Anderson. Greenville detectives got a search warrant for a house on Dobbs Street. Officers also positioned themselves at both ends of a nearby footpath allegedly used to move drugs from the house. While executing the search warrant, officers spotted Mr. Anderson and a lady on the footpath. When Anderson saw officers at one end, he turned around to see the officers at the other, then veered off the footpath. Officers gave chase.

Weapon drawn, a detective ordered Anderson to the ground. He complied immediately. When he stood up, the officer patted him down, finding crack cocaine.

At trial, Anderson made a motion to throw out the drugs, dismissing the case. The judge denied it, convicting him. The court of appeals upheld the conviction. The Supreme Court took the case.

Why The Fight When He Had The Drugs?

Anderson didn’t argue innocence. His defense was officers had no right to stop him to find the drugs in the first place.

Rights at stake. Officers can’t stop you for no reason. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids them from unreasonable “seizures,” which includes stopping you while walking around. To legally stop you, officers must have a good reason—legally called “reasonable suspicion”—you are involved in crime.

What does reasonable suspicion look like? Honestly, there’s no clear definition: it’s basically “we know it when we see it (or not).” To evaluate reasonable suspicion, judges look at the whole picture to see if the officer has a specific and unbiased reason to suspect you of crime. Every case is different, and there are many factors based on the situation that made you catch police attention.

Supreme Court Finds This Stop Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court determined officers did not have reasonable suspicion Anderson to justify stopping him. Thus, officers violated his constitutional rights. The Court observed officer relied on only Anderson’s nearness to the drug raid and “allegedly evasive behavior.” The Court did note being in a high crime area and evasive conduct can be considerations for reasonable suspicion. But it wasn’t enough here.

The Court ruled being in a high crime area doesn’t give officers the right to stop just anybody. As justices must, they balanced their decision by pointing out they give great respect to officer experience due to the tough, dangerous situations they face every day. But here, the Court just couldn’t accept allowing people to be stopped just because they suffer the “misfortune of living in an area plagued by crime.”

The Court also noted the search warrant didn’t include the footpath where officers found Anderson. Additionally, officers didn’t see him flee the drug house and didn’t recognize him as a suspect related to it.

Results Like This Don’t Get Handed Out

Police and prosecutors can be unforgiving on drug cases. Without an experienced criminal defense lawyer to notice the violation of his constitutional rights, to make his case properly at trial, and to keep fighting through appeal, Anderson would never have had a chance to erase the stain of his conviction or the pain of his sentence, which included jail.

If you’re charged with a drug crime, it won’t be any different for you. The only thing you might be missing out on by not contacting a drug defense lawyer is an outcome you can live with that doesn’t include prison—and it might just be dismissal. It won’t cost you a thing for a free meeting with us to discuss building your defense. Contact us right now with a live chat to set that up.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.