Stops, Searches, and Seizures in South Carolina – Know Your Rights

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Search warrants in South Carolina typically authorize searching for and seizing certain items that law enforcement reasonably believes could be evidence or potential evidence of a crime.

There are many circumstances for which issuing a search warrant is appropriate. Search warrants under South Carolina law allow police to look for property that is:

  • stolen or embezzled;
  • illegal to possess;
  • has been used or is currently being used during the commission of a crime;
  • serves as evidence that a criminal act took place;
  • being concealed in order to prevent discovery of a criminal act;
  • enabling the property holder to commit a specific criminal offense in the future; or
  • any restricted drug, such as narcotics, barbiturates, amphetamine, methamphetamine, prescription drugs or any other controlled substance that is sold, manufactured, possessed, prescribed, administered, distributed, dispensed, or compounded in a way that violates the local, state or federal laws.

When Can Police Seize Evidence Without a Search Warrant in South Carolina?

In some cases, police will search and seize property without a search warrant. This is not always proper or legal, however. Your search and seizure criminal defense attorney can examine the details of how the evidence that led to charges against you was obtained in the first place.

Was the Initial Stop Proper Under the Law?

In order for the seizure to be proper under the law, however, the stop – whether a traffic stop, a pedestrian stop or otherwise – must have been legal in the first place. If the law enforcement officer had no valid reason to make a stop, then the evidence found and seized will have been taken unlawfully.

This is true even when the evidence found is illegal or evidence of a crime. If you believe you were stopped and searched illegally, and have since been charged with a crime, it is crucial that you begin working with an experienced search and seizure attorney in South Carolina who can protect your rights. It is possible the case against you could be thrown out or dismissed, based on the illegal stop.

Was the Search Reasonable?

Even if the police officer had a good reason to stop you, he or she cannot automatically search you and your property without additional probable cause. Even where the law enforcement officer reasonably fears for his or her safety during the stop, he or she may only conduct a quick search – often called a protective sweep – of the immediate area or conduct a pat down of your person in order to determine that no dangerous weapons are within close reach, and no accomplices are hiding preparing to ambush or attack police.

The case law governing whether a search subsequent to a stop was legal can be quite nuanced. Your search and seizure attorney in South Carolina will be able to examine all the details of your stop and the search that followed, and whether your rights were protected throughout. If not, your defense attorney can ask the court to throw out the evidence or charges altogether.

Was the Search Warrant Legal in the First Place?

Even in cases where law enforcement obtained a search warrant, it is possible for the warrant to have been issued illegally. If the judge signed the search warrant without adequate reason to do so, or if police provided false information in order to get the search warrant issued, the entire search and all the evidence found thereafter could be thrown out and prevented from being used as evidence against you in court.

Search Warrant Specifics in South Carolina

A search warrant is not a generic document and it is also not a carte blanche for police to ransack every square inch of your property at their whim. Rather, it must specify exactly what police are searching for, where they intend to search, and which items they intend to seize. The persons or property meant to be seized and the location of the search must be described in the search warrant with particularity. In addition, the search warrant must be supported by oath or affirmation. If the evidence seized fell outside the scope of the search warrant or the warrant was inadequate in its particulars, the evidence may be deemed inadmissible.

How Can a Search and Seizure Attorney in South Carolina Help?

Your criminal defense attorney who handles illegal searches and seizures can move to suppress any evidence that stems from an illegal search or seizure, and can even ask for the case against you to be altogether dismissed. Even when a search or seizure was authorized properly, it is possible it was executed improperly, or against the wrong person.

For instance, even if law enforcement had a valid search warrant for a residence, it may not have been proper to search your pockets or vehicle outside, simply because you were present in a location where drugs or contraband was found. Each situation is unique, and the law governing these issues is complex. This is one reason why having an experienced criminal defense lawyer who knows the specifics of the nuanced search and seizure laws in South Carolina on your side is so important.

Exceptions to Search Warrant Requirements in South Carolina

There are several exceptions that allow police to search and seize without a warrant, and when a warrantless search has taken place, it is not uncommon for police to argue that the conduct fell under an exception to the law, including that law enforcement:

  • acted to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence;
  • were in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon;
  • reasonably feared for their own safety or that of the public;
  • seized items which were in plain view in an area police had authority to be; or
  • obtained your consent to the search or seizure.

Whether law enforcement claims a warrantless search and seizure fell under one of the allowable exceptions to Fourth Amendment protections, it is crucial that you begin working with an experienced search warrant and seizure attorney in South Carolina who can protect your rights. Contact The Michael Jeffcoat Firm for a free case consultation today.

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