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2011-UP-411 - State v. Johnson

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State, Respondent,

v.

Terrance D. Johnson, Appellant.


Appeal From Charleston County
Deadra L. Jefferson, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No.  2011-UP-411 
Submitted August 15, 2011 – Filed August 29, 2011


AFFIRMED


Chief Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan Wilson, 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 Scarlett Anne Wilson, of Charleston, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Terrance D. Johnson appeals his conviction for trafficking cocaine, arguing the trial court erroneously denied his motion to suppress the evidence found in his car because the circumstances of stopping his car and detaining him mandated suppression, and the "discovery of the gun and drugs were part and parcel of the same stop and detention."  We affirm.[1]

"In criminal cases, the appellate court sits to review errors of law only" and is "bound by the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous."  State v. Butler, 353 S.C. 383, 388, 577 S.E.2d 498, 500 (Ct. App. 2003) (citations omitted).  The appellate court applies the same standard of review to preliminary factual findings in determining the admissibility of evidence in criminal cases.  Id.  "Our review in Fourth amendment search and seizure cases is limited to determining whether any evidence supports the trial court's finding."  Id. (citation omitted).

"Where probable cause exists to believe that a traffic violation has occurred, the decision to stop the automobile is reasonable per se."  State v. Williams, 351 S.C. 591, 598, 571 S.E.2d 703, 707 (Ct. App. 2002) (citing Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10 (1996)).  Police presence "does not, standing alone, constitute a seizure" when a reasonable person would believe he is free to "go about his business."  Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 575-76 (1988) (citations omitted).  "[A]ny object falling within the plain view of a law enforcement officer who is lawfully in a position to view the object is subject to lawful seizure."  State v. Abdullah, 357 S.C. 344, 352, 592 S.E.2d 344, 349 (Ct. App. 2004).

The trial court properly denied Johnson's motion to suppress the evidence found in his car.  Evidence in the record supports the trial court's finding that the stop was lawful and it ended.  A police officer stopped Johnson in the parking lot of a flower shop for a license plate violation.  After a stop of at most fifteen minutes, the officer gave Johnson a verbal warning, told him he was free to go, and Johnson exited his car and entered the flower shop.  Johnson's departure from the police's presence and entrance into the flower shop is evidence he felt free to leave.  Thus, the trial court committed no clear error regarding the lawfulness of this stop.

Further, evidence in the record supports the trial court's finding that the discovery of a firearm in plain view was a separate incident which led to the finding of the drugs.  After Johnson entered the flower shop, the first officer and a backup officer were walking back to their cars.  At that time, the backup officer noticed a firearm on the floorboard of the driver's side of Johnson's car, through the passenger-side window.  The officers then arrested Johnson for a firearm violationpursuant to section 16-23-20 of the South Carolina Code (2003).  An inventory search of the car led to the discovery of drugs in the armrest of the car.  Therefore, the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress is supported by the evidence.

AFFIRMED.

HUFF, PIEPER, and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.


[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.