Heard: June 2, 2014.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal From Union County. John C. Hayes, III, Circuit Court Judge.
Appellate Defender LaNelle Cantey DuRant, of Columbia, for Appellant.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Mark Reynolds Farthing, both of Columbia, for Respondent.
SHORT, J. FEW, C.J., and GEATHERS, J., concur.
[410 S.C. 219] SHORT, J.:
Roderick Pope appeals his conviction for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. Pope argues the trial court erred in: (1) refusing to suppress the evidence seized during the search of the vehicle when law enforcement did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the traffic stop; (2) refusing to suppress the evidence seized during the search of the vehicle because law enforcement did not have probable cause to believe the vehicle contained evidence of criminal activity and no exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless search; and (3) finding a sufficient chain of custody existed to admit the evidence seized during the search of the vehicle and the drug evidence found in the police car. We affirm.
Officers arrested Vincent Harris at approximately 3:30 p.m. on June 24, 2010, after he sold crack cocaine to a confidential [410 S.C. 220] informant. In an attempt to get out of jail on bond, Harris agreed to arrange a drug transaction with his supplier, Pope. Harris called Pope to arrange a deal that same day for a half ounce of crack cocaine for six hundred dollars. Harris told Union County Sheriff's Sergeant James Johnson that Pope would be traveling on Highway 176 from Spartanburg into Union, and he would be driving a black Ford Expedition. Sergeant Johnson relayed the information about the deal and the vehicle to officers who set up at various locations along Highway 176. Harris called Pope to check on his location and told Sergeant Johnson that Pope had just passed the Lighthouse Fish Camp. Sergeant Johnson relayed Pope's location to the officers on the highway, and Captain James McNeil said he had a visual sighting on an Expedition at the Lighthouse Fish Camp. At approximately 6 p.m., Sheriff David Taylor saw the vehicle; he activated his blue lights; the Expedition pulled over; and Lieutenant John Sherfield and Captain McNeil pulled in behind the vehicles.
Three men were in the vehicle: Pope, Randy Crosby, and Lashad Brewton. Brewton was driving; Pope was in the front passenger seat; and Crosby was in the right rear seat. The vehicle was registered to Pope's wife, but Pope's license was suspended. Brewton stopped in the median instead of the right shoulder of the highway and took about a minute to pull over. As Lieutenant Sherfield approached the vehicle, he observed Crosby turn around, look back at him, bend down, and sit back up. After the officers removed the three men from the vehicle and handcuffed
them, Lieutenant Sherfield searched the vehicle. Underneath the seat where Crosby had been sitting, he found a digital scale with white residue. He tested the residue with a field test kit and determined it was cocaine. All three men were arrested for possession of cocaine. The officers did not find drugs on the men when they [410 S.C. 221] searched them on the side of the road. However, Lieutenant Sherfield found two hundred eighty dollars and a cell phone on Brewton, and five hundred seventy dollars on Crosby. The officers also found a cell phone on Pope that had fourteen incoming calls and five outgoing calls on that day to a person listed as " Vince." After arriving at the jail, Corporal Russell Vinson searched the vehicle he used to transport Brewton and Crosby. In the back, underneath the seat where Crosby had been seated, Corporal Vinson found a yellow plastic bag containing a little more than eleven grams of crack cocaine.
Pope was indicted for trafficking more than ten grams but less than twenty-eight grams of crack cocaine. The case proceeded to trial on December 6 through 8, 2011. The State tried Pope with his two co-defendants, Crosby and Brewton. The jury found Pope guilty of the lesser-included offense of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. The court sentenced him to fifteen years, suspended upon the service of ten years with five years' probation. The court denied Pope's motion to reconsider his sentence. This appeal followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In criminal cases, this 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. Edwards, 384 S.C. 504, 508, 682 S.E.2d 820, 822 (2009). Thus, on review, this court is limited to determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. Id. An abuse of discretion occurs when the court's decision is unsupported by the evidence or controlled by an error of law. State v. Black, 400 S.C. 10, 16, 732 S.E.2d 880, 884 (2012). " This [c]ourt does not re-evaluate the facts based on its own view of the preponderance of ...