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State v. Adams, Opinion

Supreme Court of South Carolina

September 10, 2014

The State, Respondent,
v.
Alfred Adams, Petitioner

Heard May 7, 2014

Page 342

Appeal from Charleston County. Appellate Case No. 2012-212779. J. C. Nicholson, Jr., Circuit Court Judge.

Appellate Defender Robert M. Pachak, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Deborah R.J. Shupe, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, of Charleston, for Respondent.

JUSTICE KITTREDGE. TOAL, C.J., PLEICONES, HEARN, JJ., and Acting Justice James E. Moore, concur.

OPINION

Page 343

[409 S.C. 643] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

KITTREDGE, JUSTICE

Believing Petitioner Alfred Adams was a drug dealer, officers from the North Charleston South Carolina Police Department (NCPD), acting without a warrant, placed a Global Positioning System (GPS)[1] device on a vehicle driven by Adams. After monitoring Adams' travel to Atlanta, Georgia, and upon his return to South Carolina, law enforcement stationed a drug canine unit on the interstate within the NCPD's jurisdiction, with instructions to conduct a traffic stop on Adams' vehicle. An officer conducted the requested traffic stop and discovered cocaine in Adams' possession, which resulted in Adams' arrest. Adams moved to suppress the drugs, arguing that the warrantless installation of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied Adams' motion, finding no constitutional violation. The court of appeals found the warrantless installation of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment but determined that the exclusionary rule did not apply because " Adams's traffic violations [409 S.C. 644] were intervening criminal acts sufficient to cure the taint arising from unlawfully installing the [GPS] device and monitoring the vehicle." State v. Adams, 397 S.C. 481, 489, 725 S.E.2d 523, 527-28 (Ct. App. 2012). We reverse and remand.

I.

In 2008, a confidential informant approached the NCPD and informed officers that Adams was selling cocaine and heroin in the North Charleston area. The confidential informant informed officers that Adams purchased drugs from Atlanta and New York. After an investigation, officers installed a GPS device on the undercarriage of Adams' car, which was parked in a public garage in Charleston. Officers inexplicably did not obtain a warrant or court authorization for the installation of the GPS device. Thereafter, the officers monitored Adams' movements by way of the GPS data. Five days after installing the device, the GPS data indicated that Adams' vehicle was in Atlanta.

When Adams' vehicle was returning toward Charleston, investigators contacted Sergeant Timothy Blair and instructed him to position himself, along with a drug canine, at a rest area on Interstate 26 in North Charleston. Sergeant Blair, who was aware that Adams was a suspected drug dealer, was instructed be on the lookout for Adams and to conduct a traffic stop. Soon thereafter, Sergeant Blair observed Adams' vehicle and pulled onto the interstate behind it. A short time later, Adams committed an improper lane change. Sergeant Blair did not, however, initiate a traffic stop. Instead, Sergeant Blair continued to follow Adams, observed another traffic violation, and waited for Adams to drive near Charleston Southern University before turning on his blue lights and directing Adams to pull over.

This was no ordinary traffic stop. Sergeant Blair immediately called for backup and drew his weapon as he approached the vehicle. The backup officer, Officer James Greenawalt, arrived one or two minutes later. Sergeant Blair directed Greenawalt to remove Adams from the vehicle and run a license check. Meanwhile, Sergeant Blair used the dog to conduct a perimeter sniff of Adams' vehicle. The dog alerted to the driver's door of Adams' vehicle.

[409 S.C. 645] At this point, Sergeant Blair instructed Greenawalt to pat Adams down for weapons. In doing so, Greenawalt felt a " jagged, round object" near Adams' groin that he believed to be narcotics. Greenawalt retrieved the item, which was 141.62 grams of cocaine.

Adams was charged with trafficking cocaine and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine ...


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