February 13, 2017
From Richland County Robert E. Hood, Circuit Court Judge
Appellate Defender LaNelle Cantey DuRant, of Columbia, for
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Assistant Deputy
Attorney General David A. Spencer, and Solicitor Daniel
Edward Johnson, all of Columbia, for Respondent.
Terrell Spears appeals his conviction and sentence for
trafficking crack cocaine between ten and twenty-eight grams.
He argues the trial court erred by denying his motion to
suppress drug evidence because he was seized within the
meaning of the Fourth Amendment and law enforcement lacked a
reasonable suspicion he was involved in criminal activity. We
March 29, 2012, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
working with the Lexington County Sheriff's Office
received a tip that one or two black males being investigated
by the DEA were traveling from New York City to South
Carolina on the "Chinese bus lines." These bus
lines depart from Chinatown and are owned and operated by
Chinese Americans and Chinese Canadians. According to the DEA
agents, the buses are often patronized by wanted subjects and
people trafficking in narcotics and counterfeit goods because
the bus lines are inexpensive, do not require identification,
and have no security measures. On that day, two of these
buses were scheduled to arrive at different locations in
Richland County. Agents Dennis Tracy, Briton Lorenzen, and
Frank Finch were dispatched to one of the bus stops. They
were dressed in plain clothes, and Lorenzen's and
Finch's badges and guns were visible. The agents arrived
at the bus stop as passengers were exiting the bus.
the passengers disembarking, the agents observed Spears and
Traci Williams, a female, exit the bus and retrieve four
large bags. Unlike the other passengers, Spears and Williams
appeared nervous and kept looking at the agents and talking
amongst themselves. Spears and Williams left the bus stop on
foot, and the agents followed them. As they walked, Spears
and Williams continued to look back at the agents, and
Williams appeared to hand something to Spears. After
following Spears and Williams for several hundred feet, the
agents walked at a fast pace to catch up with them. The
agents identified themselves and asked to speak with Spears
and Williams. Solely based on Williams and Spears's
activity, not the tip, the agents made contact with Spears
and Williams to identify them and ascertain whether they were
involved in criminal activity. The agents asked to speak with
Spears and Williams and asked them questions such as where
they had traveled from and where they were going. Agent Tracy
then told Spears and Williams there had been problems in the
past with wanted subjects, drugs, and counterfeit merchandise
on the bus line and asked them for their identification.
After Spears gave Agent Tracy his identification, Agent Tracy
asked Spears if he had any illegal weapons or items on him or
in his property. Spears hesitated before saying "no,
" making Agent Tracy suspicious because until that
point, Spears had been very forthcoming.
the time Agent Tracy asked Spears about illegal items, Spears
began to put his hands underneath his shirt and make what
Agent Tracy described as a "puffing" motion,
pushing the shirt away from his waistband and body. Agent
Tracy asked Spears not to do this because he needed to see
Spears's hands for safety purposes. Spears stopped
momentarily but then repeated the motion. After asking Spears
not to do this three times, Agent Tracy told Spears he was
going to search him for weapons. While patting Spears down,
Agent Tracy felt a rocky, ball-like object that felt
consistent with crack cocaine. After completing the search,
Agent Tracy removed the object from Spears's waistband.
The object was wrapped in a napkin and inside a plastic bag.
Agent Tracy removed the object from the plastic bag and the
napkin, saw it was consistent with crack cocaine, and
to trial, Spears moved to suppress the drug evidence, arguing
he was seized by the agents because a reasonable person would
not have felt free to leave and the agents did not have
reasonable suspicion to stop Spears and
Williams. The State contended the encounter between
Spears, Williams, and the agents was consensual and
therefore, the agents did not need reasonable suspicion.
trial court denied Spears's motion to suppress the drugs.
The trial court concluded the agents engaged Spears in a
consensual encounter, finding Spears and Williams willingly
stopped and talked with the agents, the agents told Spears
and Williams they were law enforcement, and the agents did
not tell Spears he was not free to leave. At trial, Spears
was convicted of trafficking cocaine between ten and
twenty-eight grams and received a thirty-year sentence.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
appeals from a motion to suppress based on Fourth Amendment
grounds, this [c]ourt applies a deferential standard of
review and will reverse if there is clear error."
State v. Adams, 409 S.C. 641, 647, 763 S.E.2d 341,
344 (2014) (quoting State v. Tindall, 388 S.C. 518,
521, 698 S.E.2d 203, 205 (2010)). "The 'clear
error' standard means that an appellate court will not
reverse a trial court's finding of fact simply because it
would have decided the case differently." State v.
Pichardo, 367 S.C. 84, 96, 623 S.E.2d 840, 846 (Ct. App.
2005). "Rather, appellate courts must affirm if there is