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State v. Dobbins

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

July 12, 2017

The State, Respondent,
v.
John William Dobbins Jr., Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2013-002134

          Heard April 11, 2017

         Appeal From Laurens County Donald B. Hocker, Circuit Court Judge

          Appellate Defender Taylor Davis Gilliam, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Spencer, both of Columbia, and Solicitor David M. Stumbo, of Greenwood, for Respondent.

          WILLIAMS, J.

         In this criminal appeal, John William Dobbins Jr. appeals his convictions for manufacturing methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, unlawful disposal of methamphetamine waste, possession of a schedule-two controlled substance, and possession of a schedule-four controlled substance. Dobbins asserts the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress because law enforcement officers violated the Fourth Amendment by entering his backyard and home without a warrant. We affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Early in the morning on November 24, 2011, officers with the Laurens County Sheriff's Office received a report of an assault in Waterloo, South Carolina. The victim identified his assailant as Shayla Gaines and reported that Gaines returned to her residence-a camper located approximately three miles away. Four officers went to the camper's address around 3:00 A.M. with the intent of arresting Gaines.[1]

         During his in camera testimony, Deputy Hodges stated he was familiar with the residence prior to arriving at the camper because he knew Dobbins "professionally" and knew Dobbins lived at that address. Deputy Hodges stated that, upon arrival, Corporal Nick Moye-one of the four initial responding officers-went to the rear of the camper to "make sure everything was [secure], " while Deputy Hodges and Lieutenant Marlon Higginbotham went to the front door of the camper. While walking to the front door of the camper, the officers noticed the unmistakable and "overwhelming" odor of methamphetamine being manufactured.[2] Deputy Hodges then knocked several times on the camper's door, prompting Dobbins to answer. Once Dobbins opened the door, Deputy Hodges announced they were with the sheriff's department and stated they were searching for Gaines. At that point, Dobbins "slammed the door in [their] face, " and the two officers forced the door open and entered the camper.

         Once inside the camper, Deputy Hodges noted the methamphetamine odor intensified. While the officers did not find Gaines in their search of the camper, they did find methamphetamine, methamphetamine by-product, scales, and a white, powdery substance in plain view on the countertops. Additionally, officers found an active "one pot" methamphetamine lab-a plastic bottle that was emitting smoke and contained all the ingredients for making methamphetamine-sitting on the toilet in the bathroom. Deputy Hodges testified they "went back out and asked [Dobbins] to sign a consent to search form" when they realized Gaines was not in the camper.[3] After obtaining Dobbins' consent, officers conducted a more thorough search of Dobbins' camper and found more items associated with manufacturing methamphetamine.

         Dobbins was indicted for manufacturing methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, unlawful disposal of methamphetamine waste, and two counts of possession of a controlled substance. Prior to trial, Dobbins moved to suppress all evidence seized from his residence because "it was obtained without a search warrant when [officers] entered the premises." The State asserted exigent circumstances existed-officers were searching for Gaines and smelled methamphetamine-permitting the officers to make a warrantless entry. After hearing Deputy Hodges' in camera testimony, the circuit court denied Dobbins' motion to suppress and explained exigent circumstances justified the initial entry into the camper.[4]

         The jury convicted Dobbins on all counts following trial. The circuit court sentenced Dobbins to concurrent terms of imprisonment of one year for the two possession offenses, five years for unlawful disposal of methamphetamine waste, twenty-five years for manufacturing methamphetamine, and twenty-five years for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "In criminal cases, the appellate court sits to review errors of law only." State v. Williams, 386 S.C. 503, 509, 690 S.E.2d 62, 65 (2010) (quoting State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 5-6, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001)). "The admission of evidence is within the discretion of the [circuit] court and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion." State v. Gaster, 349 S.C. 545, 557, 564 S.E.2d 87, 93 (2002). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the [circuit] court's ruling is based on an error of law or, when grounded in factual conclusions, is without evidentiary support." State v. Johnson, 410 S.C. 10, 17, 763 S.E.2d 36, 40 (Ct. App. 2014) (quoting State v. Jennings, 394 S.C. 473, 477-78, 716 S.E.2d 91, 93 (2011)). "In an appeal from a motion to suppress evidence based on Fourth Amendment grounds, an appellate court may ...


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