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State v. Moore

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

August 30, 2017

The State, Respondent,
v.
Robert Lee Moore, Appellant.

         Heard January 18, 2017

         Appeal From Spartanburg County R. Keith Kelly, Circuit Court Judge Appellate Case No. 2014-001669

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

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General William M. Blitch, Jr., both of Columbia; and Solicitor Barry Joe Barnette, of Spartanburg, for Respondent.

          OPINION

          MCDONALD, J.

         Robert Lee Moore appeals his conviction for attempted murder, arguing the trial court erred when it (1) denied his motion to suppress evidence from a limited warrantless search identifying him as the owner of a cell phone found at the crime scene and (2) denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to a subsequent search warrant Moore contends was based on a conclusory affidavit. Although the panel majority affirms the circuit court's denial of Moore's motion to suppress the identification information obtained from the warrantless search of the cell phone, Chief Judge Lockemy, Judge Konduros, and I differ in our analyses of this Fourth Amendment challenge. The majority also affirms the circuit court's denial of Moore's motion to suppress the evidence obtained pursuant to the search warrant, as we find the supporting affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On the afternoon of February 25, 2013, Travis Hall (Victim) was found shot in the head in a Taco Bell parking lot. When police arrived at the scene, Victim was draped out of the driver's side door of his vehicle, and three cell phones were found in the car. The phone at issue here was an AT&T ZTE331 model flip phone (the flip phone) discovered "almost up under" the driver's side seat. The other two phones were iPhones belonging to the Victim. In addition to the three phones, money and drugs were found inside the vehicle.

         Police photographed and collected the phones, took them to the Sheriff's Office, and gave them to Detective Lindsay McGraw. Detective McGraw performed limited forensic examinations to determine who owned each of the phones. Specifically, he pulled the flip phone's subscriber identity module card (SIM card) from the phone and obtained the telephone number associated with the phone. Detective McGraw provided the phone number to Investigator Tom Clark, who ran it through a database and determined the flip phone belonged to Moore. Investigator Clark then applied for a search warrant to examine the stored data on the phone. After obtaining the search warrant, Detective McGraw performed a full forensic examination of the flip phone during which he recovered stored contacts, images, call logs, and text messages.

         Before trial, Moore moved to suppress any and all information derived from the search of his phone, citing Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014). Moore further argued the search warrant affidavit submitted to support the flip phone warrant application was conclusory and did not support the finding of probable cause necessary for issuance of the search warrant. The trial court denied the motion to suppress the flip phone evidence, ruling the phone was abandoned property.

         At trial, the State's evidence established Victim was at his mother's home prior to the shooting and received several phone calls from the same number. Records from the flip phone revealed five calls were made to Victim's phone between 1:03 p.m. and 2:06 p.m. on the day of the shooting.

         After the shooting, witnesses observed a white Chrysler 300 rapidly fleeing the area. One witness who was on foot stated the car drove against the flow of traffic and had to slam on its brakes to avoid hitting her. Police later used surveillance footage to identify the vehicle at a gas station near the Taco Bell. The video showed that after the vehicle parked at the gas station, two men exited and threw a bag in the trash before entering the gas station. The two men were identified as Tevin Thomas and Moore. Inside, Moore bought potato chips and cigarettes, and was required to give his birthdate for the cigarette purchase. This footage showed Thomas wearing dark clothing and Moore wearing a red jacket. Other cameras at a Cracker Barrel and an automotive business recorded the vehicle after it left the gas station. The vehicle was eventually located in a neighborhood not far from the automotive business.

         Thomas testified that he and Moore had planned to rob Victim during a drug deal. According to Thomas, Moore was given a revolver by a third man who did not go with them to the Taco Bell. Moore and Thomas rode to the Taco Bell in Moore's Chrysler. Once they arrived, Victim parked next to their car and Moore exited his car and got into Victim's car. Thomas stated he saw Moore pull the gun on Victim; a struggle then ensued and Thomas heard a gunshot. Thomas testified that he got out of Moore's car and tried to intervene when he saw the struggle, but the doors on Victim's car were locked. When Thomas later asked whether Moore shot Victim, Moore responded, "yeah, I seen blood coming out of his head."

         A fingerprint expert testified Thomas left ten fingerprints on the exterior of the passenger side of Victim's car. None of Moore's fingerprints were found on Victim's car; however, both Thomas's and Moore's fingerprints were found on the white Chrysler 300.

         Moore called eyewitness Chris Barnes, who testified he was at the Taco Bell, heard a shot, then saw a man emerge from the passenger side of Victim's car and jump into another car. He described the man as wearing a dark colored sweatshirt and a dark colored toboggan. Barnes was shown the gas station surveillance video with Moore wearing a red jacket, but Barnes insisted the man he "locked eyes with" at the Taco Bell was not wearing red.

         The jury found Moore guilty of attempted murder, and the circuit court sentenced him to thirty years' imprisonment.

          Standard of Review

         "On appeals from a motion to suppress based on Fourth Amendment grounds, the appellate court] . . . reviews questions of law de novo." State v. Bash, 419 S.C. 263, 268, 797 S.E.2d 721, 723-24 (2017). As to a circuit court's findings of fact, we must affirm "if there is any evidence to support" the factual findings and "may reverse only for clear error." State v. Brown, 401 S.C. 82, 87, 736 S.E.2d 263, 265 (2012).

         Law and Analysis

         I. Warrantless Search ...


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