Walterboro, SC asked in Criminal Law, Civil Rights and Constitutional Law for South Carolina

Q: Can a deputy sheriff in SC conduct a vehicle search on a non-county maintained (private/blue street sign) road?

Search was conducted during a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight observed on main highway but not stopped until on the private dirt road. K-9 unit was brought on scene and "alerted" as their reasoning for conducting the search. But were they legally even allowed to bring in the K-9 unit for such a stop due to the location? I'm not sure if SECTION 56-5-6310 applies or not or if there's somewhere else in the state legislation regarding this issue.

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: In South Carolina, the authority of a deputy sheriff to conduct a vehicle search does not necessarily change based on whether the road is county-maintained or private. The legality of the search typically hinges on whether the officer had probable cause or the driver's consent, rather than the type of road where the stop occurred.

The fact that the traffic stop was initiated due to a broken taillight on a public highway provides the initial basis for the stop. The use of a K-9 unit during a routine traffic stop is generally permissible if it does not unreasonably prolong the stop and there is reasonable suspicion to warrant the use of a K-9.

If the K-9 "alerted" to the presence of illegal substances, this can provide probable cause for a vehicle search. The location of the stop, in this case, a private road, does not automatically invalidate the search conducted with probable cause.

SECTION 56-5-6310 of the South Carolina Code primarily deals with the removal of unattended vehicles from private property and may not be directly relevant to your situation.

It's important to note that each case is unique, and the specific circumstances of the stop and search are crucial in determining legality. If you believe your rights were violated during the stop and search, it's advisable to consult with an attorney who can review the details of your case and provide guidance based on South Carolina law and the specifics of your situation.

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