South Carolina law permits warrantless searches

| 4/29/2010

Law enforcement in South Carolina no longer need to worry about obtaining a warrant to search people on parole or probation.

House lawmakers voted 74-37 on Wednesday, April 28, to override Gov. Mark Sanford’s veto of a warrantless search bill. With the Senate vote of 36-7 earlier this month to override, the new law took effect immediately.

Police will not be able to search just anyone on the streets, however. The rule change allows law enforcement to search those on parole or probation without first going to a judge for a warrant. The vehicles and any possessions could also be searched. Residences would still be off-limits without a warrant.

Inmates would have to agree to future searches before being released from custody. Refusal to agree would result in inmates serving their full term.

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies must have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before searching someone on probation. Before any warrantless search, it must be verified the person is on parole or probation.

Sanford vetoed the bill – S191 – early this month. The Republican governor said it violates personal rights. He also said he sees no evidence that the powers granted would decrease crime or reduce recidivism.

“If there had been overwhelming results on this front, we would have supported the bill since in that case the benefit to society would outweigh the cost to individual liberty,” Sanford said in his veto statement.

Supporters, which include law enforcement, say the change will reduce crime.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said it only applies to people convicted of a crime. He said they are still being punished and shouldn’t receive the same privacy as citizens.

“S191 simply extends the right to search these individuals who would ordinarily still be in prison while they continue to serve their sentence on the outside,” Harrell explained to House lawmakers shortly before their vote to override.

He also said that previous legal challenges of similar rules that have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have proved that the constitutional argument doesn’t “hold water.”

Bill allows guns under seat
Another effort at the South Carolina statehouse would allow drivers to carry handguns underneath their vehicle seats. Currently, drivers are allowed to stow guns in a closed glove compartment, console or the trunk.

The bill – H3298 – is in the House Judiciary Committee. However, time is running out for the bill. The deadline to advance from the House to the Senate is Saturday, May 1.

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Carolina, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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