COLUMBIA -- Criminals on probation and parole are now subject to searches without warrants by South Carolina police.
The House overrode Gov. Mark Sanford's veto Wednesday on legislation that lets the state's 16,000 law enforcement officers conduct the warrantless searches, greatly expanding an authority that had been granted only to the state's vastly overwhelmed 350 probation and parole agents.
The new law, effective immediately following the House's 74-37 vote, expands the ability to monitor suspicious behavior by the more than 31,000 individuals on probation and parole.
The Senate voted 36-7 to override the veto on April 14. Sanford vetoed the bill because he said he is concerned that it erodes personal liberty and does not guarantee that the state will be a safer place to live.
The vehicles owned and driven by probationers and parolees, including juveniles, also will be subject to the searches, along with the personal belongings they carry with them. Their homes would not.
Warrants will be required for law enforcement to search offenders convicted of misdemeanors that carry jail sentences of less than a year.
Law enforcement officers across the state celebrated the vote, but the extended police power wasn't an easy victory.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the new law will combat violence in the state, specifically by catching repeat offenders before they have the chance to victimize the community again. He worked with lawmakers for three years to push for this bill's passage.
"I think the impact is huge," Riley said. "It is a great victory for the law-abiding citizens of South Carolina."
The House fell 16 votes short April 20 to override the veto, but advocates had one chance to try again. Among other reasons, the ability to override the veto was influenced by legislators who weren't in the chamber on Wednesday.
The House needed two-thirds of the members present to override the veto.
Democratic Reps. Joe Jefferson of Pineville and Chris Hart of Columbia, who are black, said they are worried that the new law will result in racial profiling.
"What does a probationer look like?" Hart said. "Do they have gold teeth? Are their pants around their behind? Do they have a gold chain. Do they have braids?"
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said police departments and sheriff's offices across South Carolina have training and disciplinary standards in place to protect against abuse. Mullen also said that individuals who feel their rights have been violated can ask the courts to intervene.
The legislation contains additional provisions intended to be safeguards.
Officers must verify that the person is on probation or parole before they search them, and the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services will have to review records of who is searched for any pattern of abuse.
The probationers and parolees would need to consent to the warrantless searches as a condition of their sentences. If they decline, they can serve their time in a jail cell.
Mullen said law enforcement will need reasonable suspicion to search a person on probation. The same threshold is not required for a parolee because their early release from prison means even more diminished rights, he said.
Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, took a rare stand on the House floor to ask the members to override the veto. The state must protect innocent citizens and give law enforcement the tools to do so, he said.
"All too often we have seen violent crimes committed by repeat offenders who have run unchecked on our city streets," Harrell said in a statement. "Recent tragedies our community has suffered at the hands of such repeat offenders highlights the need for new, tougher crime laws that defend the rights of law-abiding citizens, instead of protecting those of career criminals intent on doing harm."
Rep. David Umphlett, R-Moncks Corner, was among a handful of legislators who decided to vote to override the veto, after having supported the governor earlier this month.
He said he had voted to sustain the veto originally based on "misleading" information discussed on the House floor. Umphlett said he spoke to Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt, who cleared up his concerns.