(Sumter County) - The city and county of Sumter may share law enforcement headquarters, but officers work under two different laws when handling drug paraphernalia cases.
"It won't matter where a person is found, if it's outside city limits or inside city limits, they'll be subject to the same criminal penalties," said Sumter County Attorney Johnathan Bryan, explaining an ordinance being considered by the Sumter County Council.
While the possession of drug paraphernalia is against the law in South Carolina, Bryan said it is only a civil offense. "The penalty is a civil fine, not a criminal fine," he said. "There's no criminal record generated as a result of a conviction under the state statute."
However, municipalities, including the City of Sumter, have made it a crime to be in possession of the illegal items. A conviction carries a $500 fine or 30-day jail sentence.
An ordinance, proposed by Sumter County Councilman Jimmy Byrd, would also make it a crime for people in the county to sell, possess or manufacture drug paraphernalia. An exception would be made for rolling papers, which could also be used for cigarettes or tobacco. Byrd told News19 he supports an amendment that requires drugs or drug residue to be found, in addition to paraphernalia, in order for a person to be charged with a crime.
"I don't want to just have another law to arrest people for," said Byrd, who says law enforcement officials support the ordinance. "I want to make sure it's a fair law, if we do pass it."
The county council approved the first reading of the ordinance Tuesday evening. It must pass two additional readings before it becomes law.