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Pill bottle lawfully opened under a search incident to arrest

Facts

In 2011, Clarence Hynes was with Ryan Jackson on the side of the road. Deputy Sheriff Joey Rigby and Jeff Pitts, an agent with the narcotics task force with the Scott County Sheriff’s Department, were driving in separate vehicles down VFW Road when they saw Jackson and Hynes. Rigby saw both Hynes and Jackson duck behind a car and when he turned around, a red Ford was traveling at a high rate of speed.

While Pitts stayed with Jackson, who had not gotten into the car, Rigby stopped Hynes car and was told by Hynes that his license was suspended. Rigby conducted a pat down of Hynes and felt a lump in Hynes’s pocket. Rigby reached inside the pocket and pulled out a pill bottle, which contained methamphetamine. Hynes was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to ten years. On appeal, he argued the search was illegal.  MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

Haynes argued the officer was performing a Terry frisk and felt a pill bottle under plain feel which would not give him probable cause to open the bottle since a pill bottle is not contraband. He relies upon Anderson.

However, MCOA ruled this was not a plain feel seizure of the pill bottle but rather a search incident to arrest which revealed the pill bottle. Hynes was stopped because he was speeding. Police officers may detain a person for a brief investigatory stop consistent with the Fourth Amendment when officers have reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that allows the officers to conclude the suspect is wanted in connection with criminal behavior.

Once stopped, Hynes told Rigby that he had a suspended license. It was then that Rigby decided to arrest him and conducted a search incident to his arrest. We have previously stated that it is well settled than an officer has the right to conduct a search of a defendant’s person incident to a lawful arrest.

In Lee, this court said it is of no moment that the evidence obtained as a result of the search incident to defendant’s arrest created probable cause for a subsequent arrest on a wholly different charge.

Thoughts

Articulating in your police report whether you are performing a Terry frisk or a search incident to arrest can help mitigate any confusion. As you can see above, it makes a big difference.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO98749.pdf