Lawful Traffic stop gives officers probable cause to stop car irregardless of their subjective motivations



In 2009, a Choctaw County Deputy Sheriff and an Agent with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics were surveilling individuals known to be involved in narcotic activity. As they were driving by the home of a suspected drug dealer, a green Chevy Tahoe pulled into the driveway.

The officers recognized this vehicle from undercover videos of James Mosley selling narcotics to confidential informants. The officers pulled over to watch the vehicle. They saw James Mosley exit the house and get into the passenger’s seat of the Tahoe.

They followed and stopped the vehicle because as it made a turn neither the brake lights nor the turn signal  functioned properly. Mosley’s girlfriend was the driver. The agent asked Mosley to get out of the vehicle based on information from confidential informants that Mosley carried a firearm. The MBN agent then noticed marijuana in plain view on the floorboard.

After Mirandizing Mosley, the agent asked Mosley if there was anything illegal in the Tahoe. Mosley told him there was marijuana inside a box of plastic sandwich bags and a gun in the driver’s door. The agent found the marijuana in the baggie box on the passenger side floorboard beneath where Mosley had been sitting. Next to the marijuana was crack cocaine inside a folded paper napkin.

The agent also found a colt pistol in the driver’s door. The girlfriend was released without any traffic citations. Mosley was convicted of possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana and sentenced to eight years. On appeal, he argued the stop was pretextual and lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause. MCOA affirmed.


In Tate, we said that traffic stops are Fourth Amendment seizures.

Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brendlin said that a passenger of a vehicle that has been stopped has likewise been seized. Brendlin went onto say that during a lawful traffic stop an officer may order a passenger out of the car as a precautionary measure, without reasonable suspicion that the passenger poses a safety risk.

As to pretextual stops, the U.S. Supreme Court in Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996) said that a traffic stop, even if pretextual, does not violate the Fourth Amendment if the officer making the stop has probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.

The officers had been surveilling the house of a suspected drug dealer. They saw Mosley, who they knew had sold drugs to confidential informants, leave this house in a green Tahoe, which they recognized from undercover videos of controlled drug purchases. They decided to tail the Tahoe to see where Mosley was going.

The subjective suspicion that Mosley had drugs is not the test for whether probable cause existed for the traffic stop. The proper inquiry is whether the officers, under the totality of the circumstances and objective facts available, had probable cause to believe a traffic violation had occurred.

The deputy sheriff stated he did not see the use of any turn signal or brake lights when the Tahoe stopped and made a right turn, which is a statutory traffic violation. Miss. Code Ann. § 63-3-707 (Rev. 2004) (requiring the use of signals before turning and stopping); Miss. Code Ann. § 63-7-27 (Rev. 2004) (requiring stop lights that are actuated by applying the brakes and that are visible from 100 feet in the daylight); Miss. Code Ann. § 63-7-7 (Rev. 2004) (stating that driving a vehicle that does not have the equipment required in section 63-7-27 is a misdemeanor). The MBN agent offered similar testimony.

The fact the deputy sheriff did not issue Mosley’s girlfriend a traffic citation did not negate the officers’ probable cause to make the traffic stop.

In McCollins, we said that there is no requirement that an officer issue a citation for the predicate traffic violation to have a valid stop or search.

In Adams, we found the officer had objective reasonable suspicion of careless driving, even though the driver was later acquitted of the traffic offense.

The officers had probable cause that Mosley’s girlfriend had committed the traffic violations. During the lawful stop of the Tahoe, the officers ordered Mosley, who they had reason to suspect was armed, out of the vehicle as a safety precaution. The MBN agent saw marijuana in plain view on the passenger side floorboard.

He arrested Mosley and read him his Miranda rights. The agent then asked Mosley if there was any illegal contraband in the vehicle. Mosley admitted there was marijuana and a gun. Based on the circumstances, we find the officers permissibly searched the vehicle.