In 1997, Officer Gerome Leflore of the Crystal Springs Police Department was off duty when a citizen approached him at a gas station on Mississippi Highway 27 and reported to him that there was a person in an antique model, red Mustang convertible driving at a high rate of speed in a reckless manner headed into town on Highway 51. The citizen who reported the incident, David Rogers, had given Leflore information and complaints in the past.
Because Leflore was not on duty at the time, he called dispatch who relayed the information to Officer Chris Palmer, who proceeded to the intersection of Highway 51 and Highway 27 in Crystal Springs, where he intercepted a vehicle matching the description given by the dispatcher.
When Palmer began following the Mustang, there was a vehicle between Palmer’s patrol car and the Mustang, and Palmer testified that he did not see the driver of the Mustang violate any traffic laws. As soon as Palmer could safely pass the vehicle, he pulled the Mustang to the side of the road.
Palmer noted that the top was down on the convertible, and he noticed a glass on the middle console of the vehicle and an opened bottle of a white substance labeled “vodka” on the passenger side. Graham Alexander Floyd staggered out of the car and told Palmer in slurred speech that he had had a few drinks at a beer joint and was drinking some on the way home.
Floyd was convicted of DUI, first offense, and sentenced to pay a fine of $672. On appeal, he argued the stop was improper. MSC affirmed.
Floyd argued that the power of a law enforcement officer to perform an investigatory stop without a warrant is limited to those instances when a misdemeanor or felony is committed in the presence of the officer or when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect is involved in a felony.
Thus, Floyd contends that because reckless driving is a misdemeanor and because Palmer did not personally observe Floyd driving in a reckless manner, the stop performed by Palmer was unlawful as a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.
By statute in Mississippi, a law enforcement officer may arrest, without a warrant, a suspect for a misdemeanor when the misdemeanor was committed in the officer’s presence. Miss. Code Ann. § 99-3- 7(1) (Supp. 1999). However, the statute permits an officer to arrest a suspect for a felony where the officer has reasonable ground to believe the person to be arrested committed a felony, even though not committed in the officer’s presence.
The constitutional requirements for an investigative stop and detention are less stringent than those for an arrest.
This court in Singletary v State, 486 So. 2d 1247 (1975), has recognized that given reasonable circumstances an officer may stop and detain a person to resolve an ambiguous situation without having sufficient knowledge to justify an arrest, that is, on less information than is constitutionally required for probable cause to arrest.
Such an investigative stop of a suspect may be made so long as an officer has a reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter was involved in or is wanted in connection with a felony or as long as the officers have some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.
Traffic violations are misdemeanors, and misdemeanors are, technically speaking, criminal activity in that misdemeanors, like felonies, are crimes. Also, applying the felony/misdemeanor distinction in traffic violation cases would require law enforcement officials to ignore communications of other officials warning of drivers who may be impaired, ill, reckless, or dangerous to the public unless the officer has probable cause to arrest.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979), noted that determining the reasonableness of a detention less intrusive than a traditional arrest depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual’s right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers.
The public concern in this case served by the seizure is evident – a reckless driver poses a mortal danger to others. The severity of interference with individual liberty was minimal – Floyd was required to pull over to the side of the road. To cling to a rule which would prevent a police officer from investigating a reported complaint of reckless driving would thwart a significant public interest in preventing the mortal danger presented by such driving.
Floyd also argues that the stop was unreasonable because Palmer received a dispatch based on a complaint from a third party. The U.S. Supreme Court in Adams v Williams, 407 U.S. 143 (1972), stated that reasonable cause for an investigatory stop may be based on an officer’s personal observation or on an informant’s tip if it bears indicia of reliability.
Here, Palmer received a very specific description of Floyd’s vehicle, the precise location of the car, and information regarding exactly what was complained of, that is, reckless driving at a high rate of speed. Leflore testified that the complaint came from a named source who had given him information in the past.