In 2009, police conducted a routine traffic stop and arrested the person for possession of marijuana. That person then told police that ten pounds of marijuana would be in a black bag in the trunk of a dark colored rental car driven by a black male and parked in the back of a car wash on Beasley Road in Jackson, Mississippi.
Officers responded and observed a dark colored vehicle being driven by a black male exiting the car wash with a paper “U-Save Car Rental” tag on the back of the car. The agents followed the vehicle into an apartment complex and initiated a traffic stop based on an improperly displayed tag.
John McDonald got out of his car and gave his keys to a woman before declining the officer’s request for consent to search the vehicle. Agent Casey Dennis, MBN, then asked McDonald about the allegations that had been made about him.
McDonald admitted he was previously in possession of ten pounds of marijuana but that he had given it to his brother. He also admitted that he had a “smoke sack” in the car and was willing to provide information regarding forty pounds of marijuana in exchange for leniency.
McDonald then got the keys from the woman and allowed police to search the car, where a black gym bag was found in the trunk with marijuana, scales, and plastic bags. McDonald was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and sentenced to sixty years as a habitual offender.
On appeal, he argued 1) the officer exceeded the scope of the Terry stop and 2) he was not Mirandized. MCOA affirms.
A. Tip allowed detention to continue
McDonald contends that once the officer determined that the tag had been applied for and no other issues were present, the justification for the stop ended. Here, the justification for the traffic stop was twofold. As McDonald admits, the officer was justified in stopping the car for an improperly displayed tag.
However, the traffic stop was also appropriate based on the informant’s tip. The tip was sufficiently reliable to justify the traffic stop. The informant stated there would be a dark-colored rental vehicle being driven by a black male at a car wash on Beasley Road. The officers then observed a dark colored rental vehicle being driven by McDonald exiting a car wash on Beasley Road. There was sufficient corroboration between the informant’s tip and the officer’s own observations to justify the traffic stop based on the tip.
McDonald is correct that the justification for the stop based on the improperly displayed tag ended once the officer determined that the tag had been applied for and that no other issues were present. However, at that point, the purpose of the stop based on the informant’s tip had not been effectuated. Accordingly, we find there was no unreasonable detention.
B. McDonald was not in custody
Finally, McDonald argues that he was in custody during the traffic stop; therefore, he should have been given a Miranda warning before any questioning commenced. Miranda warnings are required when there has been such a restriction on a person’s freedom as to render him in custody.
In Hunt, the MSC said that the factors to be considered to determine whether someone is in custody are: (a) the place of interrogation; (b) the time of interrogation; (c) the people present; (d) the amount of force or physical restraint used by the officers; (e) the length and form of the questions; (f) whether the defendant comes to the authorities voluntarily; and (g) what the defendant is told about the situation.
We find that McDonald was not in custody and, thus, no Miranda warning was required. Dennis stated that there was a clear path of egress and that McDonald was not handcuffed. There was also no physical force or verbal intimidation used. McDonald voluntarily walked approximately thirty to fifty feet away to talk with Dennis. He was free to refuse to do so.
Furthermore, McDonald was pulled over in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He could have left and gone to his apartment at any time. We find, based on the totality of the circumstances, McDonald was not in custody during the questioning; therefore, no Miranda warning was required.
Remember that custody is arrest or the functional equivalent of an arrest. A typical traffic stop is not an arrest or a functional equivalent of an arrest.