Search
Close this search box.

Ambiguous situation led to stop

Facts

In 2001, Horn Lake Police Officer Harold William Bayles noticed a female passenger inside a SUV in the parking lot of Target and Kroger removing her shirt. Bayles began to approach the vehicle. The driver of the SUV noticed the officer approaching and began to drive away. Bayles initiated an investigatory stop.

The driver, Dennis Hill, got out of the vehicle and acted very nervous. Hill produced two altered driver’s licenses before the female passenger produced Hill’s valid license from inside the vehicle. Bayles noticed needle marks on Hill’s arms and two orange syringe caps on the dashboard. Hill denied being an insulin user and told Bayles he had a syringe loaded with methamphetamine on the driver’s seat. During a weapons patdown, a knife was found concealed in Hill’s pocket.

After detaining Hill, Officer Bayles went back to the SUV to perform a weapons search of the passenger, Bettie Michelle Ginn, who produced from her pocket a packet containing a white powdery substance which Bayles immediately believed, and was later confirmed by scientific testing, to be methamphetamine.

An inventory of the vehicle revealed six cans of Starter Fluid, eleven containers of Liquid Heat, 3,312 tablets of Sudafed, one syringe containing a liquid, and a spoon with brown residue. Starter Fluid, Liquid Heat, and Sudafed are precursor chemicals or drugs used in the unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine, a controlled substance. A records check of the vehicle revealed that the SUV belonged to Ginn’s grandfather.

Ginn was arrested and taken to the police station, where she executed a “Statement of Rights” form. Thereafter, Ginn handwrote a statement which says, in pertinent part, “I know that Kris Ray cooks meth and believe has for 3 to 4 years. I also believe that on other occurrances [sic] pills that we purchased were for Kris Ray.”

Ginn was convicted of possession of two or more precursor chemicals and possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to 15 years. On appeal, she argued the stop was illegal and that everything should have been suppressed. MSC affirmed.

Analysis

A. Stop

Ginn argues that although she was changing her shirt, her breasts were not exposed and, thus, she was not violating Mississippi’s indecent exposure law. Miss.Code Ann. § 97-29-31 (Rev. 2000) states: “A person who wilfully and lewdly exposes his person, or private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where others are present, or procures another to so expose himself, is guilty of a misdemeanor….” Because her breasts were not bare, Ginn reasons that the officer had no reason to stop or even approach the vehicle.

In analyzing this type of situation, this court has looked to whether an officer acts reasonably. We have said that the question is not whether a driver is suspected of a felony or misdemeanor, but whether a law enforcement officer acts reasonably in stopping a vehicle to investigate a complaint short of arrest.

This court stated in Singletary v. State, 318 So.2d 873 (Miss.1975):

Police activity in preventing crime, detecting violations, making identifications, and in apprehending criminals may be divided into three types of action: … (2) Investigative stop and temporary detention: To stop and temporarily detain is not an arrest, and the cases hold 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….

The officer personally observed an ambiguous situation—a woman removing her shirt within a vehicle in a public parking lot. It was reasonable for the officer to investigate to see what was actually occurring. Officer Bayles testified that as he approached the vehicle the male driver began to drive away. This action served to further raise suspicion, which lead to the investigatory stop.

Things escalated from there; that is, Bayles observed two syringe caps on the vehicle’s dashboard in plain view and Hill, acting very nervous, produced altered driver’s licenses and told the officer about the needle loaded with methamphetamine. A safety pat-down revealed that Hill had a concealed knife. At this point, the officer had more than probable cause to apprehend Hill and to further investigate the vehicle, its contents, and its passenger.

B. Probable cause for arrest of Ginn

After the officer made an investigatory stop of the vehicle, the driver, acting very nervously and displaying needle marks on his arms, admitted there was a syringe loaded with methamphetamine between the seat where he and Ginn were sitting. A weapons patdown of the driver revealed a concealed knife.

Once the investigative stop was made, the officer may no doubt rely upon items in plain view to provide probable cause for an arrest. Here, this included the syringe cap, the needle marks, and the altered driver’s licenses. When Hill was patted down for the officer’s safety, a concealed knife was located.

Ginn was the only passenger in the vehicle. When Ginn was patted down for the officer’s safety, she pulled out of her pocket a packet containing a white powdery substance which Bayles believed to be methamphetamine.

Officer Bayles’s actions, including the inventory of the contents of the vehicle, were reasonable under the facts and circumstances presented.

C. Constructive possession

Ginn relies on Pate v. State, 557 So.2d 1183 (Miss.1990), and Powell v. State, 355 So.2d 1378 (Miss.1978). In Pate, we reversed a conviction of possession of marijuana where the defendant had checked out of the hotel room the day before the marijuana was found.

In Powell, we affirmed a conviction where the controlled substance was found in the closet of the bedroom in the house on which the defendant paid the rent. In so doing, we stated:

The correct rule in this jurisdiction is that one in possession of premises upon which contraband is found is presumed to be in constructive possession of the articles, but the presumption is rebuttable. We have held that where contraband is found upon premises not in the exclusive control and possession of the accused, additional incriminating facts must connect the accused with the contraband.

In our case, there were additional incriminating facts that connected Ginn to both the precursor chemicals and the methamphetamine.

Ginn herself pulled out the packet containing white powdery substance from her pocket. That substance later tested positive as methamphetamine. As to the pre-cursors, the items were located in the vehicle in which the only persons inside were Ginn and Hill.

Ginn implicated herself by the written post-Miranda warning statement that “I also believe that on other occurrences pills that we (Ginn and Hill) purchased were for Kris Ray.” This statement defeats Ginn’s efforts to rebut the presumption that she had constructive possession of the precursors and drugs.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/Images/Opinions/CO11397.pdf