Automobile exception allowed search of car


In 2003, Officer Clay McComb, while on patrol, witnessed a vehicle without working taillights traveling northbound on Highway 35. McComb stopped the vehicle due to the violation. Michael Jim, the driver, told the officer he did not have a driver’s license with him and that he was currently seventeen years old.

At this time McComb noticed three passengers in the car and a brown paper bag in plain view between the two in the backseat. McComb could also tell the bag appeared to contain bottles of an alcoholic beverage so he asked to see the bag. Jim then handed the bag containing six bottles of the alcoholic beverage Smirnoff Ice to McComb.

McComb questioned all the passengers and concluded that everyone riding in Jim’s vehicle at the time were under 21 years of age. Accordingly, none of the passengers could legally possess the alcoholic beverages since they were all underage. He then handcuffed and arrested Jim for no driver’s license, no taillights, and possession of beer by a minor and placed him in his patrol car.

At this time, Officer Toby Gill arrived to assist and the officers handcuffed and put the remaining minors in Gill’s patrol car. McComb testified that at no point did he fear for his safety during the incident. McComb and Gill then proceeded to search the vehicle for other contraband.

McComb opened the glove box and discovered two bags of a leafy green substance believed to be marijuana (44.9 grams). McComb admitted that the he did not have consent from Jim to conduct the search of the automobile. At the Leake County Correctional Facility, Jim gave a written statement admitting the ownership of the marijuana found in the vehicle.

Jim was convicted of possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana and sentenced to two years. On appeal, he argued the search of his car was illegal. MCOA affirmed.


Jim contends that each of the three forms of valid warrantless searches do not apply to his case. First, Jim argues that since he was handcuffed and arrested in the back of a patrol car the officer did not have a “search incident to arrest” since Jim could not reach a weapon or evidence from the back of the patrol car, following White. Secondly, the officer did not have the exigency need for a search under the “automobile exception.” Last, Jim argues that the State did not follow enough procedures to apply the “inventory search” exception.

The automobile exception arose from the fundamental difference between houses and cars. MSC said in Sanders that the practical effect of this exception is that evidence seized without a warrant from an automobile is admissible if there is probable cause and an exigency. Thus, if Officer McComb had probable cause to search the vehicle and appropriate exigent circumstances, than he validly searched Jim’s vehicle.

A probable cause determination should be based on the totality of the circumstances. McComb arrested Jim for possession of alcohol while not being of age to possess alcohol. Since Jim and the others in the vehicle could not legally possess alcohol the bottles of alcohol classify as contraband.

McComb had probable cause to suspect Jim had more alcohol inside the vehicle including in the glove box. The deputy was well within the law in continuing to search the remainder of the vehicle for contraband upon finding the suspicious substance.

Sanders gave three ways to create exigent circumstances. The exceptional circumstances excusing the issuance of a warrant are: (1) when the vehicle searched is in motion; (2) when the officers have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband subject to search; and (3) when it is impracticable to secure a warrant because the vehicle can and may be removed from the jurisdiction.

McComb testified that Jim’s car was in motion when he pulled it over. Also, McComb had probable cause to search the vehicle for contraband, namely alcohol. Similarly, in Roche, MSC found the same two exigency factors and the court determined that the facts justified a search of the vehicle without a warrant.

The search of Jim’s vehicle fits squarely into the automobile exception. The circuit court looked at this credible evidence to determine the validness of the search and correctly admitted the marijuana into evidence.


In addition to probable cause and readily mobile, the car must also be in a public place to utilize the automobile exception. The U.S. Supreme Court in Collins said that automobile exception searches can not take place at a home or its curtilage.