Automobile exception allows search of car that was abandoned


In 1992, Johnny B. Smith was killed in the liquor store he owned in Sidon, Mississippi, as the result of three gunshot wounds. Taken from the store were a cash register and an extra cash drawer. Also missing was Johnny B.’s handgun which was either a .32 or .38 caliber weapon. The projectiles recovered from Johnny B.’s body and from the scene were consistent with those of a .38 caliber weapon.

Found on the counter at the scene was a bottle of Seagram’s gin in a brown paper bag. A latent fingerprint and palm print were lifted from the paper bag and identified as matching those of Jerome Pete Smith.

John Stewart and Lyndell Hunt testified that they were in Sidon and drove by the liquor store between 9:00 and 10:00 on the night of the murder and saw a red and white car parked between a tin two-story building and the post office, near the liquor store. They both stated that they saw two or three men next to the car, and one was carrying an object with a cord dangling from it.

Carolyn Pearce testified that around 2:00 a.m. on the morning after the murder, she was with Jerome Smith and Clyde Smith in a red and white car in Indianola. When she got into the car the brothers bought a $20 rock of crack cocaine. She testified that Clyde told her if she was nice to them they would come back and buy $300 or $400 more. She saw Clyde with a lot of loose bills.

Pearce stated that they started driving toward the outskirts of town so she grabbed the steering wheel. Jerome then pulled out what Pearce described as a “big silver revolver” and began hitting her arm with it. At some point Clyde got into the back seat with her and pulled out a knife and held it to her throat. Then Jerome and Clyde exchanged seats and weapons. The brothers made her take off her clothes and get out of the car naked. Clyde threw her clothes in the street. Outside the presence of the jury, Pearce stated that both men raped her before putting her out of the car.

J.D. Roseman, Isola Chief of Police, was a patrolman at the time of the murder. Sometime between 3:15 and 3:30 a.m. after the robbery and murder, Roseman was on patrol when he spotted a red and white automobile leaving Gresham Service Station in Isola. Roseman went to the service station to see if anything was wrong.

Roseman then followed the car and noticed that it was weaving some. He stopped the vehicle and turned his spotlight on the car. Roseman walked up to the car and shined his flashlight so that he could see the driver and the front seat passenger. He asked the driver, who he recognized as Clyde Smith, to step out of the car. He recognized the passenger as Jerome Smith. Roseman noticed the two seemed nervous, and he asked Clyde what they were doing at the service station.

Clyde stated that the car was running hot and they were trying to get some water. Roseman told Clyde that if he would follow him to the fire station they could get some water. Clyde declined, stating that he thought they would make it. After talking with Clyde for a few minutes, Roseman decided to let him go.

Roseman then got a radio call from the Inverness Police Department that two black males in a red car had picked up a woman “and was trying to mess with her”. Roseman also received a radio call from Tim Goad, a Humphreys County deputy sheriff, who stated that there had been radio traffic from Greenwood that a red and white vehicle was believed to be involved in a robbery and murder in Sidon. Roseman advised Goad that he had just stopped a vehicle matching that description, and he would try to locate the car again.

Eventually, Roseman met the vehicle going very slowly on Old Highway 49. He radioed Deputy Goad and told him where he had located the vehicle. He stated he was going to turn around and follow it until Goad arrived. Roseman then turned around and began following the vehicle with his lights off so he would not be seen. The vehicle pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. Roseman also stopped about 75 to 100 yards behind the car and waited for Goad to arrive. He was not aware that the brothers had exited the vehicle and were walking down the road.

Deputy Goad testified that before he got to the location he saw two men who he recognized as Clyde and Jerome Smith, walking down the road about 50 to 75 yards from their car. Before he realized who he had seen, Goad had already passed them. By the time he turned around the brothers had run into a cotton field. Goad and Roseman searched for the men for several minutes, but could not find them.

While Roseman continued to search, Goad approached the now abandoned vehicle. Goad testified that he shined his flashlight on the inside of the car to see if the keys were still in it. When he did not see the keys, he shined his flashlight on the floorboards. On the back floorboard on the driver’s side, he saw a sawed-off .410, single-shot shotgun. He confiscated the shotgun at that time. Goad also found a set of keys stuck in between the fold of the passenger seat. These keys were later identified as fitting the lock on the Sidon Liquor Store where the robbery and murder had earlier taken place.

Another search of the vehicle by Horace Miller, an investigator with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, turned up a black and white bandanna and a receipt from the Indianola Burger King that showed a purchase at 1:34 a.m. on November 8, 1992. A search of the field where Goad saw Jerome and Clyde run turned up a knife. Henry Bryant, the boyfriend of one of Jerome and Clyde’s sisters, identified the knife as a hunting knife he loaned to Clyde a week before the murder. Carolyn Pearce also identified the knife as the one Clyde had pulled on her.

Bryant went on to testify about a conversation he had with Jerome and Clyde on the day of the murder. He stated that the brothers were at his house that Saturday afternoon when Clyde mentioned that he was broke and needed some money. Bryant testified that Clyde said that all you had to do was find a place without many police and you could get away with something. Bryant also stated that Jerome had a shiny revolver with him that day, but he did not know what type of gun it was.

Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, he argued the search of the vehicle was illegal. MSC affirmed that ruling but remanded the case for resentencing for an unrelated reason.*


Jerome contends that there was insufficient probable cause for the warrantless search of the abandoned red and white automobile, which belonged to Jerome and Clyde’s sister; and therefore, the keys to the victim’s store, the bandanna, and the sawed off shotgun found pursuant to that warrantless search should not have been admitted into evidence.

There has long been an automobile exception to the warrant requirement where probable cause exists. Furthermore, any information obtained by means of the eye where no trespass has been committed in aid thereof is not illegally obtained.

In this case, the court found probable cause did exist at the time the officer searched the car the Smith brothers abandoned on the side of the road. The officers had just received information that a car fitting the description of the subject car was believed to have been involved in a robbery and murder, and Office Roseman had also received information that two black males in a red and white car had picked up a young lady and was trying to mess with her.

Officer Roseman, who had earlier stopped the brothers, also stated that they were acting suspiciously. Furthermore, when Officer Goad passed the brothers in his patrol car as they were walking away from the red and white car, Jerome and Clyde ran off the road and across a field. Finally, when Officer Goad shined his flashlight in the car looking to see if the keys were in it, he saw the sawed-off shotgun in plain view on the back floorboard. Taking all of the facts together as a totality of the circumstances, the court finds that the officers had sufficient probable cause to conduct a search of the vehicle without a warrant. This issue is without merit.

* Clyde Smith had the same argument as his brother. MSC affirmed his death sentence; the automobile search language is identical to Jerome Smith. The second hyperlink below is for Clyde Smith.