In 2002, a police officer noticed Efrem Henderson driving his vehicle erratically. The officer stated that Henderson almost hit a curb, stopped at a stop sign, then proceeded through the intersection and almost hit another curb. The officer stopped Henderson.
After approaching the vehicle, the officer smelled alcohol. The officer stated that Henderson’s speech was slurred and his eyes were red and glassy. After conducting a field sobriety test and a pat down search, the officer took Henderson to jail.
At the jail, an Intoxilizer test revealed that Henderson had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit for driving. Henderson was then placed under arrest and a strip search was made. The officer found cocaine wrapped inside clear plastic wrap.
Henderson was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced as an habitual offender to 16 years. On appeal, he argued his driving did not constitute careless driving and thus the strip search was fruit of the poisonous tree. MCOA affirmed.
The offense that Henderson allegedly was committing when he was stopped was this: Any person who drives any vehicle in a careless or imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corner, traffic and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances is guilty of careless driving. Careless driving shall be considered a lesser offense than reckless driving. Miss. Code Ann. § 63-3-1213 (Rev. 1996).
In When v U.S., 517 U.S. 806 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court said that the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. The officer witnessed the vehicle that Henderson was driving approach the curb twice. This indicates that Henderson was driving without due regard for the width and use of the street. The officer’s observations were enough for him to determine that careless driving had taken place.
Further, in Saucier, this court determined that failure to have regard for the width and use of the street by swerving off the side of the road or crossing the marker lines constitutes probable cause for a traffic stop. The presence or absence of traffic is not controlling. Carelessness is a matter of reasonable interpretation, based on a wide range of factors.
There was probable cause for the traffic stop. Therefore, the motion to suppress the evidence found as a result was properly denied.