Driver has no standing to object to a search of a presumably stolen vehicle

Facts

In 2001, Edmond Hebert invited Fred Spicer to live with him in his trailer in Lucedale, Mississippi. At the same time, Hebert helped Spicer obtain employment with the roofing company for which Hebert worked. One night, Hebert and Spicer left work and drove to Woody’s Outpost in Jackson County, Mississippi, where they bought beer, and then proceeded to the home of Larry Beauchamp, where they spent several hours drinking and socializing.

While at Beauchamp’s home, Hebert mentioned that he was in violation of his parole from Louisiana and that he might have to return there to finish his prison sentence. Hebert then asked Beauchamp to take care of his dog if he ever had to return to Louisiana. When Spicer heard Hebert’s request, he told Hebert that he wanted the dog if Hebert had to return to Louisiana.

Hebert replied that he had already given the responsibility to Beauchamp. According to Beauchamp, Spicer’s attitude and demeanor changed when Hebert refused to give Spicer responsibility of the dog. Hebert and Spicer left Beauchamp’s home after several hours and Beauchamp was the last known person besides Spicer to see Hebert alive.

The next day, Hebert’s mother, Patricia Elder, received a phone call from the employer of Hebert and Spicer, stating that the two had been fired for not showing up for work. Elder lived next to Hebert’s trailer, and she went over to tell Hebert of the phone call she received. When she saw that Hebert’s green Nissan truck was not there, she returned to her home.

Around the time Elder first began searching for Hebert, Deputy Sergeant Brian White of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department noticed a man driving a green Nissan truck in an unusual manner. The driver would not break eye contact with White and the passenger put her hand over her face to avoid eye contact with White.

Due to the suspicious actions of the Nissan’s passengers, White began to follow the truck when suddenly, the Nissan crossed three lanes of traffic without using a turn signal and turned right into the parking lot of the China Garden Restaurant.

White could not cross the traffic so he pulled over and a few seconds later, the Nissan truck drove by, traveling in the same direction as before. White decided to pull the truck over, but before he could reenter Highway 90, the truck suddenly turned right into a motel parking lot. As White turned onto the motel premises, he observed the driver and the female passenger exit the truck and attempt to hide.

After a brief search of the parking lot, White was able to detain the driver, who, when commanded to display his hands, threw the keys of the Nissan truck to the side. The driver refused to identify himself and had no identification on his person. White found the keys that the driver discarded and asked the driver whether the keys belonged to him. The driver responded by saying, “What keys?”

When the dispatcher informed White that the license plate identified that car as registered to Edmond Hebert, White asked the driver whether he was Hebert. The driver responded by saying, “I don’t know who you are talking about.”

Lieutenant Krebs of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department came to the scene and stayed with the driver while White attempted to locate the female passenger. He found the passenger hiding behind a garbage can on the top floor of the hotel and determined her name to be Angel Hinger.

Hinger identified the unknown driver as Freddie Spicer and that Spicer had told her that he did not need to be caught in the pickup truck. White decided to arrest Spicer and have the truck held. Before the truck was towed, White conducted an inventory search in the presence of Spicer pursuant to Jackson County Sheriff’s Department procedures.

Through the inventory search, the officers discovered paperwork stating that Edmond Hebert was the registered owner of the vehicle, and also discovered a sword in plain view on the front seat and a camouflage jacket and drugs in the truck’s toolbox.

Police eventually learned the person arrested was Freddie Spicer and that he was wanted by police in Franklin, Massachusetts, for burglary. Once Spicer was positively identified, White issued Spicer three traffic citations for improper lane usage, driving with no driver’s license, and resisting arrest by fleeing.

The George County Sheriff’s Department was contacted and requested to check on Edmond Hebert’s welfare. George County Deputy Sheriff John Hilburn encountered James Elder, Hebert’s step father, and they went to Hebert’s home. Elder forced the door open and found Hebert’s body dead on a couch, covered with blood from facial and head wounds. There were also blood spatters on the trailer walls, ceiling, floor, lampshades, and a table.

Hebert was killed via fractures of the skull. During the investigation into Hebert’s death, law enforcement officials determined that a large sword, previously mounted on Hebert’s wall, was missing, and was found in Hebert’s Nissan truck when Spicer was apprehended. Subsequent testing of blood stains on the sword revealed the genetic profile to be that of Hebert. The green camouflage jacket found in the truck’s toolbox as well as the cargo pants and T-shirt worn by Spicer at the time of his detention also tested positive for blood that matched Hebert’s genetic profile.

Spicer was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, he argued the search of the vehicle was improper. MSC affirmed.

Analysis

A. Inventory search

The U.S. Supreme Court in S.D. v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976), held that in order for an inventory search of an automobile to be lawful, the automobile must be lawfully in police custody, the inventory must be conducted pursuant to standard, routine police procedures, and that there must be no suggestion that the standard procedures are a pretext concealing an investigatory police motive.

B. Standing

Additionally, Spicer cannot claim the trial court erred by failing to exclude the sword from the evidence because he has no standing to make a Fourth Amendment claim. The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
U.S. Const. amend. IV (emphasis added).

Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights which, like some other constitutional rights, may not be vicariously asserted.

In Walker, this court said “Richardson, not Walker, was the owner of the car.” Only persons whose Fourth Amendment rights have been violated can benefit from the protections of the exclusionary rule.

Here, Hebert, not Spicer, was the owner of the truck. We find that Spicer has no standing to assert the sword was the product of an illegal search.

Thoughts

There was also discussion of search incident to arrest but I did not include it here. In Gant, the U.S. Supreme Court said that a search incident to arrest can be performed on a vehicle when it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle. Based on the facts of this case (his arrest for traffic citations), officers today would not be able to search the vehicle incident to arrest for traffic violations.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/OPINIONS/CO31135.PDF