Zavien Beal was a student at Alcorn State University in 2005. On November 3, 2005, Beal left school and went to Natchez, Mississippi, some 25 miles or so away. After spending some time in Natchez, Beal left to return to Alcorn State when he was stopped by Officer Kenny Tarleton of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol.
Tarleton stopped Beal because Beal was traveling at 87 miles per hour in a 55 miles-per-hour zone. Tarleton testified that as he approached the vehicle, he smelled a strong odor of burnt marijuana coming from it. Upon reaching the vehicle, Tarleton testified that he observed a green leafy substance that appeared to be marijuana on Beal’s clothing.
Tarleton stated that he then asked Beal why there was marijuana on his clothing. According to Tarleton, Beal stated that he had smoked marijuana when he left Alcorn State and had smoked again before departing from Natchez. Tarleton observed that Beal’s eyes were bloodshot, red and very glazy. Tarleton also testified that Beal appeared to be very nervous throughout the encounter.
Tarleton admitted that he did not perform any field sobriety tests on Beal, nor did he take a sample of blood or urine for testing. Tarleton stated that he did not do these things because Beal freely admitted that he had smoked marijuana before leaving Natchez, which was a relatively short distance away.
By contrast, Beal testified that there was no marijuana on his shirt. Rather, he claimed that there was a printed pattern on the shirt that might have been confusing. Beal admitted that he had smoked marijuana much earlier in the day, but denied that he had told Tarleton that he had smoked marijuana immediately prior to leaving Natchez for school.
What is undisputed is that, during Beal’s stop, Tarleton received a call requesting his assistance at an accident scene. Because Tarleton was apparently the only officer on duty at the time, he issued a citation to Beal and left the scene to respond to the accident.
At the circuit court appeal hearing, Tarleton testified that he did not “allow” Beal to leave the scene, although he placed Beal’s keys on the trunk of the car and left the scene. Tarleton testified that the stop was done approximately one hundred yards from the Alcorn State Campus, and further testified that he mentioned this fact to Beal at the scene. After Tarleton left, Beal drove his car to school.
Beal was convicted of DUI, first offense, and sentenced to 48 hours. On appeal, Beal argued there was insufficient evidence to convicted him of DUI. MCOA affirmed.
We find that the evidence is sufficient to sustain Beal’s conviction. At the scene, Tarleton observed marijuana on Beal’s clothing, noted that Beal’s eyes were blood-shot, and remarked that Beal appeared to be particularly nervous. Furthermore, Tarleton testified that Beal stated that he had smoked marijuana a short time before the stop.
Clearly, this evidence is sufficient to sustain Beal’s conviction. Although Beal testified and gave a different account of events than Tarleton, the court, as the finder of fact, was entitled to believe whatever testimony it found most credible.
That Tarleton allowed Beal to drive from the scene after Tarleton had charged Beal with first-offense D.U.I. does not vitiate the fact that sufficient evidence was presented at trial to undergird Beal’s conviction for D.U.I. However, we take this opportunity to remind our law enforcement officers that it is improper for an officer to allow a motorist to continue to drive when the officer has determined that the motorist has been driving under the influence.
The MSC said in Hogan v. State, 235 So. 2d 704 (Miss. 1970), the following:
Operating a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of intoxicants, although classified as a misdemeanor, differs in essential particulars from the usual “traffic violation.” Apart from the mortal danger to which it exposes others, the offender may not be given a “ticket,” and sent on his way. He must be detained and may not be allowed to drive away in his automobile. By force of circumstances possession must be taken by the officers of the automobile itself for the time being.