Even if officer lacks reasonable suspicion for traffic stop, fruit of poisonous tree does not extend to new crime of evasion


In 2008, Robert Williams was driving east on I-220 in Madison County, Mississippi, when Madison County Sheriff’s Deputies saw his vehicle cross the fog line on the right side of the road. Williams was driving a rental car listed in someone else’s name and appeared extremely nervous.

He denied having any drugs in the car but when asked about cocaine, his demeanor markedly changed. He declined a request for consent to search the car and police then advised that a K-9 would walk around the car. When police went to get the dog, Williams jumped back into the rental car. He was tased but still sped off.

Williams was going over 100 miles per hour when he veered onto I-55 and crossed into Hinds County. The deputies halted their high speed pursuit at the Hinds County line. Minutes later they learned from neighboring law enforcement officers that the rental car had been found flipped over on the next interstate exit.

Williams was apprehended a few days later when he falsely reported to the rental car company that the car had been stolen. He was convicted of felony evasion and sentenced to 5 years. On appeal, Williams argued the stop was illegal. MCOA affirms.


A. Crossing fog line is reasonable basis for stop

In Burnett, we said that law enforcement officers have authority to stop motorists if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person is committing a traffic offense.

In Tran, we said crossing the fog line is a reasonable basis for a traffic stop.

By observing Williams weave out of his lane of traffic and across the fog line, the deputies had reasonable suspicion to justify stopping Williams for a traffic violation. Having a trained dog sniff the outside of a vehicle during a valid traffic stop is not a Fourth Amendment violation.

In Jaramillo, we said that this drug detection technique (dog sniff) is permitted during a brief detention, even if there is no reasonable, articulable suspicion of other criminal activity.

B. Even if stop was illegal, Williams doesn’t benefit by fleeing

But even if, as Williams argues, the deputies had lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over, or exceeded the scope of the traffic stop with the drug dog, we find it would be unreasonable to expand the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine to immunize a defendant from prosecution for a new, distinct crime like Williams’s evasion.

While Mississippi has not addressed this particular issue, we agree with the Eleventh Circuit that if the defendant’s response is itself a new, distinct crime, then the police constitutionally may arrest the defendant for that crime.

In United States v. Bailey, 691 F.2d 1009 (11th Cir. 1982), federal agents attempted to seize the defendant at an airport, in violation his Fourth Amendment rights. The defendant responded by fleeing on foot, throwing a bag containing illegal drugs and cash as he ran. When an agent caught up with him, the defendant assaulted the officer.

The Eleventh Circuit held that, because the defendant’s response to the agents’ illegality was to commit a new, distinct crime—evasion of and assault on an officer—the agents could legally arrest him. The agents were also justified in seizing the drugs and cash as part of a search incident to the arrest for the new crime.

In United States v. Garcia-Jordan, 860 F.2d 159 (5th Cir. 1988), the Federal Fifth Circuit held that it was unnecessary to address the legality of the stop because the defendant, even if detained illegally, was not immunized from prosecution for the assault on a police officer, which he committed during the detention.

So here, even if Williams had been illegally detained, he would not be immunized from arrest, prosecution, and conviction for felony evasion. He committed this new, distinct, and voluntary crime after he was stopped.