In the late hours of Christmas Eve 2005, the Chief of Police of the Town of Marion, Mississippi, Ben Langston, was on duty in his police cruiser at the entrance of Valley Ridge Apartments, within the Marion city limits. He observed a car drive by at approximately ten miles over the speed limit, traveling east on Old Country Club Road, just outside the town limits. Langston mistakenly believed the road was within the Town of Marion.
Langston commenced pursuit with the intention of giving the driver (later determined to be James Delker) a warning. But the driver did not respond to the officer’s blue lights. Instead, he sped up to approximately sixty to sixty-five miles per hour, overtook and passed a car stopped at a stop sign, then drove through the stop sign. Eventually, he stopped in the driveway of his home. While following the speeding vehicle, Langston radioed for assistance from the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department.
When Langston approached the stopped car, he observed that Delker had trouble getting out of his car, had difficulty standing, and had slurred speech. Langston also noticed the smell of alcohol emanating from Delker’s car and saw an empty beer can on the front seat. Langston testified that when he asked why Delker had not stopped, Delker responded, “that he knew he was going to jail, and he didn’t want to leave his car along side the roadway.”
When Deputy Karey Williams of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department arrived, Delker was handcuffed. Williams offered to let Delker take a portable breathalyzer test, which Delker refused. Williams then transported Delker to the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department, where he administered field sobriety tests to Delker. According to Williams, Delker failed some aspects of these tests and refused to blow into the Intoxilyzer 8000 machine.
The circuit court denied Delker’s motion to suppress, concluding that Langston had acted as a private citizen and had possessed the authority to effectuate a citizen’s arrest for speeding.
MCOA affirmed the circuit court’s result, but for different reasons. MCOA determined that the circuit court had erred in finding that a private person could arrest another for the misdemeanor offense of speeding “because, under section 99-3-7(1), the only non-felony or non-indictable offense committed in the citizen’s presence that gives rise to his authority to arrest the perpetrator is an offense constituting a breach of the peace threatened or attempted.”
But MCOA further held that Langston’s citizen’s arrest was permissible because (1) it was not effectuated until after Langston had stopped Delker and observed his probable guilt of an indictable offense (felony DUI), and (2) Langston had authority to initiate pursuit as a private citizen since Delker had committed an indictable offense (felony DUI), although Langston lacked any knowledge of it. Alternatively, the Court of Appeals held that even if Delker’s arrest was illegal, the evidence obtained should not be suppressed under the exclusionary rule because of Langston’s mistake as to jurisdiction.
Delker was convicted of DUI and sentenced to five years as a habitual offender. On appeal, he argued the stop was illegal so the evidence should have been suppressed. MSC affirmed.
This court declines to delve into the legality, or not, of the arrest. For purposes of deciding this case, we indulge Delker’s contention that there was a Fourth Amendment violation. The issue is whether the exclusionary rule should be applied. Even in the event of a Fourth Amendment violation, the supreme law of the land requires a case-by-case balancing test to be performed, and suppression ordered only in those unusual cases in which exclusion will further the purpose of the exclusionary rule.
In Herring, the U.S. Supreme Court held that when police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply.
Without question, Langston mistakenly believed the road to be within the Town of Marion, indeed the record supports no other finding. In pursuing Delker, Langston was merely going to warn him to slow down, in the interest of protecting the citizens (including Delker) from harm, rather than seeking to effectuate an arrest and seizure. Langston’s error of not knowing the exact jurisdictional boundaries of the Town of Marion was, at worst, an innocent mistake. The record provides not one iota of evidence to the contrary.
An “innocent mistake” is far removed from the core concerns that led the United States Supreme Court to adopt the exclusionary rule in the first place. Not a scintilla of evidence exists in this record that Langston’s conduct was “deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent” or a form of “recurring or systemic negligence,” as mandated by the United States Supreme Court to invoke the exclusionary rule. Nor does any evidence support that Langston’s conduct was outrageous, reprehensible, or glaringly bad (i.e., flagrant).
Moreover, while the dissent emphasizes the purported “flagrancy” of Langston’s conduct, this court notes that the “flagrancy of police misconduct” requires consideration of “the actions of all the police officers involved.” Williams’s response to Langston’s radioed request for assistance from the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department while in pursuit of Delker was altogether reasonable. Williams had no reason to know of Langston’s error. Accordingly, considering the actions of all the police officers involved, neither Langston’s innocent error nor Williams’s proper and reasonable response of assistance could be characterized as “so objectively culpable as to require exclusion.”
But for those who would opine that Langston’s error was more than a mere mistake, exclusion still is not automatic. Exclusion is proper only after an unbiased weighing is conducted on the scales of justice. In one tray is the “appreciable” or “substantial” deterrence gained by exclusion and in the other tray are the “substantial social costs” and “harm to the justice system” resulting from exclusion.
Any purported deterrent effect in encouraging officers to be aware of jurisdictional boundaries is dubious at best, given the dearth of similar cases involving errors in jurisdictional boundaries presented to this court over the years. This alone should negate any perception of the beneficent need for exclusion to the end of “appreciable” or “substantial” deterrence of such errors in the future.
But even assuming arguendo that a marginal deterrent effect exists, it is significantly outweighed by the “substantial social costs” and “harm to the justice system” exacted by exclusion. It takes neither a judge nor a lawyer to recognize the compelling social interest in protecting innocent citizens from drunk drivers and the offense to “basic concepts of the criminal justice system” by “letting guilty and possibly dangerous defendants go free.”
Here, a multiple DUI offender, who was driving under the influence on Christmas Eve, would not be required to answer for his actions because of Langston’s error. The counter-effect would be that innocent citizens of this State, who look to the government for protection from drunk drivers, would be subjected to the potentially fatal risk of a recalcitrant, multiple-DUI offender being placed back on their roadways.
This risk only adds to the undeniable substantial social costs exacted by drunk drivers through not only fatalities, but also through grief to the survivors; personal injuries ranging from catastrophic to minor; and property loss. Moreover, harm to the justice system is self-evident. Delker has demonstrated a deliberate, reckless, and flagrant disrespect of the laws of this State, despite opportunity after opportunity to alter his conduct.
Today’s opinion neither expands nor erodes the exclusionary rule, nor does it transform or expand traditional notions of the distinctions between negligence, gross negligence, and reckless disregard. As the circuit court reached the right result in denying Delker’s motion to suppress, albeit for the wrong reason, this court affirms the result of that ruling.
As the seized evidence was not subject to the exclusionary rule, this court affirms the judgment of the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County.