Exigency allows officers to collect items found in plain view


In 1994, Julius and Rosalyn Jones accompanied Charles Taylor from Louisiana to Pearl River County, Mississippi. They had agreed to assist him in getting himself and Edith Chaves, his girlfriend, to a detox center. Both Taylor and Edith had serious drinking problems and both were under the influence that day. In fact, Edith had recently been released from a detox facility.

Taylor was also afraid that he may have hurt Edith by kicking her in the head earlier that day. Both Joneses testified that when they reached Edith’s house she did not appear to be in good shape. Edith moved slowly and had a hard time moving on her own. Edith also complained of a headache.

Taylor asked the Joneses to leave for a while and give him and Edith time to get ready. Refusing to drive back to Louisiana, the Joneses went outside and sat on the front porch, while Taylor, closing the front door, went back into the house. Rosalyn testified that she heard Edith say “no” several times and shortly thereafter Taylor called for Julius to come and help him.

Julius testified that when he got to the bathroom Edith was lying on the bathroom floor burning. Julius further testified that after he and Taylor had poured water on Edith to put out the fire, Taylor ran into the woods and did not come back. When Julius came out of the bathroom and told Rosalyn that Edith had burned she ran outside and waved down Ms. Mattie Delancey, Edith’s neighbor, to call for help.

Sheriff’s Deputies Wesley Lossett and Len Landrum were dispatched to Edith’s residence. They were told that there was a domestic dispute. When they arrived they found Julius and Rosalyn standing outside. The Joneses directed them through the house and into the bathroom. Upon entering the bathroom of the house the deputies found Edith lying nude on the bathroom floor with severe burns to her face, back, abdomen and legs.

While in the house the deputies saw smoke and noticed an odor, which smelled like kerosene. Edith was airlifted to Forrest General Hospital. Later that night she was transferred to the Greenville Burn Center, where she remained until she died. Taylor was subsequently arrested.

Taylor sought to suppress all evidence deputies obtained from Edith’s house. Stipulating that Taylor had standing to challenge the search and seizure, the circuit court held an evidentiary hearing. After the officers arrived on the scene, Officer Lossett stayed with Edith, while Officer Landrum walked through the house.

Landrum testified that his purpose in walking through the house was to secure the house and determine if there were other fires. He stated that when he entered the bedroom, which was connected to the bathroom, he noticed a hurricane lamp with the globe off. After Landrum walked through the house he left to see if he could find Taylor. When he returned to the house he brought his camera with him and took pictures of Edith’s injuries, the bathroom and the lamps. He testified that they were not told that Taylor lived in the house.

When Captain Rodney Spears arrived on the scene 45 minutes later, Officers Lossett and Landrum went through the house a third time, pointing out various items. Spears collected various items of evidence. Among the items collected were burned clothing, sweepings from the bathroom floor, a box of matches from the bathroom floor and the hurricane lamps on the bedroom dresser. Spears also directed the arson investigator to take wood shavings from the bathroom floor to be analyzed for possible accelerants.

The court found that the officers were in an emergency situation, and that the objects seized were in plain view. Taylor was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years. On appeal, he argued the evidence found in the house should have been suppressed. MSC reversed on another issue but agreed with the trial court on this issue.


In Graves, we recognized that an emergency situation is a valid exception to the warrant requirement.

The elements for the exigent circumstances exception are: (1) reasonable grounds to believe there is an emergency situation and there is an immediate need for their assistance in order to protect life and property; (2) the primary motivation for the search must not be an intent to arrest and seize the evidence; and (3) some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, must associate the emergency with the area or place searched.

The officers entered the house and rendered necessary assistance to Edith in response to the emergency situation. Additionally, when Officer Landrum first walked through the premises he was still operating under the emergency situation. He was walking through the house to determine whether the house was still on fire and if anyone else needed assistance.

It must be determined whether the second and the third walk through the house and the seizure of the evidence were legally justified. The U.S. Supreme Court in Mincey v Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978), held that where an officer enters a residence under an emergency situation he may seize any evidence in plain view during the course of emergency activities.

The circuit court found that all evidence seized was in plain view when Landrum initially walked through the house. Landrum was justified in returning to the house and taking pictures of those items which he had noticed in ‘plain view’ on his first trip through the house. After Landrum’s initial walk through the house he left the house to go search for Taylor. He was only gone for a short time. He returned after failing to locate Taylor and went through the house a second time, this time taking pictures as he went. The circuit court’s findings in regards to the second walk through were legally and factually sound.

The third walk through the house and the seizure of the items were continuations of the original plain view scene of these evidentiary items.

From the time of their initial entry, the officers of the Jackson Police Department were engaged in only one search. That search had only one goal: locating the victim and assisting her, if not too late. The actions of the officer and other members of the mobile crime lab (after the re-entry of the apartment) were merely to effectuate the physical seizure of articles in plain view which the officers would have been able to seize had not the circumstances been so “exigent”.

There was no unwarranted delay in time, nor was there any expansion of the scope of the search. The fact that the actual physical taking of the items into the custody of the police was effectuated by an evidence technician who was trained to preserve the evidentiary value of the objects, rather than by the first officers to view the objects, is not significant.

Captain Spears testified that he arrived on the scene approximately 45 minutes after Officers Lossett and Landrum. Captain Spears did not expand the search and he only seized those items which were pointed out as having been in plain view. Also, as to Chief Joe Stewart, the arson investigator, there is no indication that his arrival was much later than Captain Spears. Chief Stewart took wood shavings from the floor at the direction of Captain Spears. Therefore, the circuit court was correct in finding that the third walk through the house and the ultimate seizure of the evidence were legally justified.