Informant tip does not provide enough information for a traffic stop in this case


An unnamed informant called Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department Officer Willie Edwards on his personal cell and said that Wendell Barnes was in Port Gibson driving a red Cadillac with Texas plates. Edwards and Officer James Jefferson knew Barnes had three arrest warrants but only Edwards would recognize Barnes.

Soon, they happened upon a vehicle that fit the caller’s description and initiated an investigatory stop. According to Jefferson, when he approached the car, he saw the butt of a gun under the driver’s seat, smelled alcohol, and saw an empty liquor bottle. So, he took the driver, who was actually Terrance Eaddy, from the vehicle to pat him down for officer safety.

During the search, he discovered two pill bottles that each appeared to hold cocaine. He explained that one pill bottle contained a “white substance” separated into individual bags, and the other bottle contained a white substance cut into blocks. After he had conducted the search, Edwards told him the suspect was not Barnes.

On cross examination, Eaddy’s counsel pointed out that Jefferson’s arrest report contained a different version of the events. In his report, Jefferson explained that he had noticed the driver was not Wendell Barnes after he had asked him to exit the car. But since he had seen a liquor bottle by the driver’s seat, he had frisked the driver for his safety.

Jefferson’s report further explained that, after finding the two pill bottles with cocaine, he then had handcuffed Eaddy, had searched the car, and had discovered the gun.

Jefferson explained that his report stated when he had told Eaddy that he had seen the gun and not when he actually had seen it. In other words, although his report indicated that the liquor bottle had prompted the protective search, the gun was actually the reason.

Thus, Jefferson did not collect the liquor bottle from the car, and Eaddy was not charged with driving under the influence. Jefferson further explained that any time you stop a car, you’re going to search the individual and get him out of the car for officer safety.

At trial, Eaddy explained that he was dating Barnes’ sister and was picked up by her in Barnes’ car. Eaddy said he never saw the gun and drugs before entering the car and that Jefferson never asked him his name during the encounter.

Edwards testified that after they had made the traffic stop and had approached the car, he had told Jefferson that Wendell Barnes was not in the car. In other words, Edwards had identified Eaddy as the driver before Jefferson had conducted the search.

Eaddy was convicted of possession with intent to distribute and sentenced to 15 years. On appeal, he argued the anonymous tip did not provide enough information for a traffic stop. The MSC agreed with Eaddy and reversed.


A. Traffic stop

In Walker, we said that police officers may detain a person for a brief, investigatory stop consistent with the Fourth Amendment when the officers have reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts that allows the officers to conclude the suspect is wanted in connection with criminal behavior.

In Williamson, we said that grounds for reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop generally come from two sources: either the officers’ personal observation or an informant’s tip. The officer’s personal observation includes information from other law enforcement personnel.

In McClellan, we said that an informant’s tip may provide reasonable suspicion if accompanied by some indication of reliability; for example, reliability may be shown from the officer’s independent investigation of the informant’s information.

But the scope of an investigatory stop is limited. In Haddox v State, 636 So. 2d 1229 (1994), we said that the scope of a search or seizure must relate to the initial circumstances that called for police action. Thus, when police detention exceeds the scope of the stop, the stop becomes a “seizure,” and the State must show probable cause.

Here, although Edwards had personal knowledge of Wendell Barnes’s identity and both officers knew about his arrest warrants, the record does not reflect that either officer knew the description of Barnes’s vehicle before making the stop (the officers would not have known the description of Barnes’s vehicle but for the caller’s information, because the arrest warrants did not include a description). Absent further independent investigation, Barnes’s arrest warrants did not provide reasonable grounds to justify a stop of the red Cadillac with Texas plates.

Barnes’s warrants also did not provide reasonable grounds to justify a stop of Eaddy beyond what was necessary for Edwards to clarify his identity. Even if we consider the officers’ observations with the informant’s information, we still would conclude that they lacked reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop.

Unlike the officers in McClellan, Jefferson and Edwards acted, without independent investigation, on the caller’s vague description of Barnes’s vehicle.

And, unlike the trial court in Williamson, the court made no findings regarding the reliability of the anonymous caller’s information. Therefore, we hold that the trial court committed clear error in finding that Barnes’s arrest warrants provided reasonable suspicion to stop and search Eaddy.

B. Good faith

The State cited Cole in arguing for good faith in this case.

In Cole, after the officer saw the defendant speeding, he called in the defendant’s tag number to a dispatcher, who informed the officer that the tag had expired. Because the officer reasonably relied on the dispatcher’s faulty information, the MCOA determined his good faith, mistaken belief did not invalidate his reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant for an expired tag.

The State’s reliance on Cole incorrectly assumes that Jefferson personally knew the type of car that Wendell Barnes drove. Even if Jefferson mistakenly had relied on the caller’s description of the car, he repeatedly testified that he did not know Barnes’s identity.

Unlike the officer in Cole, Jefferson unreasonably continued to execute arrest warrants for an individual he did not know without verifying the suspect’s identity.

In White, we adopted the Leon good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. But we intimated that this exception to exclusion should apply only in unique circumstances, such as where the officer’s reliance on an invalidated search warrant was objectively reasonable.

We said in White, “we admonish all law enforcement officers and prosecutors to understand that our adoption today of the Leon good faith exception should not be interpreted, in any way, as an opportunity for them to be less diligent or less thorough in following the mandates of the United States Constitution, the Mississippi Constitution, or case law interpretations thereof, regarding search and seizure.”

Moreover, White does not sanction the good faith exception where the officer is mistaken about the suspect’s general right to be free from unreasonable searches. Notably, Jefferson testified at the motion hearing and at trial that stopping a car, without more, authorized the officer to search the occupant for officer safety.

Also, his arrest report premised the protective search on the presence of a liquor bottle. Neither standard meets constitutional requirements.

Finally, Edwards testified that he had informed Jefferson of the suspect’s identity before the search. The misinterpretation of constitutional mandates, the contradictory information in the arrest report and testimony, and the failure to resolve the suspect’s identity and act accordingly render the good faith exception inapplicable.