On the date of Joseph Triplett‘s arrest, he was residing with his mother. On this same day, Triplett used an automobile which belonged to Sammie White, a known drug dealer, to pick up Kay Barnes and her son. Triplett drove Barnes and her son to Barnes’s apartment.
Due to the pending execution of a search warrant for Barnes’s apartment, officers had received a description of the automobile driven by Triplett and were on the lookout for it. An officer saw the automobile and witnessed Triplett, Barnes, and her son exit the automobile and enter her apartment.
Once Triplett, Barnes, and her son were in the apartment, several officers with the Central Delta Task Force were called to execute the search warrant at the residence. Once in the residence, Triplett was observed in the bathroom “fumbling around over the sink with some green leaf like substance.” Thereafter, Triplett and Barnes were placed into handcuffs and positioned on the couch in the living room with Barnes’s son. The officers proceeded with a search of the residence.
The officers obtained numerous items as a result of the search. A brown bag that displayed the Fred’s store logo was found containing numerous other small plastic bags which contained a substance later positively identified as marijuana. Officer David Sullivan stated that 7.7 pounds of marijuana was taken from the apartment. The Fred’s bag also contained a set of digital scales. Additionally, the officers confiscated $3,750 in cash, as well as a pager from Triplett. After placing Triplett under arrest and completing the search of the apartment, the automobile that Triplett was observed driving was searched.
As a result of the search of the automobile, a substance positively identified as cocaine was found under a washcloth lying between the driver’s seat and the console area on the carpet.
Triplett was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to sell and possession of cocaine and sentenced to 60 years. On appeal, he argued the search of the car was illegal. MCOA agreed and reversed the cocaine conviction while affirming the marijuana conviction.
Triplett contends that the evidence regarding the cocaine seized from the automobile should have been suppressed by the trial judge because the search of the automobile was conducted after he had clearly removed himself from the vicinity of the automobile and had been placed under arrest. Triplett asserts that under the circumstances the officers were required to get a search warrant before they searched the automobile.
The State argues that the evidence was admissible because the search was properly performed as part of an inventory search to protect the defendant’s property from theft or any other claim. To support this contention, the State has cited Bolden.
In Bolden, two officers observed an automobile behind an abandoned building. Upon further investigation the officers found Bolden standing outside of the automobile urinating. It was determined that Bolden was intoxicated. Two containers of beer were found in the automobile, one of which was open. Bolden was arrested for a violation of the open container law.
One of the officers proceeded to secure any valuables in Bolden’s automobile. The officer testified that this was the standard procedure instituted by the police department to decrease liability for items that could be stolen due to the automobile being left unattended. While searching the automobile, cocaine was found in the sun visor where Bolden had removed his license.
In Bolden, we held that while the search was not performed pursuant to the automobile being seized, it was still reasonable for the reasons enumerated by the officers because the driver was arrested which left the automobile unattended. Even though the automobile was not impounded the officers had a plausible reason or justification to conduct the search. Our case is distinguishable from Bolden.
In our case, Sullivan testified that the automobile was owned by Sammie White, a known dealer of cocaine. Sullivan also testified that the automobile was not seized. He explained that he did not seize the automobile because Triplett had told him who it belonged to and Barnes needed it as a means of transportation to get to and from work. Since the testimony of Sullivan established that the automobile was never impounded or seized, the law applicable for inventory searches conducted pursuant to such situations is not applicable in the case at bar.
However, the State also argues that the inventory was done to protect Triplett’s property from theft. It must first be noted that the testimony of Sullivan established that the automobile was owned by Sammie White, not Triplett. Additionally, unlike in Bolden, the automobile was not being left unattended at an abandoned building.
Instead, it was parked in front of the apartment that was being rented by Barnes. Additionally, Barnes was not arrested at the time the search warrant was executed, but instead, remained at her apartment. Furthermore, the officers could have called upon White to retrieve his automobile.
Also unlike the facts in Bolden is the fact that Triplett was not in close proximity to the automobile at the time the search occurred. Triplett had been in the apartment, had had handcuffs placed on him, and was under arrest prior to the automobile being searched. Therefore, even though allowances have been made for officers when conducting an inventory of an automobile, the facts in the case at bar do not substantiate such an allowance.
Furthermore, the search in this case cannot be justified as a search incident to arrest or one that comes within the plain view exception, because Triplett was not within close proximity of the automobile, he had been previously handcuffed and arrested, and the cocaine was covered by a washcloth. See MSC case Ferrell v. State, 649 So. 2d 831 (Miss. 1995). Therefore, the evidence regarding the cocaine should have been suppressed at the trial.