In 2009, Officer Luis Garcia, Gulfport Police Department, stopped Barry Melton’s vehicle when he made a right hand turn without using a turn signal. When Melton advised his drivers license was suspended, he was asked to exit the vehicle and arrested.
Garcia recovered a knife and a black pouch from Melton’s person. Inside the pouch was two glass pipes. An inventory search of the vehicle revealed a black pouch on the floor next to the driver’s seat. Officer Adams opened the pouch and found methamphetamine and baggies.
Melton was Mirandized, waived, and confessed to the methamphetamine possession and also stated that he did not use his turn signal because it did not work. He was convicted for possession with intent to distribute and sentenced to 40 years.
On appeal, he argued he was not required to use a turn signal because his and Garcia’s vehicles were the only vehicles on the road, and Garcia’s vehicle was traveling at a safe distance behind his. MCOA affirmed.
The Mississippi Supreme Court in Moore held that an investigatory stop is reasonable as long as the officer has probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. In Mississippi, the test for probable cause is the totality of the circumstances.
Section 63-3-707 requires a driver turning right or left to give a continuous signal for a reasonable distance before turning in the event any other vehicle may be affected by such movement. Melton urges a very restrictive interpretation of section 63-7-707, focusing upon the word affected. Apparently, he believes that another vehicle is affected only if there is a danger of the other vehicle being involved in an accident with the non-signaling vehicle.
We decline to embrace such a restrictive construction of the statute, as other prudent drivers on the highway may well be affected by the failure of a driver to signal his intention to turn, even when no accident is likely to occur as the result of the driver’s failure to give a proper signal. The fact that Garcia was traveling at a safe distance behind Melton is of no moment.
All drivers are required to drive just as Garcia was driving because every driver is supposed to drive at a safe distance behind the preceding vehicle. Thus, Melton violated section 63-3-707 by failing to signal, even though there was no imminent threat of a collision between his vehicle and Garcia’s vehicle.
The subsequent searches of Melton and his vehicle were lawful. Garcia arrested Melton for driving with a suspended license, and he searched Melton as a search incident to Melton’s arrest.
In Johnson, the MSC said that it is well established that there is no Fourth Amendment violation when a person under lawful custodial arrest is subjected to a full search of his person. Therefore, the black pouch containing the glass pipes was admissible.
Additionally, the inventory search of Melton’s vehicle, during which Officer Tim Adams discovered the methamphetamine, was conducted according to Gulfport Police Department policy and was limited to the areas of Melton’s vehicle where his property could reasonably be expected to be found. See Robinson v. State, 418 So. 2d 749 (Miss. 1982) (warrantless inventory search of a vehicle is constitutionally permissible provided that it is limited in scope and conducted pursuant to standard police procedures).