In 2013, Meridian police officers responded to a call about a large crowd gathered at a local apartment complex. When Officer Dustin Allen arrived, several people were in handcuffs and there were still eight to twelve people standing around. It was a high crime area and the individuals were loud and causing a disturbance.
Allen began to speak to Darius Jones, who was not handcuffed but was standing by his vehicle. While talking to Jones, Allen noticed a large caliber firearm on top of a backpack in the driver’s seat of Jones’s vehicle. Concerned with officer safety, Allen asked Jones for permission to enter the vehicle and secure the weapon. Jones denied owning the gun or having any knowledge of the gun’s owner.
Allen stated that Jones gave him the car keys and granted him permission to unlock the vehicle and secure the weapon. While retrieving the weapon, Allen smelled an odor of marijuana inside Jones’s car. Allen alerted Jones to the smell and Jones gave further permission to search the vehicle. Inside the backpack on the driver’s seat, Allen discovered a digital scale and two plastic sandwich bags that contained methamphetamine.
Jones was arrested, Mirandized, and gave a statement that the gun belonged to his mother. At trial, Jones’ Aunt said she was on a phone call with Jones that night and he did not give consent. A girlfriend to Jones also testified that 1) she borrowed the car that day and had other people in it, 2) she owned the gun and it was under the seat and not in plain view, and 3) Jones did not give consent for officers to search.
Jones testified 1) he consented to a search of his person but not of the car, 2) the gun belonged to his girlfriend, and 3) he did not give a statement to police that his mother owned the gun. He was convicted on felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to ten years. On appeal, Jones argues the search of the car was illegal. MCOA affirmed.
One exception to the warrant requirement is consent. To provide an exception to the warrant requirement, a person’s consent to search must be knowing and voluntary. For consent to be given knowingly, the person searched must be aware he has the legal right to refuse.
In May, we said that voluntariness is determined from the totality of the circumstances. Factors to consider are: Whether the circumstances were coercive, occurred while in the custody of law enforcement or occurred in the course of a station house investigation. The court must also look to the individual’s maturity, impressionability, experience, and education. Further, the court should consider whether the person was excited, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or mentally incompetent. If the consent occurred while the defendant was being generally cooperative, the consent is more likely to be voluntary.
Allen’s testimony reflected that Jones was generally cooperative with his request to retrieve the gun. Allen stated that Jones, who was not handcuffed during their exchange, voluntarily offered his car keys so that Allen could enter the locked car.
The record also reflected no evidence that Jones was in any way impaired at the time of the conversation. In fact, both Officer Dustin Allen and Agent Christopher Peacock, MBN, testified that Jones specifically told them a medical condition prevented him from consuming alcohol or drugs. Furthermore, Jones possessed experience and familiarity with the criminal justice system due to his prior felony conviction.