In 2016, Gulfport P.D. Officer Nicholas Kehoe observed Jeremy Fogleman, the driver of an orange Camaro, rev the engine and spin the wheels while leaving a stop sign. Kehoe followed the vehicle as it was speeding away and as Kehoe got closer he noticed the Camaro also did not have a license plate displayed. Kehoe then activated his lights to stop the vehicle for speeding and failure to display a license plate.
The Camaro sped off reaching speeds of 100 mph on streets with 35 mph limits. As the Camaro approached an intersection, Kehoe turned off his lights and sirens for safety purposes (thinking this may cause the Camaro to slow down). In fact, the Camaro ran a red light, killing one person and injuring another in separate cars.
The police dash cam video showed Fogleman exiting the vehicle while a passenger in the Camaro, Shane Sandridge, was not seen but could be heard complying with officers on the scene. Since the car could not be driven, Gulfport P.D. policy dictated an inventory search be conducted before the car was towed. Inside of the center console was a plastic baggie containing methamphetamine.
At trial, Fogleman claimed the dash cam video was altered and it was Sandridge who was driving the vehicle and not him. There was overwhelming evidence that Fogleman drove the vehicle (dash cam, two officers on scene identified Fogleman as individual on dash cam who exited driver side, blood on driver side of car came back to Fogleman, Fogleman had pled guilty in 2015 to operating Camaro without insurance, Fogleman diagnosed at hospital with alcohol intoxication).
Fogleman was found guilty of felony evasion, failure to yield, and possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to 50 years. On appeal, he argued that there was no reasonable suspicion for the stop and thus everything else (to include drugs) were fruit of the poisonous tree. MCOA affirmed.
A. Reasonable suspicion for stop
The crime of failing to yield to a law-enforcement officer requires the following: (1) a driver of a motor vehicle to be given a signal directing the driver to stop; (2) a law-enforcement officer acting in the lawful performance of his duty and with reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver has committed a crime; and (3) the driver to willfully fail to obey the law enforcement officer’s direction. Fogleman challenged the proof of element 2 above.
As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. The Mississippi Supreme Court has said that the law is well settled that if an officer personally observes a traffic violation, that is sufficient proof of the requisite cause for a stop. See Casey. Even if the “burnout” was not a traffic violation, it certainly was a sufficient basis for Kehoe to be suspicious and follow the Camaro.
The driver’s speeding and the failure to have a tag conspicuously displayed were both traffic violations that Kehoe witnessed and which justified his decision to make the traffic stop. Therefore, Kehoe’s personal observations of these traffic violations were sufficient to establish probable cause for the traffic stop.
We have found probable cause existed to initiate a traffic stop under circumstances less compelling than in this case. In Carter, we approved a police pursuit that occurred when a deputy observed and followed a car that did not have a light illuminating its license plate. When the driver stopped and obstructed traffic behind him, the deputy activated his blue lights and siren.
Carter sped away, and a high speed pursuit ensued. We said that the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. We noted that it was sufficient that the deputy had witnessed Carter commit two traffic violations: (1) his license plate was not illuminated, and (2) he was obstructing traffic.
Under the Fourth Amendment, an individual has the right to be protected from warrantless searches and seizures. But there are exceptions, including an inventory search. To determine whether the search and seizure were unreasonable, the inquiry is two-fold: (1) whether the officer’s action was justified at its inception, and (2) whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.
In this case, we have held that Kehoe had reasonable suspicion and probable cause to stop Fogleman, meeting the first prong of the test. Moreover, the subsequent search of the vehicle was reasonable given the circumstances in light of the vehicles’ conditions and departmental policy. Therefore, the search of the Camaro did not violate Fogleman’s Fourth Amendment rights.
It is irrelevant that the methamphetamine found was unrelated to Fogleman’s crimes of felony evasion. In this case, the search of the Camaro was lawful and the methamphetamine was not “fruit of the poisonous tree” as Fogleman claims.