Mere passenger has no standing to object to search of vehicle


Gulfport P.D. got an anonymous tip that DeCarlos Holloway was selling marijuana and cocaine at that moment from a specific address on South Carolina Avenue. Police immediately set up surveillance and observed Holloway get picked up in a Tahoe. Detective King noticed that the driver was not wearing a seatbelt and that the window tint on the Tahoe appeared to exceed the legal limit so they stopped the vehicle.

The Tahoe then accelerated before eventually stopping again. As they approached the vehicle, they could smell marijuana and Holloway, passenger, was chewing a green leafy substance that Detective Brennan recognized as marijuana. Holloway ignored orders to put his hands up and stop eating the marijuana.

He was placed under arrest and a search of the vehicle revealed marijuana residue on the passenger side and a gun in the glove compartment on the passenger side. A hostile crowd formed so they moved the Tahoe back to South Carolina Avenue and continued the search there. The second search of the car revealed fresh crack cocaine cookies found behind the glove compartment on the passenger side.

The other officers returned to the house on South Carolina Avenue, entered the house using a key they found on Holloway, and performed a protective sweep. Once a search warrant for the house was obtained, officers executed it and found a large amount of powder cocaine. Holloway was advised of his Miranda rights, waived, and eventually admitted that the crack cocaine in the car and powder cocaine in the house belonged to him.

The trial judge ruled that 1) the first search of the car was based on probable cause and was admissible, 2) officers had time to get a search warrant for the car after it was moved and before they conducted a second search *, 3) Holloway lacked standing to object to the search of the car, 4) there was probable cause for the search warrant of the house and 5) Holloway lacked standing to object to the search warrant of the house because no evidence was presented that he stayed at the house on a regular basis or kept any personal belongings there.

Holloway was convicted of trafficking in a controlled substance and sentenced to 40 years. On appeal, he argued he had standing to object to both the search of the car and the house and that the search warrant for the home lacked probable cause. MCOA affirmed.


A.  Car

A person has Fourth Amendment standing if he had legitimate expectations of privacy in the place searched. The U.S. Supreme Court said in Byrd that one who owns and possesses a car almost always has a reasonable expectation of privacy in it. More difficult to define and delineate are the legitimate expectations of privacy of others.

It is clear that legitimate presence in a car, standing alone, is not enough to accord a reasonable expectation of privacy. In Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978), the United States Supreme Court said that a mere passenger in a car does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in places such as the glove compartment, the trunk, or the area under the seats.

Holloway recognizes that mere passengers in a car lack standing to object to a search thereof, but he argues that he “was more than a mere passenger in the Tahoe” because he had access to parts of the car that were not normally accessible to a regular passenger, i.e., the area behind the glove compartment. We disagree. We decline to draw a constitutional distinction based on whether drugs are hidden in or behind a car’s glove compartment.

B.  House

Whether there is probable cause for a search depends on a practical and common-sense assessment of the totality of the circumstances. The decision of the issuing magistrate should not be overly technical but rather should be based on factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. The issuing magistrate may consider both the officer’s written affidavit and any supplementary oral testimony including any credible hearsay.

In general, an uncorroborated anonymous tip is insufficient to establish probable cause. However, we said in Phinizee that probable cause may be established if information from anonymous sources is corroborated by the personal observations of police officers involved in the case.

The officers received an anonymous tip that Holloway was, at that very moment, cooking crack cocaine and selling marijuana and cocaine from a specific address on South Carolina Avenue. The officers immediately began surveillance of that address. Thirty or forty minutes later, they observed Ratcliff knock on the door of the house, and Holloway exited the house and left with Ratcliff in the Tahoe.

The officers followed the Tahoe and initiated a valid traffic stop, but the Tahoe drove away quickly as the officers approached it. After they stopped the Tahoe a second time, Brennan saw Holloway eating marijuana in an apparent attempt to conceal it. The officers also clearly smelled marijuana and found a bag with synthetic cannabinoid residue and a white box with marijuana residue in the Tahoe.

In addition, they found a gun in the glove compartment directly in front of Holloway, although it was illegal for either Holloway or Ratcliff to possess a gun because both were convicted felons. Based on the totality of the circumstances in this case, there was substantial evidence to support the finding of probable cause for a search warrant.

MCOA also agreed with the trial court ruling that Holloway did not present any evidence to show he stayed at the home on a regular basis or kept personal belongings at that house.  Thus, he had no standing to object to the search warrant of the home.

* MCOA declined to rule on this since the issue was moot as Holloway lacked standing for either search of the Tahoe.