In 2014, Office Mark Gore, Philadephia P.D., noticed a driver and passenger who were not wearing seat belts. Gore stopped the car and watched as the passenger, Jeremy Nowell, appeared to be sticking a glass pipe down his pants. He got Nowell out of the car and told him what he saw.
Nowell became nervous, began talking more quickly, and started crossing his legs. During the conversation, several items fell from his pants onto the ground, to include a glass pipe and methamphetamine. After securing Nowell, Gore glanced through the open car door and observed a second pouch with methamphetamine in plain view.
Gore stated the pouch was probably half on Nowell’s seat and half on the middle part of the car and that Nowell could even have been sitting on the pouch. The car belonged to a friend of Nowell who was not in the car during the stop. Nowell was Mirandized, waived, and told officers the drugs belonged to him. He was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to eight years. On appeal, he argued the search of the drugs inside the car was illegal. MCOA affirmed.
Mississippi caselaw and statutory law establish that probable cause may arise for a traffic stop when an officer reasonably believes that a vehicle’s driver and passenger are not wearing properly fastened seatbelts. See Austin.
Nowell contends that Gore illegally searched and seized the second pouch found inside the vehicle because the search was not one incident to arrest and because Gore lacked probable cause. The circuit court found that the second pouch was in plain view inside the car. We do not find error with this.
Also, Nowell never asserted a claim of ownership over the vehicle and he even stated that the day of the arrest was his first time inside the car. In Powell, we said that a defendant cannot prevent the use of evidence discovered in the search unless his own rights were violated by a search. According to Nowell, he had only been riding in the car about twenty minutes when Gore initiated the traffic stop.
The record here clearly reflects that (1) Nowell was merely a passenger in the car; (2) neither he nor driver had a possessory interest in the vehicle; and (3) the car was not Nowell’s principal or usual mode of transportation.
Based on Nowell’s own admissions, we find Nowell possessed no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the vehicle in which he rode. As a result, Nowell lacked standing to challenge the legality of Gore’s plain view seizure of the second pouch or to prevent the use of the methamphetamine discovered in the search.