Mistake of law or fact based on good faith and a reasonable basis still valid


In 2003, Anthony Ryan Loveless was stopped in the north-bound lane at a four-way stop sign in the City of Booneville, Mississippi. Directly across from Loveless, in the south-bound lane, Booneville Police Officer Bryon Parker was also stopped at the four-way stop.

According to Parker, while the two vehicles were awaiting their turn to proceed, Parker heard loud music emanating from Loveless’s vehicle. Parker turned his cruiser around and followed Loveless with the intention of pulling him over and warning Loveless to turn the volume of the music down. Parker testified that, while he was following Loveless, he witnessed Loveless cross over the center line, with both driver’s side tires crossing over into the south-bound lane.

Parker then activated his lights and stopped Loveless. As he approached Loveless’s vehicle, Parker noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle. Parker also testified that Loveless’s speech was slurred. As Loveless exited his vehicle, Parker noticed a beer can in the console of Loveless’s vehicle, which Parker discovered was about half full, or half empty.

In addition, Parker testified that he continued to detect the aroma of beer on Loveless’s breath after they went to the rear of Loveless’s vehicle. A search of Loveless’s vehicle revealed a bottle of vodka and four unopened cans of beer located in a box behind the seat of Loveless’s vehicle.

Loveless refused to take the breathalyzer test on the Intoxilyzer 5000; however, based on Loveless’s performance in the field sobriety tests, his slurred speech, and evidence of alcohol consumption, Parker determined that Loveless was under the influence of intoxicating liquor at the time he was operating his vehicle.

Loveless was convicted of careless driving, driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 63-11-30-(1)(a) (Rev. 2004), possession of beer in a dry county, and possession of vodka in violation of the Mississippi Local Option Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. He was sentenced to 48 hours in jail.

On appeal, he argued there was no probable cause for the stop. MCOA affirmed.


Loveless argues that, since Parker could not cite the noise ordinance that Loveless was allegedly violating on the morning in question, and could not recite the elements which constitute a violation of the ordinance, there was no probable cause to make a traffic stop which led to Loveless’s arrest.

We suspect that even the most knowledgeable legal scholar could not spontaneously recite the citation and elements of all of the criminal statutes and ordinances which are in effect in Mississippi. Such a level of knowledge is not required to establish probable cause for an arrest or a traffic stop. Instead, the test for probable cause in Mississippi is the totality of the circumstances.

Even if Parker’s belief that Loveless was violating a noise ordinance was based on an erroneous conclusion of law or fact, such mistake does not necessarily render the probable cause defective, as long as Parker’s probable cause was based on good faith and a reasonable basis then it is valid.

In Harrison, two Lincoln County deputy sheriffs stopped Harrison at 1:30 a.m. for traveling 67 to 70 MPH in a construction zone which was marked with a 60 MPH speed limit sign. No workers were in the construction zone at that early hour. After Harrison agreed to a search of his vehicle, they discovered 117 pounds of marihuana in a duffle bag.

MSC found that Harrison had not violated the construction zone speed limit (since construction workers were not present) or the general 70 MPH speed limit, and that it thus necessarily followed that evidence derived from the stop would be subject to suppression if the inquiry stopped there. However, MSC concluded that the deputies had sufficient probable cause to stop Harrison, even though their stopping Harrison was a mistake of law.

In Harrison, the officers testified that they based their stop on the belief that Harrison was in violation of the traffic laws that made it illegal to exceed the posted speed limit, which was sixty (60) miles per hour. In essence, the stop was based on a mistake of law. In addressing the validity of probable cause in light of a mistake of law, several courts have determined that if the probable cause is based on good faith and a reasonable basis then it is valid. For example:

In U.S. v. Wallace, 213 F.3d 1216 (9th Cir. 2000), they found probable cause existed because of reasonable belief that suspect committed or was committing crime even though officer was mistaken that all front window tint was illegal;

In U.S. v. Sanders, 196 F.3d 910 (8th Cir. 1999), officer objectively had reasonable basis for probable cause even though, vehicle was not technically in violation of the statute (number of working tail lights);

In DeChene v. Smallwood, 226 Va. 475 (Va. 1984), arrest resulting from mistake of law was judged by the same test as one stemming from mistake of fact; whether the arresting officer acted in good faith and with probable cause.

Loveless points to nothing in the record to indicate a lack of good faith and reasonable belief by Parker that Loveless was violating a City of Booneville noise ordinance. However, even assuming that Parker did not have probable cause to initiate a traffic stop based on the belief that Loveless violated a noise ordinance, we note that Parker did not turn on his blue lights and signal Loveless to stop his vehicle until Parker saw Loveless cross the center line of the road.

There is no requirement that an officer have probable cause before following a motorist, and, up until the point when Loveless crossed the center line and Parker engaged his blue lights, following Loveless is all that Parker did. Accordingly, even if Parker’s suspicion of a noise ordinance violation was not sufficient to establish probable cause, and we find that it was, Loveless’s careless driving evidenced by his crossing the center line of the road clearly established probable cause sufficient for Parker to initiate the traffic stop. This assignment of error is, therefore, wholly without merit.