In 2013, an informant advised Stone County narcotics task force that an unknown individual was offering to sell crack cocaine. The informant advised that a black male driving a white SUV would be traveling from Harrison County into Stone County. The SUV would park on the north side of a gas station on Highway 49 in McHenry, Mississippi.
The investigators were also given the phone number to the dealer by the informant. Investigators Aaron Grob and Chris Ory went to the gas station and set up surveillance. Less than an hour later, they spotted a black male driving a white Toyota Sequoia pull into the gas station parking lot. The driver parked on the gas station’s north side. The vehicle had a Harrison County license plate, matching the description the investigators had received.
Grob called the number provided by the informant and both Grob and Ory saw the driver of the SUV answer his cell phone. Grob then got out of his vehicle and approached from the passenger side of the SUV. He identified himself to the driver, Garrett Ray.
Ray did not see Ory approaching from the driver side window and he threw a green Newport cigarette pack out the driver’s side window that hit Ory in the chest. Ray was then handcuffed and the cigarette pack was found to contain cocaine. Ray was Mirandized and confessed. He was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and sentenced to 16 years. On appeal, he argued 1) there was an unlawful seizure of the drugs and 2) there was an illegal arrest. MSC affirmed.
A. Abandoned property is not a legal seizure
Ray was neither under arrest nor had he been stopped and detained when Investigators Grob and Ory approached and identified themselves as law enforcement. Rather, Ray voluntarily threw the cigarette pack out the driver’s window. Ray’s own acts disclosed the cigarette pack and its contents, so there was no seizure in the sense of the law when the officers examined the contents after it had been abandoned.
In Harper v. State, 635 So. 2d 864 (Miss. 1994), a defendant who had failed to comply with officers’ instructions to stop, but was not seized or arrested, discarded a matchbox containing cocaine. This Court deemed the drugs were abandoned and not the fruit of an unlawful seizure or arrest. The same applies in this case today.
B. Warrantless Arrest
A warrantless arrest requires probable cause. Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the arresting officers’ knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed.
Here, Grob and Ory heard Ray set up a drug sale with the informant. Later that day, the informant called Grob and Ory and gave a description of the seller and the seller’s vehicle. Grob and Ory observed an African-American man, driving a white SUV with Harrison County tags, park in the pre-arranged part of the gas station’s parking lot—all of which matched the informant’s information.
Grob pulled in behind the SUV and dialed the seller’s number, which the informant had also provided. Both Grob and Ory saw Ray answer the phone and begin speaking to Grob. At that point, both investigators identified themselves and approached the SUV. Ray then threw his cigarette pack—containing the cocaine—out his driver’s side window. The informant’s corroborated information plus the officers personal observations provided sufficient probable cause for the arrest.