No expectation of privacy in garbage can near street


In 1999, Lindsay Welch was a nineteen year old freshman at Mississippi State University, who lived in a house in Starkville owned by her parents. Welch was pregnant but did not seek pre-natal care nor advise anyone of her pregnancy. She testified to being unaware of this pregnancy until late February.

On March 19, 1999, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Welch gave birth in the bathroom while at home alone. After the delivery, Welch cleaned the baby off, cut the umbilical cord with scissors and wrapped the baby in a couple of towels. She stated that, “I thought that he might be cold and that he probably was so I reached over into the cabinets and got some towels and wrapped him up in the towels hoping that that would keep him warm.” Welch then placed the baby on the kitchen counter, returned to the living room and laid on the sofa.

At approximately 1:00 a.m., Welch went to the kitchen to check on the baby. She testified that his hand felt cold. Welch then felt his chest for a heartbeat. She indicated there was none. Welch testified that “the only thing that really came to my mind or maybe that didn’t come to my mind, the only thing that I did was I put my son in a trash bag.” Afterwards, Welch went into the living room and sat on the sofa with the bag next to her on the floor for approximately nine hours.

The next morning Welch placed the bag into a plastic garbage can on the back of her patio. This particular garbage can was never used for trash. Welch placed the can outside her bedroom window where it remained for several weeks. According to Welch, one Friday afternoon, her parents came over to assist in cleaning the yard. Her dad noticed a smell coming from the trash can and told her to clean out the trash can. Welch stated that she could not recall who placed the bags in the front of the house.

On April 12, 1999, Officer Virginia Rich of the Starkville Police Department, received an anonymous phone call from a male who stated that Lindsay Welch had given birth to a child at 100 East Gillespie Street, who was possibly dead on the premises. Officers Virginia Rich and Mike Smith (also with the Starkville Police Department) went to that location, where Rich knocked on the door and found that no one was home.

The officers found a strong odor emanating from a garbage bag near the edge of the street in front of Welch’s home. Smith opened the bag and found a second bag. In the second bag, he found what appeared to be an infant wrapped in towels. Smith then contacted the coroner, Mike Hunt, while Rich took photographs of the scene.

Welch pulled into the driveway, saw the officers standing near the garbage bag, and asked one of the officers, “What was that smell?” After looking at the contents in the bag, Welch was asked to sit in Rich’s car. Welch agreed to go to the police department with the officer. Rich stated that prior to talking with Welch, she orally explained to Welch that she did not have to be there and that she could leave at any time.

Rich indicated that at the police department, she explained the information contained in the waiver of rights form and Welch signed the waiver and talked with the officer for approximately two and one-half hours. According to Rich, she presented the form to Welch as a formality or safety measure. Welch gave a handwritten statement to Rich. Upon conclusion of the interview, Rich asked Welch for permission to search her home. According to Rich, Welch gave oral approval to the search and executed a written consent to search prior to commencement of the search. The search was done on April 12th.

Later, Rich phoned Welch and requested that she come back to the police department where she was told that her written statement needed to be notarized. Additionally, Welch was asked to execute an authorization for release of her medical records. The next day, Welch was taken to the Women’s Clinic in Starkville, where Dr. Will Locke examined her. After the examination, Rich took Welch back to the police department. Subsequently, Welch was placed under arrest for capital murder.

Welch was convicted of manslaughter by culpable negligence and sentenced to eight years. On appeal, she argued the search of her garbage was illegal and her statement should have been suppressed. MCOA affirmed.


A. Garbage

Welch contends that the trial court erred in allowing the admission of evidence which was the result of an illegal search of her home. Welch maintains that the two officers looked around her house on the basis of an anonymous tip, when she was not at home and proceeded to untie a trash bag near the street, but on her property. Welch contends that the search and subsequent seizure of the evidence was conducted without probable cause or exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless intrusion, even if there had been probable cause.

In Campbell v. State, 278 So. 2d 420 (Miss. 1973), MSC said that a warrantless search or seizure may be conducted based on probable cause where garbage is left outside for pick-up and there no longer exists an expectation of privacy in the items which were discarded. We find that Welch did not have an expectation of privacy in what appeared to be garbage left for collection; therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence obtained by the officers.

B. Statement

Welch contends that her second statement was handwritten by Officer Rich in language chosen by Rich to secure a capital murder charge after conferring with the district attorney, and that she was coerced into signing it. Welch claims that after reading the statement written by Rich, she indicated her disagreement with some of the statements but was told by the officer, “Don’t worry about it. Sign anyway. We will worry about that later.”

Rich maintains that Welch did not want to write due to poor penmanship and that she wrote verbatim what Welch said. Rich also acknowledged consultation with the district attorney and one of the assistant district attorneys regarding this case.

The trial court must look at the totality of the circumstances in making the factual inquiry into the voluntariness of a statement or confession. The applicable standard for determining whether a confession is voluntary is whether, taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances, the statement is the product of the accused’s free and rational choice.

Based on the record, Welch has failed to establish that the trial court erred in admitting her second statement into evidence. While Welch stated that she did not want to sign the second statement, she also indicated that she just did not know any better and signed it because she was told that no one would see the statement. Welch did not offer testimony which showed that coercion, threats or offers of reward induced the confession. Welch voluntarily signed both statements and a waiver of rights form. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s decision.