In 2000, Nathaniel Burnett was driving at a high rate of speed in Oktibbeha County. He was pursued by Deputy Sheriff Roy Moore in a marked patrol car. Moore had been parked in a driveway alongside the road in order to investigate complaints about speeders. Moore determined that Burnett’s car was traveling more than the posted 45 miles per hour speed limit.
Burnett refused to stop his car despite the pursuing marked law enforcement vehicle. At times Burnett exceeded 100 miles per hour in his efforts to escape. Among the observed traffic offenses, Burnett was speeding and driving recklessly by weaving around equipment at a road construction area. It was at the construction location that Burnett finally stopped.
After having Burnett’s driver’s license checked at the sheriff’s department, the officer learned of an outstanding warrant for Burnett’s arrest for aggravated assault. He was arrested. During the search of Burnett incident to the arrest, a plastic medicine bottle in the waistband of his pants was found. Later scientific testing revealed that the bottle contained cocaine.
Burnett was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced to six years. On appeal, he argued it was an illegal traffic stop. MCOA affirmed.
Burnett claims that the medicine bottle found on him should have been suppressed as the product of an illegal traffic stop.
In Whren v. U.S., 517 U.S. 806 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court said that a law enforcement officer has the authority to stop a motorist if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person is committing a traffic offense.
That Burnett was speeding was Officer Moore’s reasonable conclusion based on what he observed before beginning the chase. He jokingly testified that, as Burnett went by, he thought a jet plane had passed. Moore pursued him, and the speeding continued and reckless driving began. That is probable cause to believe that traffic offenses were being committed in the officer’s presence.