In 2004, Brandy Stewart Yates left her husband of eight years, James Yates, Jr., and their two young children to travel with defendant Joseph Goff. Brandy had become acquainted with Goff while working as a waitress at the Bama Barn, a bar in Theodore, Alabama.
Brandy checked into room 121 at Rocky Creek Inn in Lucedale, Mississippi, accompanied by Goff. Sometime later in the day, after the two had an altercation, Goff left the motel and traveled to Mobile, Alabama, where he met an acquaintance, a woman by the name of Melissa. Yates then had several conversations by telephone with her husband, James, where she expressed concerns for her safety and he agreed to pick her up the next day.
The next morning, the owner of the hotel noticed fire damage in room 121. After opening the room, she found Yates body and called police.
Later that day, Trooper Jason Ginn of the Mississippi Highway Patrol stopped a white Ford Mustang with an expired tag near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Ginn noticed the strong smell of cigarette smoke, red marks on the driver’s neck, and that the vehicle was trashed on the inside. The driver, Joseph Goff, stated to Ginn that he was on a spiritual experience and traveling to Texas.
Ginn also noticed the odor of gasoline on the documents Goff had provided to him. Ginn then called for backup and Trooper Henley arrived. Ginn received consent to search the car and found a carton of cigarettes as well as three bank rolls of fifty dollar bills before the search got delayed as Henley had to leave the scene.
During this 15 minute break, Ginn and Goff talked and Goff said he had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend in Lucedale and lost her. Concerned that the girlfriend may have been injured, Ginn reached out to authorities in southern Mississippi and learned that Goff was a person of interest in the murder of Yates.
Goff was then arrested. The traffic stop lasted just less than one hour. A search warrant was then obtained for the car where bloody clothes, human tissue, and the personal effects of Yates was found. Goff was Mirandized and gave a statement in which he said he came back to the hotel room to find her body. He then laid on top of her, wiped all of the evidence, and set the room on fire because he thought he might be a suspect.
He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, he argued the stop of his car was illegal and the evidence should have been suppressed. MSC affirmed.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Whren v. U.S., 517 U.S. 806 (1996) stated that the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218 (1973), held that the question whether a consent to a search was in fact voluntary or was the product of duress or coercion, express or implied, is a question of fact to be determined from the totality of all the circumstances.
A routine traffic stop for an expired tag led to other findings which justified further inquiry. Such findings included the red marks on Goff’s neck, the appearance of the vehicle’s interior, the smell of gasoline, and the unusual responses provided by Goff.
Ginn then proceeded to request, and receive, consent to search Goff’s vehicle. The totality of the search of Goff’s vehicle by Ginn consisted of opening a carton of cigarettes as well as searching the center console of the vehicle, wherein three bank rolls of fifty dollar bills were found. The search ended after the rolls of money were found, because Henley had to leave the scene to respond to another incident. Ginn testified that he then removed the money and handed it to Goff.
Thereafter, Ginn was informed by the George County Sheriff’s Office that Goff was a person of interest in the murder of Yates. Goff was arrested and Ginn secured his vehicle. Ginn’s involvement ended when George County officials arrived and took custody of Goff and the vehicle.
In support of his argument, Goff cites Penick v. State, 440 So. 2d 547 (Miss. 1983), and Longstreet v. State, 592 So. 2d 16 (Miss. 1991). In Penick, this court stated that the best way to prove a defendant had knowledge he did not have to consent to the search is for the officer to have told him. However, neither this court, nor the United States Supreme Court, has held that an officer must advise a suspect of his constitutional right to refuse to consent.
In Longstreet v. State, 592 So.2d 16 (Miss. 1991), this court stated that when a search is based on consent alone, it is necessary that the person searched be aware of the right to refuse under the law. We find that Penick is merely advisory, and that Longstreet is inapplicable in this case, as the search was not based on consent alone.
The trial court found that the stop of Goff’s vehicle was proper, that the length of the detention was reasonable, and that the consent to search was valid. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the evidence in question, and this argument is without merit.