Officer Brad Taylor, and Reserve Officer Jeremy Pace were on patrol in Booneville on New Year’s Eve and the early hours of New Year’s Day. At around 2:30 a.m., Taylor noticed that a vehicle, traveling northward on Hwy 145, was riding in the middle of the two northbound lanes. This particular road is a four lane road.
Thus, there was no danger to any oncoming, south bound vehicles. According to Taylor, there was nothing else about the vehicle or the way it was being driven to excite his suspicions other than the fact that he observed it driving down the middle of two lanes of traffic. Pace, however, did testify that he saw the vehicle swerve in the road.
When the stop was made, Henry Adams, the driver of the vehicle, got out of his car and approached Taylor. As Adams neared, Taylor noticed the scent of alcoholic beverage on Adams. Also, Taylor noted that Adams’ speech was slurred and he had trouble keeping his balance.
Taylor then proceeded to administer three field sobriety tests, none of which Adams passed. Adams’s alcohol level registered as .172 on an Intoxilyzer test, well in excess of the legal limit of .08. He was convicted of DUI, first offense. On appeal, he argued the stop was not valid. MCOA affirmed.
A. Careless driving
In Floyd, MSC said that the constitutional requirements for an investigative stop and detention are less stringent than those for an arrest. This court has recognized that given reasonable circumstances an officer may stop and detain a person to resolve an ambiguous situation without having sufficient knowledge to justify an arrest, that is, on less information than is constitutionally required for probable cause to arrest.
Such an investigative stop of a suspect may be made so long as an officer has a reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter was involved in or is wanted in connection with a felony or as long as the officers have some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.
Carless driving is defined as follows: Any person who drives any vehicle in a careless or imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corner, traffic and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances is guilty of careless driving. Careless driving shall be considered a lesser offense than reckless driving. Miss. Code Ann. § 63-3-1213 (Rev.2004).
In Henderson, we noted that the officer witnessed the vehicle that Henderson was driving approach the curb twice. This indicated that Henderson was driving without due regard for the width and use of the street. The officer’s observations were enough for him to determine that careless driving had taken place.
In Leuer, Officer Harper had a reasonable suspicion that Leuer was driving “under the influence” when he observed Leuer run off the road onto the shoulder, make a left turn and then go out into the middle of the roadway at 2:30 a.m.
Once Leuer pulled over, Harper observed that Leuer smelled strongly of alcohol and had glassy eyes and difficulty speaking. Harper opined that Leuer was “under the influence” of intoxicating liquor. MSC found that Leuer was legally stopped for careless driving, and the subsequent charge and conviction of driving under the influence was upheld.
In our case, Taylor observed, very late at night (at 2:30 a.m.) one of the specific driving irregularities mentioned in the Leuer case: driving in the middle of the road. In addition, after the stop, Adams exhibited signs of intoxication and admitted to having drunk alcoholic beverages earlier in the evening.
B. Acquitted of careless driving
Adams contends that since he was acquitted of the careless driving charge in municipal court, this proves that there was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop him.
In Harrison, MSC said that a good faith, reasonable belief that a traffic law has been violated may give an officer probable cause to stop a vehicle, even though, in hindsight, a mistake of law was made and the defendant is acquitted of the traffic violation. The issue is not what the officer discovers later, but rather what the officer reasonably believed at the time of the stop.
C. Stop still had objective basis
We do, however, agree with Adams’s contention that a traffic stop must have an objective basis, and we also accept the logical corollary to that contention, namely that a traffic stop must be based upon more than a pure, subjective conclusion or hunch of the officer’s.
In Escalante, the federal 5th noted that a traffic stop, even if pretextual, does not violate the Fourth Amendment if the officer making the stop has probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. This is an objective test based on the facts known to the officer at the time of the stop, not on the motivations of the officer in making the stop. On the other hand, if it is clear that what the police observed did not constitute a violation of the cited traffic law, there is no objective basis for the stop, and the stop is illegal.
We do not find the present case to be one in which the officer acted without any objective reason or on the basis of a purely subjective feeling or hunch. On the contrary, viewing the totality of the circumstances, we find that Taylor did have an objective, reasonable suspicion that Adams had committed the traffic violation of careless driving, even though Adams was ultimately acquitted of the careless driving charge.
In support of this conclusion, we note some of the circumstances surrounding the stop: the time of night was very late (or very early depending upon how one chooses to measure the hour); the particular night, New Year’s Eve, is one on which persons are widely known to celebrate and often consume alcohol; in Taylor’s observation, the vehicle was traveling without due regard for the width and use of the highway by traveling in the middle of two lanes of traffic; and the reserve officer accompanying Taylor saw the vehicle swerve.
All of these circumstances serve to bolster the conclusion that Adams appeared to Taylor, at that particular time, to be driving without due regard for the width and use of the highway, or, in other words, in violation of the careless driving statute.