Search incident to arrest of vehicle can take place while subject is handcuffed and in police car


In 2005, Charles Johnson robbed the Wendy’s restaurant in Magee, Mississippi, after it closed. He wore a mask, dark gloves, bandana, and carried a gun. He also wore tennis shoes that were white with big blue stripes and a small red stripe. He took $856 in money and placed it into a black duffel bag. He then took an employee’s vehicle, a Chevrolet Trail Blazer, and fled.

Officer James Hunter Grimes, Smith County Sheriff’s Office, stated that he was looking for a vehicle that was used in the armed robbery in Magee. He saw a maroon Crown Victoria run a red light in Taylorsville, Mississippi, and stopped the car. Grimes shined a flashlight in the car and saw a black duffel bag with rolled coins on the passenger floorboard in plain view.

Johnson gave the officer a driver’s license with the name of Navarre Rogers, claiming that he was Rogers. Grimes contacted Magee police because he believed that he had the suspect from the armed robbery.

When Magee Officer Wesley Garner arrived, the two officers arrested Johnson for running a red light and having a suspended license and patted him down. The officers also recovered a gun with bullets in a grassy area near the traffic stop.

Garner testified that he was present when Grimes retrieved $149 in one-dollar bills from Johnson’s left front pocket; a Wendy’s merchant receipt, dated February 21, 2005, from Johnson’s left front pocket; $480 in five dollar bills, $30 in ten dollar bills, and $100 in twenty dollar bills from Johnson’s right-front pocket; a pair of shoes that Johnson wore at the time of his arrest; and a blue bandana from the rear passenger floorboard.

The officer also recovered from the front passenger seat floorboard a black duffel bag which contained coins and merchant receipts from Wendy’s. The officer further identified $27 in one-dollar bills and brown cotton gloves recovered from the front seat of Johnson’s car. A blue ski mask was recovered from Johnson’s driver side floorboard at the edge of the front seat. The officer also identified a Regent .22 caliber revolver and four rounds of .22 caliber ammunition in the chamber of the gun about fifty feet from Johnson’s vehicle.

He was convicted of armed robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, he argued the car was illegally searched. MSC affirmed.


A. Plain View Seizure

In Townsend, this court held objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be introduced in evidence. If supported by probable cause, a warrantless search of an automobile and its contents does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Likewise, in McKee, the MCOA said that no warrant is required to seize an object in plain view when viewed by an officer from a place he has the lawful right to be, its incriminating character is readily apparent and the officer has a lawful right of access to the evidence. However, this exception only forgives the lack of a warrant. There must still be probable cause before such a  seizure can be made.

Grimes had probable cause to stop Johnson for running a red light. When Grimes initially stopped Johnson, he approached the vehicle and saw the black duffel bag with the rolled coins on the passenger seat. He also stated that, prior to stopping Johnson, a police radio dispatch had informed him that a black duffel bag was used to take money, including rolled coins, in the Wendy’s robbery.

In addition, testimony revealed that brown cotton gloves, a blue ski mask, and wallet with an “OK” sticker all were in plain view in the vehicle. All of these items were described by the Wendy’s employees to law enforcement.

Accordingly, we find that no warrant was required to seize these items, as they met the plain view exception for a warrantless search. Grimes had the legal authority to stop Johnson for running a red light and to approach the vehicle. In addition, the incriminating character of the black duffel bag and other items was readily apparent, as the officer was aware that these types of items were used in the recent Wendy’s armed robbery, and they were in plain view.

B. Search Incident to Arrest

In Rankin v. State, 636 So. 2d 652 (Miss. 1994), this court stated that the strictures of the Fourth Amendment are not violated when one under lawful custodial arrest is subjected to a full search of his person.

A search incident to a valid arrest is not limited to a Terry type search. The area within the arrestee’s immediate control, from which he might obtain a weapon or where he may conceal evidence, may also be searched, consistent with the Fourth Amendment. The personal effects in the arrestee’s possession at the place of detention, which were subject to a search at the time and place of arrest, may later be searched and seized without a warrant at the place of detention.

In Townsend, we held that a search incident to arrest was valid where the arrestee was handcuffed and in a patrol car at the time of the search of his vehicle.