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Subject not in custody when he made statements to police

Facts

On February 10, 2017, Officer Brandon Brown was patrolling Highway 61 near Robinsonville, Mississippi, when he spotted a red Camaro weaving in and out of both lanes in between cars. Officer Brown stopped the car Direct Black was driving. Officer Brown asked to see Black’s license, which Black supplied. While Officer Brown was checking the license, Officer Anfrenee Saffold arrived at the scene. Office Saffold told Officer Brown of a marijuana smell in the vehicle.

While Black was still seated in the car, Officer Saffold asked if Black had any drugs in his possession, to which Black responded in the negative. Officer Saffold asked Black to step out of the vehicle. While they were talking near the rear of the car, Officer Saffold asked Black again if he had any drugs in his possession. This time, Black admitted that he had about four or five ounces of marijuana in his vehicle. At this point, the two officers called Officer French, a K9 officer, to assist.

Officer French arrived, and his drug dog alerted, indicating the potential presence of drugs in the vehicle. The officers searched the vehicle and discovered what looked like marijuana, a rock-like substance consistent with crack cocaine, and pills. The officers also found several plastic sandwich bags and a measuring scale. The State crime lab ran tests on the substances and concluded that the substances were 147.397 grams of marijuana, twenty-three doses of Oxycodone, four pills of Hydrocodone, and 0.650 grams of cocaine.

Black was charged with possession of between twenty and forty dosage units of Oxycodone with intent to distribute (Count I), possession of less than two grams of cocaine with intent to distribute (Count II), possession of fewer than ten dosage units of Hydrocodone with intent to distribute (Count III), and possession of between thirty and two-hundred-fifty grams of marijuana with intent to distribute (Count IV).

At a pre-trial hearing, Black moved to suppress his statement he made during the stop, alleging that the statement was made without police providing him Miranda warnings. The trial court heard testimony from all three officers involved in the stop and subsequent arrest. Black did not testify. The trial court found that Officer Brown had probable cause to stop Black’s vehicle. Further, the court found that Officer Saffold’s testimony that he smelled marijuana from the vehicle was credible. The trial court found that the K9 was properly trained and certified and that the smell of marijuana plus the fact that the K9 alerted gave the officers probable cause to search the vehicle. In addition, the court found that Black was not subjected to a custodial interrogation during the stop because the time and place were not coercive, Black was not restrained, and the questions were extremely short. Thus, the court reasoned Miranda warnings were not necessary. The trial court denied Black’s motion to suppress.

The jury found Black guilty of all counts. The trial court sentenced Black to serve fifteen years for Count I (Oxycodone), eight years for Count II (cocaine), ten years for Count III (Hydrocodone), and five years for Count IV (marijuana) in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. On appeal, he argued his statement should have been suppressed. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

Black claims that the trial court erred by admitting his statement that he had about four or five ounces of marijuana in his vehicle. Black argues that the police escalated his simple traffic stop to custodial interrogation because he was asked to step out of his vehicle and was not free to leave.

Miranda warnings must be given before a suspect is subjected to custodial interrogation. See Johnson. However, most routine traffic stops are not considered custodial interrogations. SCOTUS in Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), explained: Under the Fourth Amendment, we have held, a policeman who lacks probable cause but whose observations lead him reasonably to suspect that a particular person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, may detain that person briefly in order to investigate the circumstances that provoke suspicion. The stop and inquiry must be reasonably related in scope to the justification for their initiation. Typically, this means that the officer may ask the detainee a moderate number of questions to determine his identity and to try to obtain information confirming or dispelling the officer’s suspicions. But the detainee is not obliged to respond. And, unless the detainee’s answers provide the officer with probable cause to arrest him, he must then be released. The comparatively nonthreatening character of detentions of this sort explains the absence of any suggestion in our opinions that Terry stops are subject to the dictates of Miranda. The similarly non-coercive aspect of ordinary traffic stops prompts us to hold that persons temporarily detained pursuant to such stops are not in custody for the purposes of Miranda.

Mississippi Courts have consistently followed Berkemer’s holding. See MCOA Johnson; MCOA Keys; MCOA Levine; and MCOA Millsap.

Black claims he was in custody when he made his incriminating statement because the traffic stop had already begun before his statement and the stop was escalated by Officer Saffold after he (Black) was asked to leave the vehicle to answer more questions. The status of whether a person is in custody depends on if a reasonable person would feel that they were going to jail and not just being temporarily detained. See MCOA Keys.

The record does not support Black’s claim that he was in custody during the escalation of his traffic stop. Black was not restrained while he was outside of his vehicle. The officers asked Black short and succinct questions to address Officer Saffold’s concerns about the smell of marijuana. Black points to Officer Saffold’s testimony at trial that Black was not free to leave. However, the traffic stop was still ongoing when Black made his statement. Black has not shown how his stop was more coercive than an ordinary traffic stop or Terry stop.

The record and caselaw support the trial court’s finding that Black’s statement was admissible at trial. Therefore, this decision was not an abuse of discretion.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO176067.pdf