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Subject was not in custody when he voluntarily revealed that he had drugs in his pants

Facts

In the early morning hours of November 19, 2019, three Forrest County police officers were investigating a missing person case near Eagle Drive in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The officers had determined that the missing person had been seen with Amondo Stewart, who went by the name Detroit and who was living in a tent in a wooded area near Eagle Drive. The officers parked close to the area, approached the tent, knocked on the tent, announced themselves as the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department and asked the people in the tent to step out.

Stewart and the missing person exited the tent. The officers asked if Stewart and the missing person would come out of the woods and into the parking lot to talk. Stewart and the missing person agreed to go with the officers. Investigator Rafael Bailey and Forrest County Deputy Daniel Benoit began talking with the missing person, while Officer Nate Robertson talked with Stewart.

During the course of the conversation, Robertson realized that his discussion with Stewart involving the missing person case needed to be either audibly or visually recorded, and he asked if Stewart would accompany him to the police station. Stewart, who had no car, agreed to go with Robertson. Knowing that Stewart would likely be placed in a holding cell, Robertson then asked Stewart if he had anything illegal on him because he would be subject to criminal charges if he brought contraband into the jail. Stewart admitted he had methamphetamine in his underwear. Stewart pulled open his pants to allow Robertson to see “a clear plastic baggy tucked away underneath his genitalia.” Robertson retrieved a pair of gloves and removed the bag, which he observed contained a “whitish crystalline substance which is consistent to methamphetamine.” At this point, Robertson placed Stewart in custody.

Stewart was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to 5 years. On appeal, he argued the evidence was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment and Miranda rights. MSC affirmed.

(Legalese – he didn’t raise these issues to the trial court so he is not allowed to raise them on appeal. However, MSC can still look at these issues on their own to ensure that “plain error” did not occur. The Court then relies on the record and does not have the defendant’s specific allegation of the wrongdoing.)

Analysis

In an investigatory (Terry) stop, an officer may stop and detain a person to resolve an ambiguous situation without having sufficient knowledge to justify an arrest. See MSC Singletary v. State, 318 So. 2d 873 (Miss. 1975).

Stewart states that he does not challenge the investigatory stop but argues that the methamphetamine was gained by an illegal search of his person and was beyond the scope of the initial stop. Robertson testified that he realized his conversation with Stewart should be recorded and asked Stewart if he would come to the station for an interview. Stewart agreed. Robertson further testified that he offered Stewart a “courtesy ride” to the jail, since Stewart did not have a car. Robertson expressed that he typically asks if a person has anything illegal on them before taking them to the station or the jail because they can be criminally charged for bringing contraband into the jail. Stewart, in response to Robertson’s question, voluntarily admitted and revealed the illegal substance on his person.

It was permissible for Robertson to briefly detain Stewart in an attempt to resolve the ambiguities surrounding the discovery of the missing person in Stewart’s tent. Additionally, this Court has found that once a suspect voluntarily reveals the object the reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment ends. See Gales. No obvious violation of Stewart’s Fourth Amendment rights occurred.

Stewart also argues that the State failed to prove that he voluntarily consented to the search. Again, Robertson characterized Stewart as being very cooperative, and when asked if he had anything illegal on him, Stewart showed Robertson the drugs in his underwear. There is no evidence that Stewart objected or refused to allow Robertson to confiscate the baggy. This Court has stated that if the consent is preceded by cooperation in the investigation generally, this enhances the chances that the consent was voluntary. See Jones v. State ex rel. Miss. Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 607 So. 2d 23 (Miss. 1991). No plain error is apparent from these facts.

Stewart further argues that, based on the totality of the circumstances, he did not feel that he was free to leave and was subjected to custodial interrogation in violation of his Miranda rights. Miranda rights attach when a suspect is subjected to custodial interrogation, i.e., in custody and undergoing interrogation. See Wilson.

Interrogation includes any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect. See MSC Benjamin.

Robertson testified that Stewart, who was being very cooperative, was not in custody, was free to leave and could have refused to answer his questions. It was not until Stewart showed Robertson the baggy that Robertson placed Stewart in custody. There is no other evidence to cast any doubt that Robertson’s recounting of the incident is entirely accurate. Although Robertson’s question, unknown to Robertson, was likely to elicit an incriminating response, Stewart was not subject to custodial interrogation because he was not in custody.

Additionally, this Court has stated that in a non-custodial setting where interrogation is investigatory in nature (general on-the-scene-investigation), Miranda warnings are not required in order that a defendant’s statements be admissible. See Porter v. State, 616 So. 2d 899 (Miss. 1993). Thus, Stewart’s Miranda rights had not yet attached and could not have been violated.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO169655.pdf