In 2009, Trooper Jason Powell of the Mississippi Highway Patrol went inside the Exxon Truck Stop in Liberty, Mississippi, to buy a soft drink. While standing at the counter, Powell saw a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck pull up to the gas pumps.
The driver of the pickup truck, Eric Bondegard, went inside and got a twelve pack of beer. When Bondegard went to the counter, Powell smelled alcohol on Bondegard and his face was flush. When Bondegard noticed Powell, he got nervous, forgot his beer on the counter, and called someone to pick him up.
Powell then left the store and had just finished writing someone a ticket in the parking lot next to Exxon when he saw Bondegard go back to the Exxon. Bondegard then got into his truck and upon leaving he drove into a ditch so violently that his front tires left the surface of the road. His back tires left the surface of the road when Bondegard drove out of the ditch.
Powell lost him in the pursuit but then saw Bondegard’s pickup truck parked in a driveway. Powell also found Bondegard standing near the edge of the street while talking on his cellular phone. When Bondegard saw Powell, he turned and ran toward the house. Powell grabbed him from the partially opened door and pulled him out of the house.
Powell could still smell a strong smell of alcohol on Bondegard, his eyes were red, he was nervous, and his speech was impaired. He was convicted of DUI and sentenced to 48 hours. On appeal, he argued that Powell should have arrested him at the store if he thought there was probable cause. By waiting, Bondegard argued there was no reason for the stop. MCOA affirmed.
In Johnson, the Federal 5th Circuit said that a warrantless arrest is lawful if at the moment the arrest was made, the officers had probable cause to make it — if at that moment the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the petitioner had committed or was committing an offense.
Powell testified that he smelled alcohol on Bondegard’s person when they first encountered each other at Exxon. Additionally, Bondegard was extremely nervous upon seeing Powell. However, Powell testified that he did not think he had probable cause to arrest Bondegard at that time. Our analysis does not address whether Powell had probable cause to arrest Bondegard for driving under the influence of alcohol at that time as the story doesn’t end there.
Approximately 15 minutes later, Powell watched as Bondegard got into his pickup truck and left the Exxon parking lot. Bondegard missed the parking lot entrance and drove into a ditch. Powell clearly articulated facts that would cause a reasonably prudent person to believe that Bondegard was driving under the influence of alcohol.
Under the precise circumstances of this case, just because Powell did not arrest Bondegard after their first encounter does not mean that Powell forfeited the right to arrest Bondegard for additional events that occurred 15 minutes later.
Furthermore, Powell did not lose probable cause to arrest Bondegard simply because Powell had to find him. If that were true, an offender could escape prosecution simply by leaving a law enforcement officer’s sight. Because Powell had probable cause to arrest Bondegard for driving under the influence of alcohol, this issue has no merit.