Wednesday, December 28, 2011

DUI Law - Mississippi Reverses Conviction For Suspicious Behavior Illegal Stop

This case comes to DAD from NCDD member Lance Mixon. In Reynolds v. City of Water Valley, --- So.3d ----, 2011 WL 6034360 (Miss.App. 2011) the defendant challenged his conviction based upon a lack of probable cause to stop the vehicle. On the morning of September 6, 2008, at 4:30 a.m., Water Valley Police Officer Christopher Blair was on routine patrol in Water Valley, Mississippi. Officer Blair was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Central Street and North Court Street. While waiting for the light to change, Officer Blair noticed a car stop approximately six-car lengths behind him. When the light changed, both cars proceeded southbound on Central Street. Officer Blair then turned left into a parking lot to perform a security check on the Dollar General business, but he noticed the car continued straight on Central Street. Officer Blair noted the car was a silver Chevrolet Corvette, which he stated was a “very unique car[.]”

After checking the doors, windows, and back of the Dollar General, Officer Blair turned north onto Railroad Street and saw the Corvette driving east on North Court Street. When the Corvette passed him at the intersection of Railroad Street and North Court Street, he noted the car was traveling below the speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour. He also saw that two males were in the Corvette and that the passenger was drinking from a white cup. The passenger pointed at Officer Blair when they drove by his car. Once the passenger pointed to the officer, the Corvette slowed from less than twenty-five miles per hour to approximately five to eight miles per hour. Officer Blair began to follow closely behind the Corvette for a “good little distance” and proceeded to call in the license plate number to dispatch. Dispatch informed Officer Blair that the car belonged to Reynolds and that there were “negative 29s, which means it's not wanted or stolen out of anywhere.” From there, the two cars continued east on North Court Street to Goode Street. Goode Street is a public street that generally runs north and south. To the south, it runs through the elementary school's campus. The Corvette turned right (south) onto Goode Street toward the elementary school; Officer Blair turned left (north) which runs into Jones Street. 

Officer Blair traveled approximately 150 feet north on Goode Street when he made the decision to turn around and initiate a traffic stop with the Corvette because he believed it suspicious that the Corvette would be going toward the school at 4:30 a.m. The Corvette had turned around in the elementary school's parking lot and was driving north on Goode Street when the two cars passed each other near the elementary school. After passing each other, Officer Blair turned around, turned on his blue lights, and initiated a traffic stop. In response to Officer Blair, the Corvette immediately pulled over and stopped.

On appeal, the court found the stop of the vehicle illegal:

"At the bench trial, Officer Blair testified that Reynolds's behavior was suspicious and initiated an investigatory stop based upon the following events:

1. Reynolds stopped six-car lengths behind him at the stop light;

2. The car slowed its speed dramatically upon seeing the officer; and

3. The car, although on a public street, was driving toward the elementary school at 4:30 a.m."

Continuing, the appeals court wrote:

 "The traffic stop ultimately led to Reynolds's arrest and conviction of DUI. Based on this evidence alone, we find Officer Blair did not have reasonable suspicion sufficient to initiate an investigatory stop under the Terry standard. At the bench trial, Officer Blair testified: Reynolds did not violate any traffic laws; the car had not been reported stolen; and there was not any other suspicious behavior beyond what was previously described. Further, Officer Blair testified that Reynolds did not exhibit any of the usual signs of DUI, such as swerving, failing to dim headlights, or abrupt stopping and starting. He also testified that one reason he was suspicious of the Corvette and decided to initiate the stop was based on the fact that the Corvette was driving toward the elementary school. He testified there “had [been] some break-ins both at the school, high school, [and] other businesses, that's why I was checking Dollar General, so I wanted to turn around and see why they were at the elementary school.” It is unclear from the record whether the elementary school or the high school had been broken into in the past, when the alleged break-in had occurred, and whether the suspects of the break-in had been apprehended. For example, had the suspects already been apprehended, it might not have been reasonable for Officer Blair to be suspicious of a car driving toward the elementary school. Further, once he turned around, Officer Blair saw that the Corvette had not stopped at the elementary school, nor was it doing anything suspicious at the school, yet he still proceeded to initiate the traffic stop. It was not until after Reynolds had exited the car that Officer Blair began to suspect Reynolds might have been drinking and driving. The supreme court has held that if the seizure was an unlawful exercise of the officer's authority, then any evidence that results from the unlawful seizure, in this case evidence of a DUI, is considered fruit of the poisonous tree and should be suppressed. Haddox, 636 So.2d at 1233. Considered as a whole, these acts of “suspicious behavior” do not demonstrate Reynolds had committed any criminal act or that one was imminent. Officer Blair might have been correct under the circumstances in concluding that the Corvette looked suspicious at 4:30 a.m.; however, merely looking suspicious is not sufficient to justify a Terry investigative stop. There was simply no evidence Reynolds had committed any criminal offense or was about to engage in criminal activity. Since Officer Blair lacked the proper reasonable suspicion to initiate a Terry stop, any evidence he found as a result of that stop is considered fruit of the poisonous tree and should have been suppressed at the hearing."
Therefore, the appeals court reversed the conviction for DUI Refusal and remanded with instructions.

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1 comment:

. said...

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