Jones v. City of Ridgeland

Decision Date18 November 2010
Docket NumberNo. 2009-CT-00984-SCT.,2009-CT-00984-SCT.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Kevin Dale Camp, Jackson, John Michael Duncan, attorneys for appellant.

Boty McDonald, Jackson, attorney for appellee.



CARLSON, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. Jay Jones entered a plea of nolo contendere in the Municipal Court of Ridgeland for driving under the influence (DUI), possession of an open container of alcohol, and careless driving. Jones appealed to the County Court of Madison County and, after a trial de novo, he was found guilty of DUI and careless driving. Jones then appealed to the Circuit Court of Madison County, which affirmed the judgment of the county court. Jones appealed to us, and we assigned this case to the Court of Appeals. The City of Ridgeland filed a motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals granted the motion pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 11-51-81 (Rev.2002). Having granted Jones's Petition for Writ of Certiorari, we now consider the issue of the constitutionality of the "three-court rule" found in Section 11-51-81.


¶ 2. On Saturday evening, June 10, 2006, Ridgeland police officers Michael Ivy and Grady Fisher were on patrol near the intersection of Old Canton Road and Lake Harbour Drive.1 Ivy was driving the police cruiser, and Fisher occupied the front seat, passenger side, of the vehicle. As they proceeded east on Lake Harbour Drive, they passed the Buffalo Wild Wings Restaurant located on the north side of Lake Harbour Drive. In the area of Buffalo Wild Wings, Lake Harbour Drive is a boulevard with two lanes for east-bound traffic and two lanes for west-bound traffic. Fisher observed what he believed to be an argument among several males in the Buffalo Wild Wings parking lot. Fisher alerted Ivy, who traveled a short distance in order to "cross over" and travel west-bound back to the Buffalo Wild Wings parking lot. By the time the officers reached the parking lot, a man later identified as Jay Jones was exiting the parking lot in his vehicle. Jones's vehicle almost collided with the police officers' patrol car. Jones was not wearing a seatbelt. The officers followed Jones's vehicle out of the parking lot and observed Jones making an unusually wide turn as he pulled out of the parking lot traveling west on Lake Harbour Drive. Jones then turned right at the nearby intersection and proceeded north on Old Canton Road, after failing to stop at the red light at the intersection. Jones also failed to stop as he traveled north on Old Canton Road, although Ivy and Fisher by then had activated the blue lights and siren of their police cruiser. Once a second patrol car pulled alongside Jones's vehicle, Jones stopped on Old Canton Road. As he approached Jones's car, Ivy observed Jones passing a beer bottle to his passenger. When he arrived at the driver's side door of Jones's vehicle, Ivy detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from inside the vehicle. Ivy administered a field-sobriety test to Jones and a Breathalyzer test, which was positive for the presence of alcohol. Jones was arrested and charged with DUI, careless driving, and possession of an open container.

¶ 3. Jones pleaded nolo contendere in the Municipal Court of Ridgeland and appealed to the County Court of Madison County, where he was afforded a trial de novo,2 Judge Ed Hannan presiding. Athis county-court trial, Jones filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the police officers had lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle. The motion was denied, and Judge Hannan found Jones guilty of DUI and careless driving, sentencing him to forty-eight hours in jail and fining him $700 for the DUI and $50 for careless driving.3 Jones then filed a notice of appeal in the Circuit Court of Madison County. The circuit court, sitting as an appellate court, affirmed the county court's judgment of conviction and sentence. Jones then filed a notice of appeal with this Court, arguing that the county court had erred when it had denied his motion to dismiss due to the police officers' lack of probable cause to conduct a stop of his vehicle. We assigned this case to the Court of Appeals.

¶ 4. After Jones filed his appellant's brief, the City of Ridgeland filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. The motion was based on the "three-court rule" contained within Mississippi Code Section 11-51-81 (Rev.2002). In due course, the Court of Appeals entered an order dismissing Jones's appeal pursuant to Section 11-51-81. Jones's motion for reconsideration was denied by the Court of Appeals, and this Court granted Jones's subsequently filed petition for writ of certiorari. Upon granting certiorari, we entered an order allowing the parties to brief the issue of the constitutionality of the "three-court rule" in Section 11-51-81, and we likewise invited the Attorney General of Mississippi to submit a brief on this issue.4 We now have received additional briefs from Jones and the Attorney General.


¶ 5. Before the Court of Appeals, Jones's main argument was that the county-court judge had erred when he had failed to dismiss the charges against him. Jones had alleged that the City of Ridgeland police officers who had stopped him on the night in question had lacked probable cause to do so. However, whether we reach this issue today depends on our disposition of the critical issue before this Court, the constitutionality of the "three-court rule" contained in Section 11-51-81. Thus, we first discuss this issue.


¶ 6. The Court of Appeals dismissed Jones's appeal pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 11-51-81 (Rev.2002), which prohibits defendants who are aggrieved by a decision originating in justice or municipal court, and who have appealed to both county court and circuit court, from successfully appealing to this Court unless two requirements are met: (1) the appeal must involve a federal or state constitutional question, and (2) either the circuit court judge or a Supreme Court justice must "allow" the appeal. Section 11-51-81 reads:

All appeals from courts of justices of the peace, special and general, and from all municipal courts shall be to the county court under the same rules and regulations as are provided on appeals to the circuit court, but appeals from orders of the board of supervisors, municipalboards, and other tribunals other than courts of justice of the peace and municipal courts, shall be direct to the circuit court as heretofore. And from the final judgment of the county court in a case appealed to it under this section, a further appeal may be taken to the circuit court on the same terms and in the same manner as other appeals from the county court to the circuit court are taken: Provided that where the judgment or record of the justice of the peace, municipal or police court is not properly certified, or is certified at all, that question must be raised in the county court in the absence of which the defect shall be deemed as waived and by such waiver cured and may not thereafter be raised for the first time in the circuit court on the appeal there to; and provided further that there shall be no appeal from the circuit court to the supreme court of any case civil or criminal which originated in a justice of the peace, municipal or police court and was thence appealed to the county court and thence to the circuit court unless in the determination of the case a constitutional question be necessarily involved and then only upon the allowance of the appeal by the circuit judge or by a judge of the supreme court.

Miss.Code Ann. § 11-51-81 (Rev.2002) (emphasis added).

¶ 7. Of the eighty-two counties in Mississippi, twenty counties have county courts. The litigants in these twenty counties whose cases originate in justice or municipal court and are appealed to county court and then to circuit court may not appeal to this Court unless their cases concern a constitutional question and the circuit judge or a supreme court justice allows the appeal. On the other hand, litigants in the sixty-two counties that do not have county courts may appeal to this Court when their cases originate in justice or municipal court and are appealed to circuit court, which conducts a trial de novo.5 We find that the effect of this statute is that it prevents this Court from hearing appeals from cases originating in the justice or municipal courts of the twenty counties having county courts; thus, the statute usurps this Court's constitutional power to establish procedural rules. Accordingly, today we announce that the "three-court rule" in Section 11-51-81 is unconstitutional and void.

¶ 8. The Mississippi Constitution grants the three coequal branches of government their power and prohibits the branches from infringing on the power granted to another. Article 1, Section 1, of our Constitution creates the three branches of government. "The powers of the government of the state of Mississippi shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them confided to a separate magistracy, to-wit: those which are legislative to one, those which are judicial to another, and those which are executive to another."Miss. Const. art. 1, § 1 (1890). Article 1, Section 2, of our Constitution further separates the three branches and prohibits one branch from exercising the power of another. "No person or collection of persons, being one or belonging to one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly belonging to either of the others." Miss. Const. art. 1, § 2.

¶ 9. The separation-of-powers doctrine outlined in Article 1, Sections 1 and 2, of our Constitution prescribes the limitations on the power of each branch of government. This doctrine ensures that the coequal branches do not encroach on the power of the others. Alexander v. State By and Through Allain, 441 So.2d 1329, 1335-36 (Miss.1983)...

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