Martin v. State, 2015–KA–00772–SCT

Decision Date19 October 2017
Docket NumberNO. 2015–KA–00772–SCT,2015–KA–00772–SCT
Citation240 So.3d 1047
CourtMississippi Supreme Court
Parties Kendall MARTIN a/k/a Kendall Deval Martin v. STATE of Mississippi





¶ 1. Kendall Martin was convicted of possession of more than one kilogram of marijuana with intent to distribute. Martin was sentenced as a subsequent drug offender and as a nonviolent habitual offender to sixty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Martin argues that the trial court erred by admitting the evidence because the initial traffic stop was not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion and the stop was unreasonably extended in violation of Martin's Fourth Amendment rights. Martin also argues that the State failed to prove that he was a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99–19–81, and that the trial court erred in sentencing him as such.


¶ 2. Around 4:55 p.m. on March 27, 2013, Officer Jason Johns, a deputy for the Rankin County Sheriff's Department, was traveling on I–20 eastbound when he observed Kendall Martin cross over the right lane fog line. Martin was traveling in a Chevrolet SUV in front of Officer Johns. At that point, Officer Johns, according to his standard procedure, pulled beside Martin to see if he was wearing a seatbelt and how many occupants were in the vehicle. Officer Johns then dropped back behind Martin, observed him hit the line or "g[e]t real close to it" again, and then initiated the traffic stop. The second encroachment upon the fog line was recorded on Officer Johns's car camera.

¶ 3. Officer Johns approached the passenger-side window. When he leaned in to ask for Martin's driver's license and proof of insurance, he could smell an overwhelming odor of air fresheners and a faint odor of marijuana coming from the car. He testified that, in his experience, people who transport drugs use air fresheners to cover the odor. Officer Johns worked as a sergeant and K–9 handler for the Flowood Police Department. He also was a sworn deputy for the Rankin County Sheriff's Department on the drug task force. He testified that he has had hundreds of classes in narcotics and criminal interdiction, and he had "been doing drug interdiction work pretty much [his] entire career."

¶ 4. Officer Johns asked Martin to step out of the vehicle while he radioed in Martin's driver's license information. Martin told Officer Johns that he was driving back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from Austin, Texas, where he had been visiting his cousin for a few days. Martin also handed Officer Johns a personal insurance card for a rental vehicle, which Johns considered suspicious. When the dispatcher radioed back that Martin's driver's license was valid, Officer Johns informed Martin that he had smelled marijuana in the vehicle. He then asked Martin if he could search the car, to which Martin replied, "it don't matter." Before searching the vehicle, Officer Johns asked Martin if he or his cousin had smoked in the vehicle, if anyone else besides Martin had used the vehicle, and if there were any guns in the vehicle. Martin informed Officer Johns that he had driven to Austin in one rental vehicle and had traded it in the night before in Austin to drive back in the bigger SUV.

¶ 5. The smell of marijuana became much stronger when Officer Johns opened the passenger's side door. When he opened the back hatch, the odor of marijuana "nearly blew [him] down." Officer Johns found a black duffel bag that felt like it contained bricks. He testified that he could tell just by feeling the bag that there were illegal narcotics in the bag. Martin was then placed under arrest and read his Miranda1 rights. When Officer Johns opened the duffel bag, he found 9.9 pounds of marijuana.

¶ 6. Martin filed a motion to suppress evidence of the drugs found during the search because the search and seizure violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Martin argued that Officer Johns did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him, and that the stop was in reality motivated by racial profiling. He also argued that Officer Johns illegally extended the stop to search the car after the investigation of the traffic violation had concluded. At the suppression hearing, Officer Johns testified that he pulled Martin over for careless driving after observing him twice cross or bump the fog line, which he believed to constitute a violation of Mississippi Code Section 63–3–1213. The trial court found that there was sufficient probable cause for the stop and there was no unreasonable delay in the search, and, therefore, denied the motion to suppress. After a jury trial, Martin was found guilty of possession of more than one kilogram of marijuana with intent to distribute. Because Martin had four prior felony drug convictions, the trial court sentenced him as a habitual offender and subsequent drug offender to sixty years without the possibility of parole in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.


¶ 7. "Whether probable cause or reasonable suspicion exists is subject to a de novo review. But the Court limits the de novo review of the trial court's determination to ‘historical facts reviewed under the substantial evidence and clearly erroneous standards.’ " Eaddy v. State , 63 So.3d 1209, 1212 (Miss. 2011) (quoting Dies v. State, 926 So.2d 910, 917 (Miss. 2006) ).

I. The trial court did not err in denying Martin's motion to suppress the evidence.
A. Officer Johns had sufficient probable cause to stop Martin for careless driving.

¶ 8. Martin argues that there was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop, and that the supposed traffic violation was pretextual. Because courts have seemed to confuse the standards of "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion" and neither party distinguished which standard is proper, we will first attempt to sort out the distinctions between the two.

¶ 9. An officer may make a brief, investigatory stop of a vehicle if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the occupants of the vehicle have been, are currently, or are about to be involved in criminal activity. See United States v. Hensley , 469 U.S. 221, 227, 105 S.Ct. 675, 679–80, 83 L.Ed.2d 604 (1985) ; Dies v. State , 926 So.2d 910, 918 (¶ 22) (Miss. 2006) ; Floyd v. City of Crystal Springs , 749 So.2d 110, 114 (¶ 16) (Miss. 1999). The suspicion must be "grounded in specific and articulable facts ...." Eaddy v. State , 63 So.3d 1209, 1213 (Miss. 2011) (citing Walker v. State , 881 So.2d 820, 826 (Miss. 2004) ; Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) ; Haddox v. State , 636 So.2d 1229, 1235 (Miss. 1994) ).

¶ 10. The Court has explained reasonable suspicion as follows:

Grounds for reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop generally come from two sources: either the officers' "personal observation" or an informant's tip. Williamson v. State , 876 So.2d 353, 355 (Miss. 2004) (citation omitted). See also Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266, 270, 120 S.Ct. 1375, 146 L.Ed.2d 254 (2000). The officer's personal observation includes information from other law-enforcement personnel. See Dies, 926 So.2d at 920 ("[R]easonable suspicion ... can be transferred from officer to officer. ..."). And an informant's tip may provide reasonable suspicion if accompanied by some indication of reliability; for example, reliability may be shown from the officer's independent investigation of the informant's information. Florida v. J.L. , 529 U.S. at 270, 120 S.Ct. 1375. See, e.g., McClellan v. State, 34 So.3d 548, 552 (Miss. 2010) (valid investigatory stop where officers further investigated "vague" information received from informant before making the stop); Burchfield v. State, 892 So.2d 191, 194–95 (Miss. 2004) (reasonable suspicion for investigatory stop supported by store clerk's tip that described defendants who had purchased precursors and by officer's personal observation of defendants' purchases in vehicle described by clerk); Williamson, 876 So.2d at 356 (reasonable suspicion for investigatory stop supported by tip from unnamed informant that described, in relevant part, the defendant and his vehicle and tag number, and by officer's subsequent verification of number).
But the scope of an investigatory stop is limited. Floyd v. State , 500 So.2d 989, 992 (Miss. 1986). The scope of a search or seizure must relate to the initial circumstances that called for police action. Haddox , 636 So.2d at 1234. Thus, when police detention exceeds the scope of the stop, the stop becomes a "seizure," and the State must show probable cause. Floyd , 500 So.2d at 992 (citation omitted).

Eaddy , 63 So.3d at 1213–14.

¶ 11. Thus, reasonable suspicion is based on something less than the personal observation of a violation of law. Reasonable suspicion is the standard for a stop or search based on suspicious activity that does not yet amount to criminal activity, but which compels an officer to believe that criminal activity has happened, is happening, or is about to happen.

¶ 12. Probable cause, on the other hand, is a higher standard and requires a higher level of suspicion than reasonable suspicion. United States v. Sokolow , 490 U.S. 1, 8, 109 S.Ct. 1581, 1585, 104 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989) (citing United States v. Montoya de Hernandez , 473 U.S. 531, 541, 544, 105 S.Ct. 3304, 3310, 3312, 87 L.Ed.2d 381 (1985) ) ("[T]he level of suspicion required for a Terry stop is obviously less demanding than that for probable cause."). "The foremost method of enforcing traffic and vehicle safety regulations ... is acting upon observed violations." Whren v. United States , 517 U.S. 806, 817, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996) (quoting Delaware v. Prouse , 440 U.S. 648, 659, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 1399, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979) )....

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