Sellers v. State, 011921 MSCA, 2020-KM-00087-COA

Docket Nº2020-KM-00087-COA
Opinion JudgeMcCARTY, J.
Party NameANTIONNE SELLERS A/K/A ANTIONNE JEREMIAH SELLERS APPELLANT v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE
AttorneyATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: KEVIN DALE CAMP ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD JOHN HEDGLIN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOHN HEDGLIN
Judge PanelBEFORE CARLTON, P.J., LAWRENCE AND McCARTY, JJ. BARNES, C.J., CARLTON AND WILSON, P.JJ., GREENLEE, WESTBROOKS, McDONALD AND LAWRENCE, JJ., CONCUR. SMITH, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.
Case DateJanuary 19, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeals of Mississippi

ANTIONNE SELLERS A/K/A ANTIONNE JEREMIAH SELLERS APPELLANT

v.

STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

No. 2020-KM-00087-COA

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 19, 2021

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/10/2020

MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. STEVE S. RATCLIFF III TRIAL JUDGE.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: KEVIN DALE CAMP

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD JOHN HEDGLIN

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOHN HEDGLIN

BEFORE CARLTON, P.J., LAWRENCE AND McCARTY, JJ.

McCARTY, J.

¶1. A driver was convicted of driving under the influence (first offense) and an improper- equipment violation. On appeal, the circuit court upheld his conviction for driving under the influence but found there was insufficient evidence to support the improper-equipment charge. He now appeals his conviction of driving under the influence.

FACTS

¶2. The facts of this case are not in dispute. Around 9:00 at night, a caller notified the Madison Police Department of a reckless driver on Interstate 55 who had "ran off the road multiple times." Officer William Hall of the Madison Police Department responded to the report and began to follow Antionne Sellers, who matched the description. As Officer Hall followed him, he observed three things which triggered his suspicion. First, Sellers was driving twenty miles an hour below the speed limit. Second, he was swerving in his lane (but not crossing the line). Third, his car had a tag cover that obscured the license plate's expiration date. The officer then initiated a traffic stop for the improper display of the tag cover.

¶3. Officer Hall later testified that during the stop he "detected the odor of intoxicating beverage coming off [Sellers'] breath." He also observed that the driver's pupils were dilated. When Officer Hall asked Sellers whether he had been drinking, the driver initially denied having consumed any alcohol, but he later admitted that he had had one beer. Officer Hall then asked Sellers to step out of the car. As he exited the car, the officer "observed some beer cans and a liquor bottle on the passenger's side floorboard."

¶4. Sellers consented to three different field sobriety tests. The results of the tests prompted Officer Hall to ask Sellers to provide a sample for a portable breath test. Sellers agreed. Officer Hall testified that Sellers' portable breath test was positive for alcohol. Sellers was then arrested and taken to the Madison Police Department. There, an Intoxylizer 8000 indicated that the driver's breath-alcohol content was .12%. Sellers was charged with driving under the influence and an improper-equipment violation for the tag cover. ¶5. Sellers went before the Madison Municipal Court and was convicted of both driving under the influence (first offense) and an improper-equipment violation. He appealed his convictions to the County Court of Madison County, where his case was reviewed de novo in a bench trial. Following the close of the State's case-in-chief, Sellers filed a motion for a directed verdict. The motion was denied, and he did not call any witnesses on his behalf. ¶6. The county court found Sellers guilty of driving under the influence but not guilty of the improper-equipment charge. The court held there was probable cause for the stop, but the evidence was insufficient to find Sellers guilty of the improper-equipment charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

¶7. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the court stated, "This is a first offense, I do believe." Even though Sellers twice admitted to having received a prior DUI in 2010-once in the patrol car and again at the police station-his trial counsel responded in the affirmative, "It is, Your Honor."

¶8. The court then imposed and suspended a sentence of 48 hours of jail time. The court also sentenced Sellers to two years of unsupervised probation, ordered him to pay fines and assessments in the amounts of $688 and $394, and attend MASEP classes.1

¶9. Sellers appealed his conviction for driving under the influence to the Circuit Court of Madison County. The circuit court affirmed the county court's judgment. Aggrieved, Sellers now appeals.

DISCUSSION

¶10. Sellers asserts the following assignments of error on appeal: (1) the county court erred by denying his motion for a directed verdict "because the officer's observations and articulable facts were insufficient to show probable cause which would have suppressed the evidence"; (2) the county court erred by creating additional grounds to find probable cause; and (3) the county court erred by not suppressing the evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop. For the sake of clarity and brevity we will address Sellers' first and third assignments of error together.

I.

The county court did not err by denying Sellers' motion for a directed verdict.

¶11. Sellers argues that the county court erred by denying his motion for a directed verdict because the only evidence supporting his conviction for driving under the influence was inadmissible. More specifically, he alleges that the traffic stop was illegal because Officer Hall lacked probable cause to initiate the stop. Therefore, any evidence obtained as a result of the stop should have been suppressed at trial.

¶12. "The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 3[, ] [S]ection 23 of the Mississippi Constitution protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures." Cameron v. State, 175 So.3d 574, 577 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2015); U.S. Const. amend. IV; Miss. Const. art. 3, § 23. This "prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures applies to the seizures of the person, including the brief investigatory stops such as the stop of a vehicle." Howard v. State, 987 So.2d 506, 509 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008). "And the 'fruit of the poisonous tree' doctrine makes inadmissible tangible evidence obtained incident to an unlawful search or seizure." Cameron, 175 So.3d at 577 (¶8). Therefore, if Sellers' traffic stop was unreasonable, the evidence obtained as a result of the stop would be subject to this exclusionary rule. Accordingly, we will first review whether there was probable cause for the stop.

A.

There was probable cause for the traffic stop.

¶13. Sellers argues that the traffic stop was illegal because Officer Hall did not have probable cause for the stop. "For assignments of error challenging a trial court's judgment on reasonable suspicion and probable cause we employ de novo review." Adams v. City of Booneville, 910 So.2d 720, 722 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2005). On appeal, "this Court may look to the entire record to determine whether the trial [court's] findings are supported by substantial evidence." Wallace v. State, No. 2017-KA-01072-COA, 2019 WL 1771908, at *1 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. Apr. 23, 2019), cert. denied, 279 So.3d 1086 (Miss. 2019). "But our review of the trial court's findings on these issues are more deferential and restricted to the historical facts reviewed under the substantial...

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