Sills v. State

Decision Date06 April 2023
Docket Number2021-KA-00317-SCT
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi




No. 2021-KA-00317-SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi

April 6, 2023

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/03/2021







¶1. David Sills was convicted in the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court of possession of methamphetamine greater than two grams but less than ten grams in violation of Mississippi Code Section 41-29-139 (Rev. 2018). Sills appeals claiming (1) the jury's verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence; (2) the State failed to meet its burden of proof regarding constructive possession; and (3) the trial court erred by denying Sills's


motion to suppress illegally obtained evidence. Finding no merit to either claim, we affirm Sills's conviction.


¶2. On February 19, 2015, Todd Jackson, owner of Tower and Tower Construction, called the Clay County Sheriff's Department to report that his 2014 Ford F-350 was stolen and had been missing for three days. Jackson told Investigator Terry Scott that his foreman, Sills, had taken the truck. Jackson was tracking Sills through his fuel card, and the last place Sills had used the card was in Jackson, Mississippi. Investigator Scott issued a "be on the lookout" (BOLO) bulletin for Sills and the truck.

¶3. Shortly after the BOLO was issued, Officer Brandon Hernandez with the Starkville Mississippi, Police Department spotted the truck traveling on Highway 12 in Starkville. Officer Hernandez radioed his supervisor who instructed him to wait for backup before stopping the truck. When the other officers arrived, Officer Hernandez stopped the truck at an intersection in Starkville.

¶4. Officer Hernandez confirmed that the driver was Sills, the only person inside the truck. Sills was handcuffed and placed in the back of Officer Hernandez's patrol vehicle.

¶5. According to Officer Hernandez, he transported Sills to the Starkville police station to await arrival of the Clay County officials who had been notified of Sills's apprehension. While at the Starkville police station, Sills told Officer Hernandez that he had been "smoking crystal meth all day" and that he was driving his boss's truck and did not show up for work.


¶6. Meanwhile, Starkville Police Officers Lovrent Gaines and Tyler Davis conducted an inventory search of the truck prior to having it towed. Officer Gaines testified that he noticed the driver's seat was wet and smelled like urine. Officer Gaines recovered a pipe, which contained a rock-like substance similar to what Officer Gaines had noticed on the floorboard. He also recovered a rock-like substance from in between the driver's seat and the console, which he described as "black shiny crystal-like." Officer Gaines said he did not know what the substance was, and he had Officer Davis "test it with a pill kit." The substance "tested positive for methamphetamine."

¶7. Sergeant Scotty Carrouthers, who was a narcotics investigator for the Starkville police at the time, subsequently took the evidence to the crime lab in Columbus, Mississippi for further analysis. Claudette Gilman of the crime lab was accepted at trial as an expert in controlled-substance analysis. She testified that she had tested and analyzed the evidence and that it contained 2.09 grams of methamphetamine.

¶8. Sills testified at trial that he was from Indiana and traveled for work, building and repairing TV towers. He had worked for Coast-to-Coast Tower Service for about eighteen years and was its foreman. He was working a job in West Point, Mississippi, and had been there about three weeks at the time of his arrest.

¶9. Sills said that he worked with five other crew members and that they shared two work trucks, a F-550 and a F-350. Sills said he drove the F-550 most of the time, while the F-350 was used more as a crew truck.


¶10. Sills said he talked to Jackson on February 16, 2015, and told him an ice storm was coming and that the crew would not be able to work for about five to seven days. So Sills wanted to go see his family in Indiana. Jackson did not give Sills permission to leave.

¶11. Sills then decided to take the F-350 to Dallas, Texas, where his personal truck was located, and then drive to Indiana. Sills said he told Jackson that he was going to quit and that if Jackson did not want that, Jackson could call him back for work after Sills got his personal truck.

¶12. Sills said he left in the F-350 the next day on February 17. He said that while he usually drives the F-550, he left the F-550 for the crew to use because it houses a fuel cell on the bed of the truck, which the crew uses to fuel up equipment.

¶13. According to Sills, when he arrived at Jackson's house in Dallas, he learned that Jackson had taken Sills's personal truck and had driven it to West Point. Sills then drove back to back to West Point to get his truck.

¶14. Before reaching West Point, Sills stopped at a McDonald's drive-through in Starkville on the night of February 19. As he pulled out from McDonald's onto Highway 12, numerous police cars surrounded him. Sills said it scared him so much that he urinated in his pants. Sills got out of the truck, was placed in handcuffs, and was placed in Officer Hernandez's vehicle. He was taken to the Starkville police station. He was there for about ten minutes before a Clay County officer came and picked him up.


¶15. Sills said he spent the night in jail in Clay County and was bonded out the next afternoon by guys who worked for him, who then took him to his truck. Sills said that Jackson had already picked up the F-350 from impound in Starkville. Sills drove to the Starkville police station, where he picked up his cell phone and prescription medications that he had left in the F-350. Sills then left for Indiana.

¶16. Sills said nobody ever said anything to him about methamphetamine being found in the F-350. When he learned he had been indicted for possession of methamphetamine, Sills "thought it was a joke."

¶17. Sills denied telling anyone that he had been using methamphetamine. He stated that he had "never used methamphetamine in my life." And he did not know what it looked like. He said the F-350 he was driving was always kept spotless, and he did not remember seeing any type of trash in it except for the McDonald's bag, which contained the food he had just purchased. He further testified that the floorboard and the floor mats were black.

¶18. The jury found Sills guilty of possession of methamphetamine greater than two grams, but less than ten grams, pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 41-29-139(c)(1)(C). Sills appeals from his conviction, claiming that the jury's verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence and that the State failed to prove constructive possession. Sills also claims that the trial court erred by denying his pretrial motion to suppress evidence and dismiss the case. The trial court had denied Sills's motion after finding that the search was


a valid inventory search and that the substances found were part of a legal search. We address the latter claim first.


I. Motion to Suppress

¶19. Sills maintains that Starkville police's search of the vehicle does not meet either exception provided by the United States Supreme Court in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009). In Gant, the Court held that:

Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee's vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies.

Id. at 351.

¶20. Sills claims that he had already been removed from the scene when the search took place, and he was not arrested based on the suspicion of transporting or being in possession of any illegal narcotics. Thus, he argues neither Gant exception was present here.

¶21. Sills further claims that Sergeant Carrouthers testified at trial that there was no inventory list of what was found in the vehicle, and he was not sure if the search conducted was an inventory search or a search incident to arrest.

¶22. The State argues that Sills had no standing to challenge the search of the truck because he stole the truck and thus had no reasonable expectation of privacy under either the federal


or state constitutions. The State further contends that even if Sills had standing, Gant is inapplicable when an inventory search was conducted, rather than a search incident to arrest. ¶23. While there does not appear to be a Mississippi case directly on point, the overwhelming majority of decisions from other jurisdictions hold that "the thief of a vehicle does not have a sufficient privacy interest in the car to challenge the search" of it. State v. Wickliffe, 826 P.2d 522, 527 (Kan.Ct.App. 1992); see also State v. Zakel, 812 P.2d 512, 515 (Wash.Ct.App. 1991); State v. Wickline, 440 N.W.2d 249, 253 (Neb. 1989), disapproved of on other grounds by State v. Sanders, 455 N.W.2d 108 (Neb. 1990); Jackson v. State, 745 S.W.2d 4, 7-8 (Tex. Crim. App. 1988); Hambright v. State, 289 S.E.2d 24, 25 (Ga.Ct.App. 1982); Mendelvitz v. State, 416 N.E.2d 1270, 1274 (Ind.Ct.App. 1981).

¶24. In White v. State, this Court affirmed the trial court's ruling that the defendant lacked standing to object to the search of a woman's room in which he had stayed the night. White v....

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