The arrest of a black doctor and her husband in Mississippi has added to the tensions between white police officers and the black community and has raised questions about the legality of the arrest itself. What began as a routine traffic stop ended with Dr. Marcia Bowden and her husband, Ira Marche, in jail, and Dr. Bowden was even taken to the emergency room during the incident.
How did things escalate so quickly? It's early in the case and there are competing reports from Bowden and the police, but here are a few questions raised by the arrest:
1. Was the traffic stop legal? Yes. Dr. Bowden admits her husband was speeding and the police reports indicate Marche was driving 63 MPH in a 45 MPH zone.
2. Were the searches of the car, trunk, glove box, and purse legal? Probably. Officers can perform "plain view" searches of automobiles and can search cars without a warrant if the search is necessary for their own protection. According to Dr. Bowden, Marche opened the trunk to look for his license, so officers can probably look in while he tries to find it. Same with the glove compartment, as an officer reported he "stood back and behind to observe what was inside the glove box for officer safety." Additionally, Dr. Bowden admits, "I offered to let Officer Delany take a look in my purse," so the search of her purse is likely legal as well.
3. Were the arrests legal? Technically. Marche was never able to produce his driver's license, and driving without a license is illegal in every state. Officers don't always arrest in this situation, as they are generally able to confirm whether the driver's license is valid via onboard computer. From the accounts, it appears Marche was also cited for "use of profanity," which is a crime in Mississippi. (Although Dr. Bowden contends he didn't swear during the traffic stop.) Why Dr. Bowden herself was arrested is a little murkier. This incident report indicates she was cited with "failure to obey" the officers, but which order and how she refused are unclear.
4. Was the impound of the car legal? Yes. Police can impound a car incident to an arrest, rather than leave it on the road. (Incidentally, police can also search any car they impound, as a matter of safety.)
5. Was any of this necessary? Probably not. Officers could've simply cited Marche for speeding and not having his license and ended the interaction fairly quickly. But, if Dr. Bowden's report is accurate, officers instead escalated the situation, being ambivalent at best and antagonistic at worst to Bowden's concerns for her safety and health.