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7th Circuit: Officer entitled to qualified immunity

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Because Indiana's conversion statute doesn't appear to have an implied-consent defense, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a couple's excuse for possessing another person's camping gear was irrelevant to the probable-cause determination to arrest them.

In Jo Whitlock and Jesse Whitlock v. Shawn A. Brown, individually and as an Officer for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, No. 08-2800, the Whitlocks appealed summary judgment for Officer Shawn Brown in their suit alleging he violated their Fourth Amendment rights by omitting exculpatory facts from his warrant application to arrest the couple.

The Whitlocks had been camping in 2005 and found several items at a campsite. Believing they were left behind, they put them in their car to return them to the park office, but ran errands and forgot to turn them in until several hours later. While gone, the owner reported his belongings missing.

Brown thought there was probable cause for conversion charges and applied for an arrest warrant. The Whitlocks were arrested later, but the charges were eventually dropped.

The District Court granted summary judgment for Brown, holding he was entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer would have believed there was probable cause. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, but based on a different analysis. Instead of focusing on whether Brown had probable cause, the Circuit Court examined whether he intentionally or recklessly withheld material information from the warrant application.

The Whitlocks claimed Brown only sent an affidavit with scant information on the incident to the prosecutor and didn't send the more detailed case report. That report did leave out the Whitlocks' explanation that because of an argument in the car with their daughter, they forgot to turn the bags in as they were leaving the park.

Brown testified he provided his case report to the prosecutor; the prosecutor's file was destroyed in 2006 for space reasons. There's no evidence that Brown withheld his case report from the prosecutor and it's just pure speculation on the part of the Whitlocks, wrote Judge Diane Sykes.

The Circuit judges also had to decide whether the omitted explanation was material to the warrant-issuing judge's probable-cause determination. They supposed that an Indiana court might hold that finders of lost property have implied consent from the owner to exert control for the limited purpose of returning it. If that was the case, then leaving out the Whitlocks' explanation may have been a material omission, wrote the judge, and would support they didn't exercise unauthorized control over the bags.

But there aren't any Indiana cases the judges could find establishing an implied-consent defense to a charge of criminal conversion.

"Given the breadth of Indiana's criminal-conversion statute and the apparent absence of an implied consent defense, the Whitlocks' excuse was irrelevant to the probable-cause determination - or at least of such questionable relevance that Brown is entitled to qualified immunity. At best, Indiana law is undeveloped in this area," she wrote.

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  1. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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