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Appellate court upholds motion to suppress after traffic stop

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The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with a trial judge that a police officer didn’t have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver believed to be intoxicated.

In State of Indiana v. Robert Rhodes, No. 49A05-1012-CR-818, the state challenged the grant of Robert Rhodes' motion to suppress following his arrest on an operating while intoxicated charge. Rhodes drove a friend to an impound lot to recover his car. While there, the company employee believed Rhodes was intoxicated and called police officer Larry Giordano, who often worked off-duty for Angie’s List, which was across the street from the impound lot.

Giordano testified he saw Rhodes leave and followed him. Rhodes didn’t signal properly and made an abrupt left into the parking lot of Angie’s List, so Giordano conducted the traffic stop. Rhodes contended that Giordano turned on his emergency lights as soon as he began following Rhodes, so he signaled to turn into the lot to stop.

Although the trial judge wavered between two grounds for rejecting the state’s arguments as to the legitimacy of the traffic violation, he ultimately granted Rhodes’ motion to dismiss.

The state argued that the officer had two reasons to lawfully stop Rhodes – Giordano saw Rhodes commit a traffic violation by not signaling more than 200 feet before turning, and that the officer had reasonable suspicion that Rhodes was operating while intoxicated.

But the state failed to show that compliance with the statute was possible under the circumstances, wrote Judge Terry Crone. Giordano estimated that Rhodes turned on his signal about 150 feet before turning, but the record doesn’t say whether there was at least 200 feet between the place where he turned on to the street from the impound lot and the place where he turned onto the Angie’s List property.

On the reasonable suspicion argument, the record is vague as to what the tow employee told Giordano regarding Rhodes or his vehicle. One other person also left the lot at the same time as Rhodes. Even if the employee’s tip was sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion that someone was driving while intoxicated, there isn’t evidence that Giordano had any basis to conclude that person was Rhodes, wrote Judge Crone.

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