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Arrest upheld after seatbelt stop

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a defendant's motion to suppress evidence following a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, finding the police officer's inquiry regarding an object in the man's pants didn't violate his constitutional rights or the Seatbelt Enforcement Act.

In State of Indiana v. Robert Richardson,  No. 49A02-0807-CR-583, the state appealed the grant of Robert Richardson's motion to suppress evidence after he was arrested following a traffic stop. The officer believed Richardson was carrying a gun without a valid permit and later discovered cocaine in Richardson's pants. The officer originally pulled Richardson over for a seatbelt violation. As she was talking to his passenger, she noticed a large bulge in his pants, which was his handgun. Suspecting Richardson's gun permit could be forged, she radioed for information on whether Richardson had any prior felonies. Headquarters said he did, so she arrested him for having a firearm with a prior felony conviction in the last 15 years. He tried to run away, and in an attempt to subdue Richardson the officer discovered cocaine in his pants.

Using previous caselaw regarding the Seatbelt Enforcement Act, the appellate court ruled it wasn't impermissible under the act for the officer to ask a motorist what the large object in his pants was. The inquiry didn't exceed the scope of police behavior permitted under the Seatbelt Enforcement Act; Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution; or the Fourth Amendment, wrote Judge Paul Mathias.

The Court of Appeals also had to address the propriety of Richardson's arrest for carrying a handgun. When Richardson handed the officer his gun permit, it had been issued a year prior to the traffic stop, which means if it was a valid license, it would have been good for three more years or for life. Because it was tattered and the officer couldn't read the expiration date, she believed it could be forged. Headquarters told the officer Richardson had a felony on his record, but Richardson argued it was a misdemeanor. At this point, the officer had good reason to suspect the validity of Richardson's handgun license and therefore had probable cause to arrest him for carrying a handgun without a valid license, wrote the judge.

But the appellate review doesn't stop there, because the information the officer received was incorrect because Richardson didn't have a prior felony conviction. The Court of Appeals had to determine whether the evidence found as a result of this arrest, which was later found to be improper, should be suppressed under the exclusionary rule, noted Judge Mathias. Using the recent ruling in Herring v. United States, 129 S.Ct. 695 (2009), as a guide, the appellate court believed the application of the rule as stated in Herring is proper in the instant case. The incorrect information by itself is not enough to justify suppression of evidence discovered as a result of an arrest, wrote Judge Mathias. The mistake in the instant case, just as in Herring, appears to be a "police mistake" which was the result of negligence, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements. As such, exclusion isn't justified.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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