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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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