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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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