ILNews

Officer didn't conduct investigatory stop

Back to TopE-mailPrint

A trial court didn't abuse its discretion in admitting evidence that a juvenile possessed marijuana because the seizure of the drug didn't violate the teen's constitutional rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

In R.H. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0903-JV-218, R.H. appealed his adjudication as a delinquent child for committing what would be Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana if committed by an adult. R.H. was in the driver's seat of a car with three others parked in front of a woman's house at night. The homeowner was suspicious of the car and called police.

Office Shawn Holmes pulled up behind the car and activated his emergency lights. When a passenger rolled down his window, smoke came out of the car. He found marijuana in the car in the front console's ashtray and two bags on the floor of the front passenger seat.

R.H. argued the seizure of the marijuana resulted from a detention that violated his rights under the federal and state constitutions and that Holmes lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. R.H. believed that the use of the emergency lights meant he was being detained and not free to leave the scene or not answer questions.

The appellate court rejected his arguments and relying on Finger v. State, 799 N.E.2d 528, 532 (Ind. 2003), determined Holmes' approach and initial contact with R.H. didn't amount to seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Holmes was responding to a report from a concerned citizen, it was late at night, the car was already stopped, and he displayed no force, wrote Judge Carr Darden for the majority. They also weren't persuaded that when Holmes activated his lights to identify himself to other motorists, that it constituted a stop of R.H.'s car.

Because Judges Darden and Margret Robb found the initial encounter didn't constitute an investigatory stop, they didn't address whether Holmes had reasonable suspicion required under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), to conduct an investigatory stop. Judge Paul Mathias, in his concurring opinion, believed there is a solid statutory argument to be made that it would have been illegal for R.H. to drive away once Holmes approached the car with his lights activated. He also noted no right-minded person feels able to disregard the police unless he or she is told they are free to do so.

"The test should not be whether a reasonable person feels free to leave, because every stop is a seizure to the extent no reasonable person ever does feel free to leave; the test should be whether the seizure has become an unreasonable intrusion," he wrote.

A better test is to consider a car stopped in the circumstances of the instant case within the meaning of Terry. The facts giving rise to R.H.'s stop are facts previously held to warrant at least a Terry stop, he wrote. Judge Mathias also believed the evidence could be admitted under the Litchfield test.

The appellate court also determined the evidence was sufficient to support R.H.'s adjudication. The drugs found in the car were in plain view of R.H. and within reach of him, so it's reasonable to infer he knew of the marijuana and had the ability to exercise dominion and control over it, wrote Judge Darden.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

ADVERTISEMENT