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Judges split over Fourth Amendment violation

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Two of the three judges on an Indiana Court of Appeals panel affirmed the suppression of marijuana and a pipe found on a man during a traffic stop, with the dissenting judge believing there was no infringement on the man’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Huntingburg police officer Andrew Hammock pulled over Michael Cunningham’s car because one of the two tail lamps was white – instead of red – because the red lens covering was missing. Cunningham asked to get out of his vehicle to see the tail lamp for himself, to which Hammock said he would pat him down for any weapons for officer safety. Cunningham said that was fine and got out of the car. A pat down yielded a pill bottle, which Cunningham admitted had marijuana in it. He told the officer he had a pipe in his car.

Cunningham was charged with Class A misdemeanors possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. He filed a motion to suppress the marijuana and pipe, which the trial court granted based on its finding that the initial traffic stop was illegal.

The Indiana Court of Appeals judges agreed in State of Indiana v. Michael E. Cunningham, 19A05-1310-CR-489, that the initial traffic stop was not illegal, as law requires vehicles like Cunningham’s to have two red-lighted tail lamps. But the court split on whether the search violated Cunningham’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The majority noted there was no evidence that Cunningham was hostile or threatening when he asked to get out of the car.

“We conclude that Officer Hammock clearly did not ask Cunningham for permission to conduct a pat-down search. Instead, Officer Hammock’s testimony demonstrates that he gave an ultimatum to Cunningham: if he decided to exit the vehicle to inspect the tail lamp, ‘I would pat him down for any weapons just for officer safety issue,’” Judge Michael Barnes wrote. “Phrased in this way, Cunningham had no choice but to submit to the pat-down when he exited the vehicle, despite the absence of reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous.”

But the circumstances didn’t necessitate Cunningham exiting his vehicle, Judge Elaine Brown wrote in her dissent, so he did so with full knowledge that if he did leave his car, he would be subject to a pat down search. He agreed and even told the officer he had marijuana in the pill bottle, handed it to Hammock, and informed him about the pipe in the car. Under these circumstances, she wrote there is no violation of the Fourth Amendment.
 

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  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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