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7th Circuit affirms denial of motion to suppress search of car

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the denial of an automobile passenger’s motion to suppress evidence found in the car during a traffic stop, which led to his eventual pleading guilty to a heroin offense. The judges found no error by the District judge in crediting the testimony of the police officer who pulled the vehicle over because he believed the speed it was traveling and distance to the car in front of it violated Indiana law.

John Peters III was the passenger in a maroon Toyota Scion that was traveling closely behind a white GMC Denali. A Greenfield police officer initiated a traffic stop of the Denali, with Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Ernstes initiating a stop of the Scion. Ernstes estimated the Scion was between 50 and 75 feet behind the Denali and traveling around 60 mph. He believed the combination of this high speed and short distance allowed less than two seconds of breaking time between the vehicles, and thus violated I.C. 9-21-8-14 by following too closely.

Ernstes smelled burnt marijuana when Peters rolled his window down and saw what he believed to be marijuana on Peters’ clothing. The deputy decided to search the car and found a marijuana stem in the car as well as a drill with a sticky substance on it. That substance matched that found on the screws of a panel concealing a kilogram of heroin in the Denali.

Peters moved to suppress the evidence found during the traffic stop, but later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin. The motion was denied.

The 7th Circuit concluded that Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson did not err in concluding that probable cause existed to believe that a driver followed another too closely under Indiana law when fewer than two seconds of breaking time separated the vehicles. Ernstes testified that he used the two-second rule described in the Indiana Driver’s Manual in determining a safe following distance regarding how long it takes for a car to break depending on its speed.

“[T]he district court committed no error in crediting the testimony of an experienced police officer that after observing two cars traveling in tandem for a period of time, he credibly believed that the trailing car was approximately seventy-five feet behind the lead car at a speed of approximately sixty miles per hour. If an officer knowing these facts could reasonably conclude that this combination of speed and distance violated Indiana law, that is all that is necessary to support probable cause,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote in United States of America v. John A. Peters III, 12-3830.

The judges also upheld the search, noting they have previously held that a police officer who smells marijuana coming from a car has probable cause to search that car.
 

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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