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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. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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