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COA: Search of passenger not unconstitutional

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The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a woman’s claim that drugs found in her possession should not have been admitted at trial because a police search of her after a traffic stop violated the federal and state constitutions.

Plymouth Police Officer John Weir pulled over the car driven by Christopher Fields after it crossed the center line several times. Charla Richard was in the front passenger seat. Because Fields had a warrant outstanding, he was arrested. Weir then walked his police dog, Rex, around the car. Rex alerted at the driver’s door. Officer Bridget Hite searched Richard. When Richard raised her arm, a small tin fell out of her shirt. The tin contained methamphetamine.

The trial court denied Richard’s motions to suppress the evidence. She argued the drug evidence was inadmissible because the search of a person based on the police dog’s positive alert violated her Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 rights.

The judges cited Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 124 S. Ct. 795, 157 L. Ed. 2d 769 (2003), to support that Richard’s mere presence as a passenger in the suspect vehicle is enough to establish probable cause as to her.

“Here, Rex’s positive alert provided probable cause to believe there were drugs in the vehicle. And there was no indication that Fields, and only Fields, was involved in narcotics activity. It was thus an entirely reasonable inference that any of the vehicle’s occupants had at least constructive possession of drugs,” Senior Judge Randall T. Shepard wrote in Charla P. Richard v. State of Indiana, 50A03-1307-CR-297.

There was also no violation of the Indiana Constitution, the judges held, pointing to the minimal nature of the search, the high degree of suspicion that Richard actually or constructively possessed illegal drugs, and because the extent of law enforcement needs was significant.


 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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.

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