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Majority reverses teen’s underage drinking adjudication

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The Indiana Court of Appeals wanted to make a point “loud and clear” Tuesday: Suspicion of criminal activity is not an exception to the warrant requirement. The majority reversed a teen’s adjudication as a delinquent based on acts of illegal possession of alcohol, illegal consumption of alcohol, and aiding illegal consumption of alcohol.

Police received reports of teens riding around in a shopping cart at 1 a.m. being loud and causing dogs to bark. Police saw a shopping cart in a truck parked in front of J.K.’s house. The truck belonged to T.T. Believing the cart to be stolen, the officers called for a tow truck. While waiting for the truck, officers went around the house to make sure no one would flee. Inside, officers saw empty alcohol containers. Police knocked on the front door for nearly an hour until T.T. came out. He only came out because he saw the tow truck. J.K. also came outside at that point; both appeared intoxicated. The officers then went inside and did a sweep of the house and found additional evidence of underage drinking.

J.K. argued that evidence was admitted at his fact-finding hearing in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The COA addressed three warrantless entries: entry onto J.K.’s curtilage by two officers; the nearly hour-long span during which the officers remained on J.K.’s front porch and yard, knocking and yelling into the house; and the officers’ entry into J.K.’s residence.

The state argued the officers’ warrantless entries onto J.K.’s curtilage and into his home were justified by exigent circumstances – to make sure suspects didn’t flee. But the officers didn’t see anyone fleeing from the back of the house. As such, the evidence obtained as a result of the violation – the sight of empty alcohol containers – and any suspicion resulting from that evidence is tainted and subject to the exclusionary rule, Judge Margret Robb wrote for the majority.

The knock-and-talk was an unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The officers’ actions in this case extended well beyond the implied invitation to approach a citizen’s front door, the majority held. The officers had no reason to believe someone inside was injured or in danger. Underage drinking is not a circumstance that as a general matter creates a threat of imminent injury. The majority also rejected the state’s claim the officers’ conduct was justified because they believed the shopping cart in the truck was stolen.

“There is no doubt that the officers’ conduct in this case went far beyond anything that would ordinarily be expected to occur on one’s doorstep. If three men with guns and flashlights were to surround the average person’s home in the wee hours of the morning, knock for over forty-five minutes, and yell inside demanding the occupants open the door, this situation would … inspire that homeowner to call the police,” Robb wrote in J.K. v. State of Indiana, 66A03-1306-JS-220.

Senior Judge Randall T. Shepard dissented, believing it was reasonable for the officers to wait for the tow truck to arrive. He also found it reasonable for the officers to arrest J.K. and T.T. once they stepped outside and appeared to be under the influence.

“The trial judge concluded that the officers, having seen T.T. and J.K. in this state, were warranted in entering the home to assure the safety of the other occupants. It seemed highly likely there were other occupants in light of the large number of cars parked out front, and we read almost daily about the sad consequences of teenage drinking parties,” he wrote.

 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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